A Student of the Sport: How Following the Pros Can Improve Your Running

With the 2012 Olympic Games upon us what better time to hop on the track fan caravan? But maybe you‘re worried you won’t be able to relate to the elite runners? Or maybe you’d love to track the trackstars, but don’t know how. Well, Rosemary is here to sell you on becoming a fan of the best athletes of our sport.

Learn from the pros!

One of the reasons that I LOVE running is because of all the lessons I learn through running. Character is tried, tested, and built at every experience level, from novice to elite.  I enjoy following racing and interviews with collegiate and elites for some of the same reasons that films such as Hoosiers and Rudy are so popular.  I love the process of training and racing in my own running career. But I also I love watching the process as it transpires in others.  And there is something very comforting and inspiring about following talented, dedicated, and successful runners through the process. No matter what you are enduring in your running life, whether it is the peak of success or feels like rock bottom, you’re not alone. Someone else is feeling it, living it, enduring it too. Here are some of the basic “lessons” that following the pros can teach you.

1. This is how we overcome

When you are in the midst of a setback, your world is gray. This is something I’ve been interested in learning more about throughout the past few months as I’ve dealt with my own set-back: a 6-month lay-off due plantar fasciitis.  I’ve sought out articles and interviews about runners on the comeback from injury or illness. Because even though I know in my heart that I’ll always get through the rough patch, sometimes it helps to have a little reminder. Two runners that have very inspiring stories are Gabriele (Gabe) Anderson and Lauren Fleshman. Gabe overcame cancer to finish fourth in 4:07 in the 1500 meter run final at the Olympic Trials. Here’s a moving interview with Gabe:

Lauren Fleshman is very candid about the ups and downs that come with setting big goals and made it to the 5000 meter final at the Olympic Trials after running just three days a week this past winter/spring.  Both of these ladies are spokeswomen for courage, fortitude, and mental strength. And their stories, along with the stories of many other ladies, are there when you need them.

2. Dreams do come true

We all hear that hard work pays off, but in a world of high pressure and even higher expectations, it is easy to forget it. Watching championship meet racing gives you the chance to see proof that dreams come true! One of the most exciting races to watch from the IAAF 2011 World Championships in Daegu, South Korea was Jenny (Barringer) Simpson sprinting to the line to win the 1500 meter run.  At the Columbus Running Company, we have a poster with her twitter feed after the race; “This is what I get for dreaming.” It captures the sentiment  of this “lesson” perfectly.

Her emotion is proof that the pro’s are people too! She is excited and proud, and it was exciting for fans of the sport to celebrate her success.

World champion? She can't believe it!
Excitement setting in! Image from http://photoblog.msnbc.msn.com.
3. Limits exist only in the mind

Risk-taking is scary. What if I don’t make it? What if I can’t do it? What if I FAIL? We all have these thoughts. We are our own biggest critic. Sometimes, we don’t even know that we are limiting ourselves!  I’ll let you in a little secret: “making it,” “can’t” and “failure” are really only factors in our own mind. Championship track meets and road races manifest the benefits of setting goals and taking risks.  The latest of these inspiring races is Kim Conley (you ask, who?) making the Olympic team in the 5000 meter run. She needed to finish top 3 and run faster than the Olympic A standard of 15:20. She finished third by less than 0.3 seconds and ran 15:19.79 to qualify for her first Olympic team. She set her goal running at the Olympic Trials after the 2008 Trials. Her personal best prior to setting this goal? 16:23. (16:23 is fast, but it’s more than a minute from the time needed to even have a shot at the Olympic team!) Take that, “can’t,”  “don’t,” and “fail.” Watch her post-race interview:

4. Life is a journey

So , you’ve put yourself out there. You’re working hard, you’re hoping for a breakthrough, a promotion, a PR. But it’s just not your time. That’s ok because your time will come. I have to constantly remind myself of this concept both in running and in life. My latest reminder, thanks to the pros, was watching both Amy Hastings and Dathan Ritzenhein qualify for the Olympic team in the 10,000 meter run.  What made this 25-lapper so exciting to watch? Well, back in January at the USA Olympic Marathon Trials, Amy and Dathan both crossed the finish line in the dreaded fourth place (the top three earn a spot on the Olympic team). Amy crossed the line only 71 seconds behind third place while Dathan was 8 seconds back.  But as you have surely learned in your life, the sweet stuff just ain’t as sweet without a shot of bitter. I don’t know any track fans out there that weren’t pulling for Amy and Dathan to run their way onto the Olympic team. And they did it! Next time you’re feeling down and out, check out the post-race interviews from Amy’s Olympic trials races:

Marathon Trials

10k Trials

Remember, your time will come!

I’ll be back soon with Part II: a guide the awkward getting-to-know-you stage of fandom.

Do you follow the pros? Who inspires you?

Watch more videos on Flotrack

I'm a pediatric physical therapist by day. Running mostly early am miles as I balance life as the mom of a toddler. With PR days in the past, my primary running goal is to be a lifelong runner. With 20+ years behind me, I still love the sport and I am truly grateful for every day I get to run.

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  1. Great starting post! Did you see that the trials scored high in the TV ratings last week? I hope our guides will come in handy for new fans! Also love Lauren Fleshman’s decision to run in the trials last week off of 10 MPW. I love this quote from her before running in the first round:

    “I’m not asking for a miracle. I’m asking myself to be courageous enough to step on the line less than what you want to be and let that be enough. Lots of people do that every day in their jobs and their lives. Running doesn’t have to be any different.”—Lauren Fleshman

  2. I love this post because it outlines how relative running really is. The elites (well, maybe not the ones who’ve had personal coaches, dietitians, etc. for years) go through the same stuff we “hacks” on the local racing circuit do. Almost all their stories demonstrate how non-linear the potential-achieving process is. The common thread is that every single one has had set-backs, but dusted themselves off and got back out there. Can’t wait for Part II!

    1. I couldn’t agree more! Runners at all levels can relate to other runners. I passed many hours of winter cross training by watching interviews with and reading articles/blog posts about various professional runners and their comebacks. If they can do it, we can too!

  3. This so captures the beauty and reality of our sport. Amazing. I love the video and photos.

    One of my favorite things is watching elite races (I am the dork that watches the elite marathoners on the computer) and I can’t wait for the Olympics! GO USA!

    Let’s all run our next race like it is the last one. AND run happy (Go Gabe!)

  4. Love the post, and I love being a running “groupie.” Watching the trials this January and knowing almost the entire field by name was quite an experience. From the serious fasties to all those gals we’ve met trying to get there along the way. It was really fun to be rooting for each and every one!

  5. I am such a run nerd and little runner groupie! I love the athletes who put it all out there. I follow Fleshman’s blog, as well as Julia Lucas’s, who Kim Conley beat out for 3rd in the 5K. Lots of others are active on Twitter. It makes me think of that feature in Us Weekly – Stars, They’re Just Like Us! So cheesy but so true. The lessons from the pros can be applied at all levels.

  6. Oh, and I just wanted to add, Maggie Vessey at the 2009 Prefontaine Classic remains my all-time favorite reaction to a race and to finally accomplishing something you’ve been working so hard towards. I want to run so well that my reaction is on par with hers!

  7. Thanks for the shout out, Lauren! It’s clear that we at Salty Running are big fans! Thanks for inspiring us with your speed, determination and class.