by Chris McClung
Just a couple of weeks ago, Chris Gowell wrote this blog. It is relatively short and made for a quick/easy read. I read it and was inspired enough to share with my athletes via email that same week. But, since reading and sharing it, I have been bothered by it. Something about it has been gnawing at me, nibbling at my soul, and I need to share it. So, here goes…
So, what could possibly bother me about the Welshman’s grand prose? The writing style is of no issue as I am always entertained by Chris’ blogs. Rather, I have been gnawed at by fear, fear that the depth and power of inspiration contained within this compact set of words would be missed, replaced in its readers by simpler, bubble-gum inspiration about dreaming big – something to pop in the mouth briefly until the flavor runs out, and then discard almost as quickly as you read it.
To be clear, I am not blaming Chris or the reader. Chris was simply trying to share his very-powerful sentiments after a potentially disappointing race and desired to do so without boring the reader with length. And, the reader didn’t have the context to draw much more from his words. So, either you enjoyed the bubble-gum inspiration or you spit it straight out, finding it difficult to relate to his Olympic dreams in the midst of your seemingly down-to-earth aspirations. To be clear also, I am not claiming superior insight, but I do perhaps have more context and that is why I am compelled to share here.
So, what inspiration can we find between the lines?
When I read the blog, I thought about the circumstances of Chris writing it. He was on the plane home from the Occidental High Performance Meet in California. He had finished 6th in his 1500 meter race in a time of 3:42, a time that would make any of us normal runners look silly. You may or may not know that. And, you may or may not know that Chris ran in the 4th of four, 1500m heats that day, the “slow” heat in the elite running world. His time, though 6th in his heat, would put him 37th on the list of 1500m finishers that day out of 52. Of those 52 runners, maybe, just maybe 2-3 will make an Olympic team in their home country. And, of those 2-3, the chances of one making the Olympic final in the 1500 are still very long odds.
So, I picture Chris thinking about his race on the plane and then squirming a bit in his seat thinking about his odds and questioning why he does this. He starts by thinking of his tactics in the race where he moved to the front too early and would fade late as his own insecurities caused his rhythm to break and legs to tighten under the weight and stress of leading the race. Then, he wonders if he will ever overcome those insecurities and have the confidence to press at the right time, regardless of what everyone is doing around him. He thinks about the other races on the day that were run in times that he has only dreamed of to this point. How could he possibly compete on the world stage, when the best he could manage on this day was 37th on a list of runners who collectively have long odds to make an Olympic final in the event? Why does he chase this dream under his even longer odds? How can he aspire to beat these runners when most of the time he simply aspires to just be them, to simply match their times? Why does he deal with the pressure of a family from Wales that doesn’t understand why he chooses to live several thousand miles away from his home, put his master’s degree to work at a place called Rogue, and run laps around the track in heat that no one from his home country could even fathom?
And then, oddly, I think about Desiree Davila, who just over 6 years ago, wrote a similar blog. This blog wasn’t published for the world to see until much later, but she recorded it in her journal in March of 2006 just a few short months before she would graduate from Arizona State University after a good, but far from stellar, collegiate running career. She would then write: “If we will all eventually walk away disappointed, then what is the point? Why do we step out the door each day? If only one person can be the best, are the rest of us essentially failing? I certainly don’t have the answers, but today I’ll walk out the door with my [Brooks] Burns tied tight and hopes of setting the world on fire firmly engrained in my mind. Odds are I’ll never wear an Olympic medal around my neck, but maybe…just maybe, I will. With that in mind I’ll take off down the road and put in the days work. If we don’t try we’ll never know. At least I can find out how good I can be. I can have an answer at the end of the days, and have a hell of a good time with the process.”
She wrote those words to herself possessing a 5k PR of 16:17 (the Olympic A standard is 15:15) and having never, ever run a marathon. Most responsible people in her life at the time guided her to a real job knowing that her odds were long at best to ever see an Olympic team, much less an Olympic medal. But Desi defied them and moved halfway across the country to the glamorously cold Rochester Hills, Michigan where she joined a team in Brooks-Hansons that had never even produced an Olympian. She continued to believe even after her first marathon in 2007 when she ran 2:45 to qualify for the Olympic Trials of 2008 but in a time that wouldn’t even register her in the top 75 in this year’s Olympic Trials. She continued to believe because you never know what is possible until you commit all the way and open yourself up to the possibilities that exist beyond the boundaries of your own mind and circumstances. She will continue to believe all the way to London this summer where she will line up at the Olympic Marathon (having finished 2nd in this year’s US Olympic Trials), not just as a member of the team but as someone who will be on the top 10 list of women favorites who “maybe, just maybe” will take home a medal.
And, then I think about Chris again, typing his words and having the courage to wear his dream (and the insanity of it) on his sleeve for the world to see. [Note: Desi’s blog wasn’t published until she shared it after she had already qualified for the Olympics.] I think about him continuing to work hard in training and endure disappointment after disappointment on the track as he pursues his “farcically believable moment.” I think, daydreaming now, about the future and picture digging up his blog (and perhaps this one) four or eight years from now so we can reminisce about how far he has come as he prepares for his first Olympics. I anticipate the overwhelming excitement and small tears of joy that will precede watching him step on the track under the Olympic lights, competing with the best of the world, after years of working hard out of the spotlight, doing ancillary drills under the fluorescent lights of the Rogue training room and running laps around the eastside track.
And, then I think about my own dreams and aspirations and wonder… what limits have I put on myself in running and in life? What farcically believable moments do I seek? Do I let the fear of failure paralyze me or do I run toward it, knowing that only if I seek more failure will I see those moments come? And, what, what, am I going to do about it all because writing a blog about a blog is not enough?