Observations and Experiences at 2016 US Olympic Marathon Trials
I attended the US Olympic Marathon Trials in Los Angeles, this past Saturday. It was an incredible event, and as much as I have been critical of USATF in the past, this is one event they do very well, and do it right. They are to be commended on their venue, sponsors, course, and coverage via TV, internet and media.
As I watched the event, and especially post-race, there were some things which really stood out to me that every athlete should take away, whether racing at the Olympic Trials, or simply going after a PR or some other major goal for themselves personally.
Watching the race on TV, or just reviewing it through the media, you'd think it was all celebrations and happiness. You saw the heartache of the 4th place finishers, and felt bad for them, I'm sure. But you walk away seeing 3 happy people and only 1 sad or disappointed athlete per gender. But that's not really what happens when you're there.
I was watching the race and seeing athletes who were DNF's, limping, crying, sitting alone with their heads down, before the races were even finished. I saw athletes cross the finish line in tears, realizing they hadn't run very fast in terms of time, which had a lot to do with the course and conditions. But they also hadn't been where they thought they might be.
I saw family members of athletes needed to be consoled. I stood with Luke Puskedra's mom at the finish line, who was holding his daughter, while she stressed about the fact her son was in 4th and trying to grab that last Olympic spot toward the finish from Jared Ward. It didn't happen for him.
There were 211 men qualified, and 246 women. You saw 3 finish and make the team. Think about that for a second. Over 450 athletes who qualified for the event, trying to live their dream and accomplish their likely life-long goal, didn't achieve it. Only 6 did. But if you watched TV, it was all about the fulfillment of an Olympic dream, as though each athlete was going to have that happen. But it doesn't.
Sometimes you don't get what you want. There are plenty of tears, plenty of upset athletes, but we highlight the few happy ones on TV. The truth is we call it competition for a reason. Someone loses, and usually more people lose than win.
You can do all the work and not reach your goal. You can do everything perfectly, and it can still not be good enough. This is hard for athletes to comprehend and understand some times but it is a reality of competing. And of course, it is very rare we do everything right in preparation and training, as well as execute a perfect race.
One can and should be happy to make the Olympic Trials, but telling these athletes that is like telling you good job after you fell short of a dream result at your key race. I'm sure it is little consolation if you really committed and cared about the result.
So what is my point? My point is that when you decide to take this performance journey, you aren't promised anything. You likely should be promised that you won't be successful, especially as the goals begin to reach elite levels. You might come close, but you aren't deserving of the result you want just because you work hard and are dedicated. Winning and high performance is about a combination of ability, fitness, coaching, strategy, health, commitment, race execution, and even luck. Many athletes think because they have some ability and commitment, they should see the results. But that's only a part of the high performance puzzle.
I'm not trying to push you away from trying, but I am trying to get you to not focus on the result. The process of going after your goal is the real rewarding aspect of sport.
Be patient, and don't expect anything. Have confidence in your preparation that you have the opportunity to perform at the level you want, or the goals you want, but to expect these to happen just because you worked hard isn't realistic. Yes, you likely aren't going for an Olympic team spot, so you're not competing against the elites, but you likely are competing against a much larger population base than the Olympic Trials athletes were. There's probably more than 200+ athletes in your category, or chasing the championship level you are.
You will have set-backs. You will fail and get beat at certain races. You might even hate the people who beat you, but it will happen. Does this mean you wasted your time? ABSOLUTELY NOT. You will learn more about yourself in the losses than the accomplishments.
Just keep in mind, it isn't all Olympic berths for everyone, or happy endings. You're taking on this challenge of sport because it isn't easy. So don't expect easy, promised results. But this also makes the great results you do have, that much more rewarding.