This one could also be titled “Us vs. Them”, but I don’t want people thinking I’m talking about the US vs. everyone else. I’m talking us – the regular, everyday athletes who run for fitness, for recreation, and may even race seriously from time to time, but ultimately running is a hobby for us. If we can’t do it, yeah it’ll suck, but that’s about it. And them – the elite athletes who make their living through their athletic ability and performance.
This morning was the Men’s Olympic Marathon, and just as last week for the women, I got up to watch it. As with the women, the US was fielding a strong team – Meb Keflezighi, Ryan Hall and Abdi Abdirahman. Unlike the women, where we had been hearing for a week about Desi Davila’s hip flexor issues and the potential that she might DNS (Did Not Start for those newer to running and/or unfamiliar with the term) the Women’s Marathon, I hadn’t heard any rumblings of any issues with our men. Yes, the race was expected to go to the Kenyans and/or the Ethiopians, but we had a strong team, and in a race with no pacemakers, they had a chance – especially Ryan Hall, who’s run uber quick paces in marathons before – indeed, even leading the 2010 Boston Marathon a good deal of the way.
Ryan Hall in particular takes a lot of heat. He is a very devout Christian and takes his faith extremely seriously. He is self-coached and relies on God’s guidance during his training. As a result of this, there are many people who mock him and make fun of him. I’m not addressing this here, though I have all the respect in the world for him and others who live their faith so completely. I have yet to see him condemning people for not believing as vehemently as they do him FOR believing. If you don’t want to believe in God, that’s fine. But don’t mock those who do and who live their lives in that way. Ok…end of that lecture.
Back to the race today.
They started, and early on, I could see Meb and Abdi up front before things started spreading out. I eventually saw Ryan (I’m just waiting to see how many hits this gets with the new and terrifying VP nominee’s last name being Ryan) back in the pack. He did get to the front for a little while, but then fell back. Around 58 minutes into the race, he stepped off the course, thus DNFing (Did Not Finish) the race. No one knew why. In the footage I saw, it looked as if he was holding his upper back thigh in the high hamstring area, but I couldn’t tell. Moments later, we got footage of Abdi stepping off the course and thus DNFing. He was limping, but again, there was no word on why.
Eventually the cameras got to Ryan, who looked bewildered and a bit shell-shocked and disbelieving at what happened. He said that his hamstring was tight this morning and that rather than it loosening up as he ran it was tightening more and more. He then said, “I’ve never DNFed a race before. Not finishing a race is not an option unless I really think I’m going to do serious damage to my career.” Should I bold that? He had never DNFed a race before and it is not an option unless he really thinks he will do serious damage to his career. Would a torn hamstring end a career? Maybe not in and of itself, but it could cause other things that would.
I never saw any interview with Abdi (I’ll give the caveat here that now that the marathon is over I’m watching Shark Week, so if they’ve shown something since after they interviewed Meb I don’t know about it), but some poking around on the interwebs found that apparently there was some knee stuff going on. Abdi had this statement. “It was the hardest thing to do. At the same time I didn’t want to push hard and I didn’t want to take the risk because of the pain I was feeling in my leg. The best thing was to shut it down and drop out.”
And we all know that last week, Desi Davila DNFed because of her hip flexor issues.
As I expected due to seemingly the majority’s mocking of Ryan for his faith and “his coach”, his DNF is the one getting the attention and the sarcastic comments. I’ve seen no one saying Abdi or Desi should have pushed on. I’ve seen no one indicating they were lazy or just didn’t feel like running. They – nor Ryan – haven’t been ejected from the Games for not showing sportsmanship (or however they termed it when the badminton teams that were throwing matches were ejected). These runners are al athletes who take their job as athletes seriously and want to be the best they can be.
For us, yes, we want to be the best we can be. No one wants to DNF a race – be you an elite or a back of the pack runner. I’ve struggled with whether to continue in a race or a training run myself. At last year’s Wine & Dine half, I had the worst race of my life. I was wheezy due to an allergy attack, but I was too stubborn to quit, so I pressed on. I later found out that a few days later when I was feeling and breathing better my lungs were operating at something like 48% capacity…when I was feeling and breathing better. Lord only knows what they were operating at when I was doing that race. I could have done serious damage to myself by continuing to run and eve just to walk. I learned a lesson. I’ve stopped several long runs over the past couple of years because something didn’t feel right. Would I have done serious damage to myself if I’d pushed on? I don’t have a way of knowing, but even as a recreational runner, I didn’t want to take that chance. Had I pushed on and done damage, best case I, like any elite athlete who injures themselves a bit, might have been out of running for a few weeks or months; worst-case I might have had to find another way to keep fit.
If a professional athlete pushes through an ache that they know is more than a niggle they are risking their entire livelihood. If they push through and tear a muscle or suffer (or aggravate) a stress fracture, they face the possibility of ending the way they make their living. They more than any of us have learned to listen to their bodies, and they know and recognize their limits.
Now, I know people are going to be citing Manteo Mitchell, who ran the final half of his lap in the Men’s 4×400 relay on a broken leg. The bottom line is, we don’t (and probably at this point he doesn’t) know what damage he’s done to his body long-term.
It’s very easy to sit on our couch or bed, or even be running (at much slower paces than they are or you’d be the one over in London) and say “He’s not trying.” “She’s a quitter.” “They should have kept going.” We’re not them, and we’re not in their heads. If we learn to listen to our bodies through the training we do, imagine how well they learn to listen to their bodies through all the training they do. I’m recalling the movie Spirit of the Marathon where Deena Kastor while in training, broke a bone in her foot. She said that she had a feeling something was wrong and she needed to stop, and when she got the MRI done, the doctor told her it’s a lucky thing she stopped when she did because one more step and she could have broken the bone completely (as opposed to the crack/stress fracture that it was) and been out of running for much longer. Because it happened while she was training, no one really knew or made a big deal out of it. Had it happened during the race and she made the decision for herself to stop, I’m sure there would have been many armchair quarterbacks so to speak who would have been saying “Oh, she should have continued on.” IMHO, people who make their living through their bodies know more than most of us how to read the signals that their bodies are giving them.
From what I’m reading, there are many who have a gladiator mentality and think no one should quit until they drop dead. If you want to think that, that’s fine. But then you probably shouldn’t be following the blog of a back of the pack run/walker since in your opinion I’m probably not trying hard enough or else I’d be running until my lungs gave out.
For me, I’d much rather see the example of people who listen to what their bodies are telling them and do what they believe they need to. They aren’t making the decision lightly, but they’re making the best decision for them at that time. And I believe it takes as much if not more courage to step away from something you truly want even when you know it’s the right thing to do than to press on and end up sidelined or dead.
Two very different views. And now you know which side I come down on.
Now, all that said, KUDOS to Meg Keflezighi for an incredible performance, moving from 17th at the half to 4th at the finish. Truly an amazing run Meb! You’re also one of my heroes!