two kinds of pain
as i name-dropped in an earlier post, i spent a couple weeks in an exchange program with yuko arimori, japan's 1992 olympic marathon silver medalist. at one point, i mentioned that my marathon times had plateaued around 3:30 and sheepishly asked for training advice. yuko said, "try harder during the race -- not before."
hmmm. i'd attributed my slow progress to a poor training regimen, which i self-servingly attributed to my devotion to family and career. as yuko graciously suggested, i could go faster at my current level of preparation, as long as i was willing to take on a li'l pain.
i'd thought that athletic excellence was a product of genetic endowment and preparation, but lots of people have great bodies and excellent training. the champions are also distinguished by their willingness to suffer during performances -- what james coleman called "zeal," or what sportscasters call "heart." no matter how smooth their stride, the great distance runners also tend to be grinders.
that's why my favorite olympian to date is constantina tomescu-dita (above), who won the women's marathon last night. tough runner. at 38, she was among the oldest women in the field and certainly the oldest to win an olympic marathon. she's a classic front-runner, in the prefontaine sense of the world -- sprinting out in front of the pack and then hanging on until the wheels fall off. though her stride was choppy and her time was far from the record, she gutted out a nice victory.
kara goucher, who ran the 10,000 meters this weekend, didn't finish as strong as ms. tomescu-dita. in fact, ms. goucher called herself out for not pushing harder. here's a quote from jim souhan's strib story:
"The pace was quick and it was starting to get hot, and I made a major mistake. I started thinking about Tuesday [when she'll be running the 5,000 meters], and I let that become a reason that it's OK not to gut it out. It was a big mistake, and I'll be thinking about it for a long time." ... Goucher ran in place for a moment, to demonstrate her energy level, and said: "I have so much stuff left right now, which is the worst feeling, because I'm not laying on the track. Regret is the worst feeling. I'm not saying I would have done any better, but I definitely did not risk it, and that was my only goal for the race, was to risk it."
ouch. my sense is that ms. goucher is probably being too tough on herself, but it reminds me that olympians deal with at least two types of pain: (1) the pain of running to complete exhaustion and breakdown; and, (2) the pain of not running to complete exhaustion and breakdown. for anyone who makes it to the olympics, i'm guessing that the latter pain is worse.