Something I wrote many years ago came to my mind today: an invitation for students to try-out in the long distance running team I used to coach.
Here it is:
It takes a special fiber to be a long distance runner.
Hicham El Guerrouj, the Moroccan runner, almost gave up. He had been to the Olympics twice before as the favorite in the 1,500 m. Both times, he lost. In 1996, in Atlanta, he fell on the final lap and finished last. In 2000, in Sydney, Noah Ngeny from Kenya got the gold medal finishing 0.15 of a second ahead of him. But El Guerrouj did not give up. He came back. On Aug. 24, 2004, in Athens, he won the 1,500 m gold and four days later, the 29-year-old won the 5,000 m, becoming the first man to win both races in the same games since Finnish legend Paavo Nurmi in 1924.
Hicham El Guerrouj, from Morocco: hero!
I tell my runners to repeat to themselves “Never give up! Never surrender! Never!” At the end of the race, when you think you don’t have any energy left, when you think you don’t have anything left to give, you repeat to yourself, “Never give up! Never surrender! Never!” and you do what needs to be done. You extend your limits. You go beyond. You discover someone you did not know: the hero inside!
Next time you meet a long distance runner remember that you are near a very special type of athlete. It takes persistence. It takes courage. It takes discipline. It takes guts, lots of guts.
John Stephen Akhwari took a terrible fall early in the marathon at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. Long after the race was over for everyone else, the Tanzanian, bloodied and bandaged, limped into the stadium and collapsed across the finish line. He finished in last place. When asked why he did not quit, he responded: “My country did not send me over 11,000 kilometers to start the race. They sent me 11,000 kilometers to finish it.”
John Stephen Akhwari, from Tanzania: hero!
It does not matter if you finish first or last. If the intention is right, the hero is revealed.
I remember my first marathon – 26.2 miles – in Chicago. Several of us were having a hard time to get to the finish line: soreness, pain, cramps, nausea, you name it. Then this runner, who had already finished the race and was now back to mile 25 to encourage other runners, said “Don’t give up! You are almost there! Finish and you will be a marathoner and no one will ever take this away from you!” This was the last encouragement I needed. I don’t know who he is, but I will never forget his words! Encouraging others, helping each other, this is the spirit real heroes are made of!
Long distance running gives you a chance not only for you to become a better athlete, but to become a better human being.
Talk to the American Heritage Long Distance runners. Ask them about the excitement and joy of victory. They will tell you about pain and glory! Ask them about the joy of progressing and seeing effort pay off. They will tell you that they have learned that you get from it what you put into it.
And here’s what you put into it: miles and more miles. You build endurance first, and then speed. You come to your first 5 kilometer race – 3.1 miles – and you doubt you will be able to finish it. But you finish it: running, jogging, walking, or crawling. It does not matter. You finish the race! Finishing is the first victory! Finishing is a victory in itself! And afterwards, it gets easier. And you get better. And you get faster. And after a while you find yourself running against your old self, trying to run faster than you did before, competing against yourself. You are hooked. You have a passion that will keep you active and healthy for the rest of your life.
We have a great Cross Country program at American Heritage, but we want more. We are building a top-of-the-line program here and we want the best! I am inviting you to come out and join the team and be part of history in the making! I encourage you to try and to experience the noble and special fiber you are made of. I challenge you to be the best you can be and get to know, maybe for the first time, the hero inside!
Coach Piero – August 30th, 2005