Molly, Eliud and me.
I spent the last two evenings watching the Olympic marathons. August 6th, was the women's marathon and the men's event happened on the 7th - for me anyway. Tokyo is, what, 13 hours ahead of Montclair, New Jersey and so their 7 a.m. is our 6 pm. I saw two thrilling examples of athletic achievement - one, simply stunning because of the surprise and sheer grit; the other amazing because of its transcendent inevitability. One was a come-from-Wisconsin Underdog; the other, the best runner of his generation - the best of any generation, if you're going by the clock. (alright then; cliffhanger! I'm going to finish this post after I go for my Sunday 40-mile bike ride.)
Okay, I'm back. So in the women's marathon, it was Molly Seidel. She did not win, but her bronze medal felt like a victory for all of us. She was the underdog that came out of Nowhere, Wisconsin. The race was run in brutal, humid conditions. By the time I turned it on there were only four women in the lead pack. The attrition was stunning. Two Kenyans, and Eritrean and Molly Seidel. Molly was running only her 3rd competitive marathon ever - which is two less than I've run - and in her words she was just there to "stick her nose in where it wasn't wanted" and see what happens. Eventually, the Eritrean broke and it was just her and the two Kenyans, who were running as partners, sharing water and ice and encouraging each other and occassionally looking at Molly as if to say - what are you doing here?. From the New York Times ... "Kenyan Peres Jepchirchir, 27, her grand hair swaying to and fro, budged ahead of her teammate Brigid Kosgei, 27, to win in 2 hours 27 minutes 20 seconds. Sixteen seconds later, Kosgei, the world record holder from the 2019 Chicago Marathon, won silver. And then whoa, 10 seconds after that came Molly Seidel, 27, the Wisconsinite and Notre Dame graduate and Boston resident who trained in Arizona heat with teammate Aliphine Tuliamuk (who did not finish) and wrung a soaring third place from her third marathon ever."
And the wonderful thing about Molly is that she really comes off as down to earth - girl next door - as exotic as a cold Budweiser and as wholesome as a bowl of Wheaties - and that's exactly why she should be on the box. Her transparent joy when she thanked her parents back home and said, "drink a beer for me" was beyond heartwarming. Among many touching Olympic moments, it was right up there.
And finally, her absolute guilelessness in even attempting to do what she did. To get up, eat a breakfast of eggs and toast and "alot of coffee" and go out and run as hard as you can for over 2 hours - four times longer than your normal competitive distance which is the 10k in 86% humidity with people being carried away on stretchers all around you - that's the sort of naivete that you hope a whole generation of runners and anyone who wants to take on the impossible is paying attention to.
I'm not a "real" runner by any stretch of the imagination, though, as I mentioned, I've run a few and I've been running since the my mid 20's when I cleaned up my life, attempted to quit smoking, and said to myself "I'm just going to run down around the reservoir once, which is 1/3 of a mile, and then tomorrow, I'll run around it twice. And I'll keep adding a lap until I get to 3 miles and then I'll just start running somewhere and I'll see how it goes."
I got bored after running in circles the 3rd or fourth day and just started running and I've never looked back. I ran in Seattle and then ran on the beach when I interviewed in LA. I thought to myself, "it's 70 degrees and it's April and I'm not choking on smog. I guess I can do LA."
I used to run around the golf course in Brentwood and then I would run all the way down San Vicente to the beach and back from my apartment at 550 Barrington. That was 7 miles. And then I would jump in the pool at the apartment complex and feel kind of guilty about not showering first but it felt so awesome!
Tracey and I ran our first 1/2 marathon together in San Pedro. After that, we ran the LA marathon, the inaugural Rock-n-Roll marathon in San Diego, The Seattle Marathon, the Vancouver Marathon and the Portland Marathon and the 5ks 10k and half marathons are too numerous to count.
After we moved to San Diego my regular Sunday Long run was 16 miles - from our home in Mission Hills down past the Presidio, along the river and out to Mission Beach. I really enjoyed the challenge and the feeling of depletion.
I know what it's like to bonk, to dehydrate, to wobble, to hit the wall, to experience the beginnings of heat stroke.
So when I watch the marathoners, I have an empathetic connection with the runner. I admire the quick cadence and way that the best runners seem to bounce off the ground. Not that you or I could ever be an elite runner. My personal best marathon was 3'43"; my person best half was 1'35." I was always best on the hills because of my short stride and huge quads.
During the second running of the Rock and Roll marathon - which I did not participate in - I rode my bike down to the finish, and watched as the Kenyans and Ethiopians crossed the line. They weren't winded. The winner didn't even put his hands on his knees. And I realized in that moment as I sat stradling my bike, 6 feet away from this extraordinary individual that I could just as soon train or will my way to doing what he did, as I could decide to be seven feet tall.
Eliud Kipochoge is the ultimate example of this sort of gifted runner. His story, in a sense, was the opposite of Molly's - he was the overdog, the world record holder, the defending Olympic Gold medalist and the only one to ever run a marathon under two hours (aided.)
Watching him was just as inspiring. The runners ran in a pack until mile 18, at which point, he waved to Galen Rupp as if to say, "You've been tailing me all morning, why don't you take the lead - I'm ready to take off, let's go." Galen did not take the bait, and Kipochoge literally took off like he had the wings of mercury on his ankles. He finished more than a minute ahead of the next runner. He's the Lebron of running; that gifted, that superior, and yes he works that hard.
His personal motto is "No Human is Limited."
And I think, yes and no. I cannot be Eliud Kipochoge. But thanks to Molly & Eliud and the rest of the Olympic athletes, I have spent the day asking myself, what limits am I putting on myself?