If you’re running at about a 5 min/mi pace that’s about 141 ft or 47 yards. From that distance you can clearly read a stop sign or recognize a friend walking toward you. This past Saturday, eight seconds from the finish, Dathan Ritzenhein could clearly see the finish line for the US Men’s Olympic Marathon trials. From that distance he was watching from behind as Abdi Abdirahman took the third and final spot for the US Men’s Olympic Marathon team. From that distance he knew he wasn’t going to London for the games.
Dathan has had a rough year for an athlete at any level, but it had to be particularly excruciating for a professional. In March of 2011 Ritzenhein had a sheath removed from his achilles and a neuroma removed from his right foot. His achilles became infected as a result of the surgery and he was still dealing with it in August. He ran a 5k in October which was his first race in almost a year, then a month later he got the stomach flu. Imagine having that kind of year knowing that the Olympic trials were coming up in January. Knowing that 2011 had been a breakout year at the marathon distance where world records were set both internationally and in the US. Knowing that the competition at the trials would be the toughest ever.
For the year he had, I thought Ritzenhein ran a great race. At Mile 17 he was right there with Ryan, Meb and Abdi, but then he started to fall back. He was 32 seconds behind Abdi at mile 24, to catch him he would need to run 16 secs/mi faster than Abdi just to close the gap. It would seem like a herculean task for someone clocking 5 minute miles to run 16 secs/mile faster at that point in the race, and yet he closed the gap to 8 seconds at the finish. If Dathan would have had another mile, he probably would have caught Abdi and made the team.
Dathan finished in 2:09:55 but Meb Keflezighi, Ryan Hall and Abdi all finished with faster times. This was the first time all three qualifiers finished under 2:10. In any other year Dathan’s time would have earned him a spot on the Olympic team.
I look at Dathan and I ask myself is “Do I have his strength of character?” Could I spend four years in preparation, deal with the trials and obstacles and in the final moments see everything I worked so hard for just brush past my fingertips as it exceeds my grasp? I think many of us live quiet unassuming lives because we are afraid of what that would feel like. To put it all out there, to pour ourselves out until we are empty and still fall short. To experience that sharp pain of disappointment and experience the self-doubt that comes in the aftermath of a failed effort.
I think most of us subconsciously don’t want to try too hard at anything because it’s easier dealing with the dull pain of regret than the sharp pain of failure. It’s easier to stand on the sidelines and cheer others than risk what self-esteem we have left on an endeavor with no guaranteed outcome. We think it’s tolerable to hide in the shadows and deal with the voices of fear in our heads than hear the voices of the masses if we crash and burn.
The time we’ve been given is a limited commodity and the clock’s running. Take the next eight seconds and decide if you’re willing to put it all on the line and risk failing at something you care about deeply. If it takes longer than eight seconds to decide, if you’re taking the time weighting outcomes and risks, odds are you’ll probably be making the wrong decision. Let’s all stop thinking and start doing, the clock’s running…