I’m thankful for reading.
“So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn’t it be the other way around? ” Kathleen Kelly, You’ve Got Mail
When I read something prior to running, it floats around my brain and new ideas are jolted loose with each pounding step. The thoughts are exponentially engrossing when what I’ve read highlights someone I admire and, well, running. I read an article in The New Yorker by Malcolm Gladwell: Slackers, Alberto Salazar and the art of exhaustion. I learned some things about Gladwell and Salazar, but the most important thing I gleaned from the article was not something I learned. Rather, I was reminded of something I’ve known since I started running.
As a new runner, it’s easy to “leave it all on the course/track.” One doesn’t really know what else to do. There’s little ability to hold back because of a complete inexperience with race strategy. I remember finishing so many cross country races, early on, completely spent. As time progressed, there were times I felt like I left it all out there, but looking back, I was fibbing to myself. I didn’t realize it until I read this profound Gladwell snippet:
“For most of us, slack-the gap between what is possible, under conditions of absolute effort, and actual performance-is unavoidable.”
There were times where I truly left everything out there. There were also times I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I could have obliterated the gap between what is possible and actual performance. The first key here, for me, is learning from it and affecting the future with it. I can’t wallow in the past of should have, would have, could haves. I can’t stay stuck.
The second key is encouraging others. Gladwell says of his first, and what seems like only, experience laying it all on the line:
“I had given it my all. And I realized that what everyone says you should always do was so painful that I never wanted to do it again.”
What made him never want to do that again? The pain of childbirth doesn’t deter thousands upon thousands of women from having more than one child. The pain of standing, awake and moving, for 48/46 hours as part of THON (the largest student-run philanthropy in the world) doesn’t stop students from participating year in and year out. The pain a Team in Training participant experiences finishing a first marathon doesn’t stop thousands from doing their second, third, twentieth. At least two brushes with death didn’t deter Salazar from continuing to perform as one of the toughest runners ever. Young Gladwell likely didn’t have the kind of reinforcement a mother, dancer, a TNT runner and Salazar have had with their experiences. A mother has the unfailing love of a child and bringing life into the world, THON dancers and TNT runners have dedication to a cause bigger than them and Salazar had a faith and father that pushed him past new horizons. They all had that thing, tangible or not, that helps shrink the chasm between what’s possible and what’s actual.
My take home:
1) Try with all I have to reduce the gap between the possible and the actual whenever I can. Not just with athletics, but with life.
2) Encourage others to do the same. Gladwell said, “We pretend that meritocracies – our favored word for modern competitions – are contests of equals. They aren’t. Some people can stay close only by making painful choices, and, as the standards of competition rise, those choices grow more painful still.” With encouragement, understanding and support that the “pain” is short but will be fruitful, think of the amazing, beautiful and wonderful things that can come to fruition. Encourage the end of slacking.
“Let us live so that when we come to die even the undertake will be sorry.” Mark Twain