By Blake Boldon
Not too long ago I was scouring the internet looking for some old race results and I stumbled upon a 5k road race from the summer of 1996. That summer the Olympics were hosted in Atlanta and there were some incredible races run on American soil in the months of June, July and August. Mine was not one of them.
I was entering my junior year of high school in my small hometown of Osceola, Iowa and training like never before. Having qualified for the state cross country meet the previous fall, I was logging summer miles with dreams of improving on my 56th place finish in the Class 2A state championship. Here is the result I found:
9th Annual Firecracker 5k Run/Walk – July 4th, 1996, Webster City, Iowa
|1||M Winner||Justin Gottschalk||Ames||16:32:26|
|5||F Winner||Jana Peterson||Webster City||18:07:7|
Knowing that I competed with everything I had on that day, it doesn’t take long to figure out that I wasn’t especially good as a high school junior. But I distinctly remember being pleased with the result and how I out sprinted a guy for 3rd place. Somehow I managed not to notice that I lost by well over a minute, was beaten by two other high school runners, and I barely beat the top woman. I remember the satisfaction that I left with that day when I got in the car with my dad to make the 2 hour drive home. I had only run faster a handful of times and I felt that I had competed well. The fact that I was barely the third best runner at another area high school didn’t dawn on me and I kept my goal set on being one of the best runners in the state of Iowa.
Now, flash forward 12 years and consider this result from 2008:
Mt. SAC Relays – 4/17/2008 to 4/20/2008 – “Where the world’s best athletes compete”
Event 382 Men 5000 Meter Run Invitational
Name Year Team Finals
1 Birmingham, Collis Melbourne TC 13:21.12
2 Carroll, Mark adidas (Ireland) 13:28.09
3 Overall, Scott Brooks Team Indi 13:28.33
4 Korir, Jacob Eastern Kentucky 13:29.12
5 Quigley, Sean La Salle 13:30.25
6 Koborsi, Rod Reebok 13:30.65
7 Olinger, Brian Reebok 13:31.21
8 Bauhs, Scott Chico State 13:31.90
9 King, Kyle Zap Fitness 13:32.74
10 Woolhouse, Jason New Balance New 13:35.71
11 Suarez, Alejandro Mexico 13:36.69
12 McDougal, Josh Liberty University 13:37.13
13 P�rez, Julio Athletics Mexico 13:39.57
14 Browne, Dan Nike 13:42.32
15 Songok, Shadrack Texas A&M-Corpus 13:42.96
16 Cabada, Fernando Reebok 13:44.11
17 Smyth, Patrick Notre Dame 13:45.72
18 Boldon, Blake Saucony 13:46.39
19 Braden, Forest Brooks Team Indi 13:50.62
20 Kiboiywo, Felix Auburn 13:53.5
This result in 2008 is my personal best for 5000 meters and I gave a tremendous effort, nearly collapsing at the finish. Instead of the satisfaction that I felt after the 5k back in July of 1996, I remember disappointment and heartache flooding me on my cool down at Mt. Sac. I had finished out of sight of the leaders and fell well short of my goal of 13:35. At this stage I was running professionally and preparing for the Olympic trials; losing to several collegiate athletes was almost more than I could stand.
Since I found the 1996 high school result, I have reflected a lot on the lessons to be learned. Firstly, I think it’s crucial for every runner to find the positives of every racing experience. Back in 1996 if I had focused on the downside of my race I would have likely been consumed by my mediocrity and never made the significant jump in performance that came later. I somehow had the faith and self-assurance to look the facts straight in the face and remain determined to become a highly competitive distance runner, even though that was clearly not the case at the time. Although borderline delusional, the unwavering self belief was a crucial ingredient in the enormous steps I made as a distance runner. A corollary to this first lesson is that runners have to avoid being overwhelmed by the negatives of a result or outcome. At Mt. SAC in 2008 I focused on the negatives and missed out on celebrating the fastest 5000 meters of my life. That day should probably be one of the highlights of my running career but I spent it disappointed about my perceived failure.
The second lesson, and maybe the most important, that I can share is that astonishing progress is possible for anybody. Maybe you are a high school boy who can barely break 18 minutes but dreams of running at a national championship. Maybe you are a beginning marathoner hoping to someday qualify for Boston. Maybe you are a national level masters runner hoping to set new PR’s. Maybe you just hope to finish the local St. Patrick’s Day run this week. Whatever the case is, you have to focus on the positives of your situation and believe that your goals are within reach. The surest way to miss a goal is to believe that it’s impossible but the key ingredient to realizing your goals is an unwavering self confidence that you can improve and achieve.
As an athlete I experienced it firsthand and as a coach I have seen runners of all skill levels do more than they initially thought possible. A collegiate runner sets a 2 minute PR in the 10k and qualifies for nationals. An experienced marathoner smashes her personal best by over 25 minutes (and attains a long sought after Boston qualifier). A high school sprinter shatters his PR in the 300 meter hurdles by over 4 seconds. Does any of this sound extraordinary? Not to them. As unique as each of these runners are, the common thread is self belief. None of these athletes, myself included, ruled out the possibility of doing something remarkable. Neither should you. Believe in your ability to be extraordinary. Set your goals and enjoy the pursuit.