At a ripe young age of 13, the word, “elite,” stood out to me. When I started running, I first heard this word used to describe the world’s best runners. “You’ll see elite Runners at the Tulsa Run today, Clay.”
I say this not to make talk out of nothing, but to get to the earnest truth… that was VERY cool to me. Elite. I was on a mission to become one of them.
Truth be told, I was halted in my journey. I would, at least, like to claim I was sub-elite at one point. With marks of 14.16 for the 5000 m, 30.05 road 10k at altitude, tempo’ing a random 25k in Oklahoma in sub 5.20 mile pace, I had sparks of “He’s-Getting-There” potential. However, I had become an arrogant son-of-a-gun and blind in the process of life.
I started running when I was 13, and I kept running because I saw my running family every week at road races. Pete Orban, Tom Lam, Ron Wall, and John Stukey were like my fathers — and the top Masters women were like second moms to me. Everything they said, I absorbed. Every bit of advice they told me, I wrote down in a notebook.
I did not drink, ever. I did not smoke, ever. I stayed out of trouble and when I went to parties in college, it usually ended with me giving the tipsy folk a drive home to keep them out of trouble. You could say I was a good kid. However, that means nothing when your life revolves around one thing. You start to glorify training, and only training. You start to think that you’re the best runner, and it’s just a matter of time before you join the ranks of the elites on the road racing scene. For me, it was. I can confidently say that I could have been the guy racing semi-elite marathons, winning and pocketing the prize money as if it was my rite of passage.
The Guy That Never Got Injured, Did
I’ve cursed at my leg out-loud, yelled to the extent I got dizzy, and I’ve asked it time after time to grow in strength. And then, finally, I began to pray for it so.
I can honestly say it was not until I let go of my blind desires that I saw the elite mindset I once craved was ill-found. I watched runners I ran with whine, “Woe is me, I deserve a sponsorship. I am the greatest thing since sliced bread.” The interviews I watched after elite races were no longer a means of celebrity gossip to me.
I can no longer listen to these interviews. I cringe at the outright narcissism I find in their interviews (my apologies for the bluntness in my words. One day, I’ll learn to become more soft spoken… maybe.)
However, there are sparks of runners out there that are quite insightful. As I watch 9/10 of elites bicker…errr, “discuss” their situation about not getting enough pay and literally living off their parents (you’d be shocked at how common this is), having no religious affiliation or true faith in anything, or even the slightest desire to broaden themselves, I can see their life is at a dead end.
That was going to be my dead end. Was I lucky for getting injured? I still can’t answer that with a straight face. I still get frustrated from getting humbled. More importantly, I still see the good it brought.
Who Are the Sparks of Insight?
I’ve found the most financially stable runners are Ryan Hall and Meb Keflezighi. There are others such as Nick Willis, Leo Manzano, etc., that have found tremendous success in giving back in their running. Hall hasn’t had a good race in 2-3 years, yet he’s more financially stable than he has been in YEARS. Meb went from doing well with Nike, to not having a sponsor, and as of recently signing for Sketchers. Most thought doing so was an unstable decision. Unlike Nike, signing with Sketchers has allowed Meb to have more than one sponsor, i.e., allowing more financial success, to which Meb has recently discussed.
God willing, there is a strong correlation with certain financially stable runners. I see Meb and Hall CONSTANTLY doing things weekly for local runners from all areas. Both have foundations that support a greater cause. Both don’t just sit in front of the TV to await their next run for five straight months. Both don’t rant on their social media accounts about what they did wrong in a race and, God forbid, what they did right to fuel their current lifestyle.
Ironically the same time I got hurt, I had random high schoolers come to me for coaching guidance. I saw their neediness for the sport, the original love I once had, the true feeling for joy of competition, a personal best, and no money for such results. I saw the age where one discovered running and realized, “Wow, you can actually see the results on paper for the work I put in.” A neat thing.
My first advice to high school runners: swallow the ego and listen, and you’ll go far. It’s amazing how such simple advice yields such great results. Being humble has its results too. Giving back yields more than just receiving from the running community.
Running is simple. The gun goes off and it does not stop until you cross the line. The fastest runner wins. The second fastest runner gets second –and so forth. So, in my eyes, the one’s that do like running are typically the genuine folk.
This is why I transitioned from venting over injuries to coaching high schoolers in my “time away from becoming elite… blah blah blah…” Over time I have seen both sides of the running world: The people that love the sport of distance running such as high schoolers and local road racers vs the elites.
I saw joy and enthusiasm from local road racers. I heard such things like, “I ran a PW today… A Personal Worst, but boy that was fun, Clay. Plus there’s always next week’s road race!” -Andy Hogan.
I saw a straight-edge guy, Ray Love, routinely warm up with his weekly rival, Andy, and they routinely switched off beating each other. They showed me the simple joy and camaraderie found in competition, with no incentive except a pat on the back from each other. I stopped asking who won at the races, but who won the Andy Hogan and Ray Love duel. I stopped watching interviews from Elites, and started writing up workouts for the runners I was lucky to help.
Note: I was the lucky one for the opportunity to guide, not them. I watched these same runners go not just to weekly high school track meets, but go to their weekly family reunions that they called, “track meets.”
Reeling You Back In
I am not saying what many elites/sub-elites are doing is wrong, per say. I have every intention to get back up to speed. However, I feel many are going about it in the wrong way. No, training at 100% is not wrong. But perhaps my psych related mentality finds that one can be quite successful at more than one thing. For example, top runners at Stanford, obviously, are 100% all in for their schooling and 100% for their running. My feeling is — most elites are settling for one singular focus in their lives. Let’s assume Ryan Hall quit running, what good would that do? Well, Hall has an ongoing charity that he is passionate about. Something positive lives on after him.
In the real world, there’s actual struggle going on in third world countries. Yet here we are, with elite runners moaning about not getting enough back from the running community, not getting enough pay, not getting enough back for their hard training. I’ve noticed elites charging astounding prices for ‘personal coaching’ from their greatness and charging a foot to do so. The results? They only give them black and white, cookie cutter training.
I’m awaiting 97% of our elites to wise up and stop asking to receive, but start to give back. I’m awaiting for some of them to stop calling their comebacks, “comebacks,” but rather their newfound testimonies.
To gain local running community’s love, they must see character in the elites’ lifestyles.
Take note of Meb and Hall. God Willing, they are successful, financially stable runners for a reason.
To anyone looking into what they can do for the community, this is a nonprofit organization that helps war torn families become stable: http://www.simpleregistry.com/worldcompassion/
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