I have always craved starting lines. Starting lines have a magnetic pull for me. Even more than the finish, I crave the start. I yearn to toe that line and measure myself not only against my competitors and the clock, but also against my previous limits. Starting lines represent hope. They represent a dream, and all the preparation it took to get there. I have stood on starting lines at state championships, NCAA championships, USATF championships, World Championships, and at the Olympic games. Each starting line has had that pull for me. Each has represented a dream and a journey.
I believe starting lines give you a purpose. When you stand at the line before the start of a race you know exactly what you want to do. You have a direction and a goal. During the race you are fulfilling that purpose with each stride and each breath. You are constantly striving to do exactly what you set out to do before the race began.
Beginning in high school I wanted to stand on the biggest starting lines possible. I wanted to feel the adrenaline – the anticipation of the unknown. I never knew exactly what was going to happen but I was fully committed to giving it everything I had. Once the race started, there was a different pull. The finish line. I used to think the finish is what drove me to work hard and dream big, but each time I crossed a finish line I immediately began looking forward to the next start. I would reflect on what I could have done differently to better my time or finish. Should I have matched that early move or let it go? Should I have squeezed in one more long run or backed off on my last interval session? Where is the next line? When can I begin again?
The Last Race
Recently I had been running nearly injury free. I was as healthy as I had been in years so I decided to chase yet another starting line. I entered the Philadelphia half marathon with a dream of earning a spot on the starting line at my fifth Olympic Trials. If I was worthy, healthy, and prepared, I believed I had a chance to make the Olympic team. Maybe not a good chance, but a chance, and that was enough. Although I was relatively healthy going into the race in Philly, I was bothered by a sore knee and a ankle that had a Talar Dome impingement, but neither were stopping me from training and I felt optimistic about my chances.
Doubt started to enter my mind a few days before the race. Even though my knee had been bothering me the past few months I was able to train at a sufficient level. My knee was very sore leading up to the race but I chalked it up to travel and stress. I stayed positive and figured I would get some treatment after the race and everything would be fine.
During the race I felt the knee the entire time. As soon as I finished it flared and I was very sore just walking around. I told myself to be smart and take a few days off to let it recover. The problem is that it did not recover. A month after the half marathon I was not training at the level I needed to. Both my foot and knee were limiting me so I decided to take action.
The type of pain in my knee indicated inflammation in one of the bursa sacs. Doctors told me a cortisone shot might calm it down enough for me to get back to training. Since the injection in my knee was already going to knock me out for a couple days, I decided to take care of the foot as well. Two cortisone shots later I was hopeful I would be back to training at full capacity. I was heartbroken when neither the foot nor the knee improved. Reluctantly, I consented to an MRI to confirm my worst fears. I had resisted the MRI because I didn’t want to know. I didn’t want the dream of that starting line to be ripped away. The MRI showed a torn meniscus (the same meniscus I had repaired a year earlier) and substantial damage to the cartilage in the joint. I needed surgery. Again.
Almost in a daze I listened to the doctor explain how the damage in my knee was causing the joint to be “unstable” which caused the muscles in my quads and surrounding areas to compensate when I ran or even walked. He uttered phrases about “micro-fracture surgery” and “shaving down the bone” but all I could hear and all I could think about was how my Olympic Trials starting line was fading away.
This coming Friday (November 11, 2011) I will go under the knife again to fix what is broken. Within a week I should be able to start some gentle cross training, and within four weeks I will be able to begin some easy running. There is not enough time. There will be no Olympic Trials marathon in January. That is one starting line I will not make.
I have two choices. Option 1: I can feel sorry for myself, curse my less than durable body, and regret trying for that starting line in the first place, or Option 2: I can accept the circumstances, be thankful I took a shot, and focus on what is next. I choose option 2. I choose to look back at my comeback attempt as a worthwhile experience. I do not have to live with “What if” in the back of my mind. Although I am saddened by the outcome, I have no regrets for trying.
I am retiring from elite racing but I am not done running. Not by a long shot! I am looking forward to new starting lines and joining the millions of runners who find inspiring reasons to run that do not include Olympic berths or even personal bests. Those days might be behind me but I feel like my running career is just beginning. I am a runner. That will never change.
In chapter 10 of our book “Running the Edge” Tim tells a story titled “Be Great at Something Else.” It is a story I recently re-read to hear coach Wetmore’s advice as he tells Tim that running has realistically taken him as far as it ever will. Wetmore urges him to take the discipline and lessons learned from running and apply the same tenacity, determination, and spirit to be great at something else. This is what I intend to do.
Starting lines and finish lines are edges. They are edges that drive us to action, and frame our journey. To Run the Edge is to never stop dreaming of what is possible or striving to find the limits of our potential. Chasing those edges keeps us moving in the right direction, not just in running but in everything we do. I have new edges to run and new starting lines to toe. The anticipation, mystery, and excitement of what will happen next motivate me to give these journeys everything I have.
I am thankful for everything elite running has given me. It has allowed me to travel the world, to make a living doing something I love, and to make wonderful, positive, and encouraging friends.
I am thankful for the Run the Edge community that continues to build and grow as a positive force in my life. I have not always been positive. I have had my moments of weakness where I’ve said and done things that I regret. But I am in progress and at a new starting line. I want to contribute in only positive ways to the running community. I want to give back, help, support, foster, and encourage other runners. I want to share my passion, love for running, and the lessons I have learned. From high school runners to forty year veterans, if I can contribute to their journey, I will. If I can help provide motivation, education, inspiration, or even just entertainment, then I am fulfilling the purpose of this new starting line.
A finish line without another staring line is empty. The applause will die, the personal satisfaction will fade. There needs to be something else- another purpose. I realize now that the finish line was never what truly drove me. It was the start. In my mid thirties I finally understand the truth in the cliché “Its not the destination but the journey.”
My marriage was a starting line. The birth of my son was a starting line. I am in the middle of those journeys and they bring me purpose while demanding my very best. I need to be fully committed to those journeys and giving them everything I have. Writing “Running the Edge” with Tim has provided many more starting lines just as exciting and full of opportunities to test my limits and desire.
So as I retire from elite running, I don’t look at it as if I have stood on my last starting line. This is a new beginning for me. It is a new direction full of many different purposes, hopes, and dreams. I want to be better. I want to test my previous limits. I am excited to have a chance to compete and see just how far I can go.