Sometimes when we’re bored on runs, Mom tells me inspiring stories of other champion runners like me. The other day she told me this story about her friend who has cheetah DNA. Mom’s friend is one of those people who could run as fast as a car the first time she put on running shoes. Even though she lives in My Country, she was born in Another Country where not a lot of women run. So when she realized that she was a talented runner, she did some research and found out that she could go to the Olympics for Another Country if she could learn how to run even faster. She didn’t just have to get a little bit faster though, she had to run a lot faster. To make her dream of qualifying for the Olympics come true, she would have to run almost a minute per mile faster over a whole marathong.
So, Mom told me, her friend trained very hard for two years. She ran every day, except the days when she rested on purpose, and did other things that humans find hard like stretching. She made sacrifices like not eating out of the garbage can, even when she was feeling lonely or anxious. She raced some marathongs, but at first she didn’t get much faster. So she hired a marathong coach like me to help her, and unlike Mom, she listened to everything her coach said. She trained before sunrise in the winter in a city on the North Pole called Chicago, where the temperature was so cold that her whole face got red and her skin started to peel off. A few weeks before the deadline to qualify for the Olympics, her best marathong time was still more than 15 minutes slower than the qualifying time. But all of her hard work paid off, and she had the run of her life. She finished a marathong almost 20 minutes faster than she’d ever run before, and met the B qualifying standard for the Olympics!
“Mom,” I asked, “What’s a B qualifying standard?”
“It means that it is the slowest time that you can run and still get into the Olympics,” she said. Which would have been enough of an explanation, but Mom gets very excited about numbers, so she also explained that Jemima Jelagat Sumgong, who won the Olympic marathong that year, finished almost 21 minutes faster than the B qualifying time.
“Is that a lot?” I asked.
“That means that you could tear up $50 worth of toys from the sale bin at the pet store between when Sumgong finished and the B standard,” Mom explained.
“Oh yeah, that’s a lot,” I agreed. “But if her best race was a lot slower than the Kenyans can run, then how did she plan to win?”
“She didn’t go to win, Oscar,” Mom explained. “She went because participating in the Olympics and running for your country is a tremendous honor.” Then Mom explained that in 2016 there were hundreds of other women in the world who could run a marathong faster than her friend. In fact, the reason why Mom’s friend ran for Another Country was because in big running countries like The West and Kenya, there are so many ladies that can run the A standard, that the ones that can only run the B time don’t even make the team. “Just because she wasn’t going to get one of the only 3 finisher’s medals, does that mean that the experience of going to the Olympics, and racing with the best women in the world, and seeing her name on TV wasn’t worth it?”
“Wait! They didn’t even give her a medal?! And she knew that? And she still went?!” I said in disbelief.
“Yup. Of all the female runners in the world, only 157 women got to run that day, and all 157 went home Olympians. That’s way cooler than any finisher’s medal, right?”
I wasn’t so sure, but I guess humans think that sort of thing is important. Mom said that she and everyone who knew The Olympian were very excited because it feels very special to knew someone that can do super things like run as fast as a car. Even though they see her in person every day, all of the bosses at The Olympian’s work were so proud that they took a week of vacation to travel to a very far away place called Rio and see her in person some more, and bark their encouragement where she could hear them. This was a big sacrifice, because they gave up the very exciting opportunity to see her on the TV, and shout to all their friends, “I KNOW HER!”
“And all her friends who gave all that up and traveled around the world knew that she wasn’t going to win?” I asked incredulously. “They didn’t ask to trade in their plane tickets and say, ‘Forget it! I’m going to Fiji’?”
“Of course not! They waited quietly while the winners went by, because that’s not what they came to see. Then they barked and whooped their faces off for their friend.”
I had to think about that for a long time. Why would a fast person travel all that way for a race that they knew they weren’t going to win? Then it dawned on me. “That story reminds me of another runner that I read about recently on Facebook!” I told Mom the story…
Let’s call this runner “Fabiola,” because I always thought that would be a very pretty name for a human. Fabiola wasn’t born with cheetah DNA, so no one bought her a cool track suit and a free plane ticket to a place where she could take the cool track suit off in public. But other than that, Fabiola’s story is the same as Mom’s friend’s. Fabiola set an inspiring goal: even though she has 2 fake knees, she is going to run her first 10K. Just like her knees are new to her, so is running, so she needs to work very hard and be dedicated. Like The Olympian, Fabiola made a lot of sacrifices and didn’t eat out of the garbage, no matter how long she was left home alone. After a few months of running and eating responsibly, she had lost almost an Oscar of weight. I’m no chihuahua, so that’s a huge accomplishment even if she never ran a step. Just like Mom’s Olympic friend, she wanted to work with a coach so that she could enjoy the experience of running her first 10K injury free. Like Mom’s friend, Fabiola knows she won’t be the one on top of the podium at the end of the race. And just like The Olympian, Fabiola doesn’t give a rip because that’s not why she’s running.
But when Fabiola went to train with her coach, there were other runners there too. These runners were not Olympians, but one of them fancied herself a real expert. When The “Expert” met Fabiola, she asked Fabiola if she was going to quit because she was so slow. I wasn’t there, but I imagine Fabiola saying something like, “Why the heck would I quit? Get out of my way, I’m on my way to the finish line and ain’t nothing going to stop me! Someday I’m going to have more finisher’s medals hanging around my neck than Michael Phelps.” Or, that’s what I bet she realized she should have said 2 hours later when it was too late to respond to this nitwit.
Some people think that just because they have been running for a little while and know their bodies, that they are experts on other people’s bodies. They confuse running speed with a person’s worth, and they think they get to decide who “should” and “shouldn’t” run. Well guess what, there’s only one Supreme Overlord of the Running Trail who gets to bark at people who are running wrong, and it’s me. Unless you’re Oscar the Pooch, then don’t worry about who else is running, how fast they’re going, or how much running they’ve done in their entire life before this moment. Just run your own race. But The “Expert” never learned this fundamental rule of running. As Fabiola tells it, The “Expert” told her, “I would quit if I were you.”
Oh no she didn’t!!!
Obviously this nincompoop doesn’t know what success looks like. Maybe she never had a Mom to explain to her that success doesn’t always mean being the one standing on the highest step while they play your song. Sometimes success looks like someone with a face that’s chapped like a boiled tomato training in the Arctic to finish a race behind more than 100 other women faster than her. Sometimes success looks like a woman with two knee replacements that follows her dream to become a runner even though her legs are made of plumbing materials. Success means facing a human’s greatest fear — The Mile Run in PE class — for fun, even though no one’s forcing you now that you’re a grown-up. Success is when you have an extra Oscar of weight on your body, and deciding that you are going to make different decisions, even though it’s hard and scary… and then actually believing in yourself enough to say “no” to the treats and McRotguts when everyone else around you says yes.
Who’s to say one human’s goals are better than another’s. There is room on the course for all kinds of runners*, and if everyone were fast then it would be too crowded for anyone to run their best race. Telling Fabiola that she should quit her 10K just because she walks a lot would be like telling Michael Phelps that he should quit swimming because he’s never going to win the Super Bowl. Michael Phelps would of course tell you that the Super Bowl isn’t his goal, and then put on his 23 gold necklaces and laugh at Tom Brady’s 5 tiny Super Bowl rings.
Running is too lonely a sport to miss a chance to make a friend by being a nitwit. If you are ever the target of a running bully, success means having the courage to not throw anything hard at them before their fast butt disappears ahead in the distance. Running like the skinny whippets and greyhounds at the front of the pack is not the only way to inspire other runners, you know. A bulldog with hip dysplasia or an asthmatic pug who shows up at the finish line late after most everyone has gone home is just as inspiring as any other champion’s story. Any nincompoop can see that…
-Oscar the Coach
*Unless it is the Didney Marathong Weekend, in which case there is no room and they need to cap that thing way sooner