Celebrating A Loss

Celebrating A Loss

2004 Athens

“EL GERROUJ! LAGAT! TO THE LINE! El GERROUJ GOT IT!” When I was thirteen years old, I remember watching the Olympic 1500 final in Athens and having my eyelids peeled back as I stared at the screen in awe. At this point in my running career, I did not fully understand the race’s place in track and field history, and I didn’t have any reason to care. I couldn’t spell El Gerrouj’s name or find Morocco on a map. But when my HS coach told me to watch the best runner’s run at the Olympics and to learn from them, I did as I was told. I have watched that race again and again and again. I know the moves, I know the splits, and I know the commentators description of how the event unfolds. But it wasn’t until I watched the race some four years later that I stopped focusing just on the race for gold, and started watching Rui Silva of Portugal.

This past weekend I flew to the golden coast to chase a regionals time for the 1500 at Mt Sac.  The goal was to run under 3:45, get a little bronzing, and see some pretty girls before heading back to Austin to continue putting the miles in. As you would expect with any California meet, the heat was stacked and it was a great opportunity to run against strong competition. Heading over to the line, I was light on my feet, and my shoes were perfectly taut, all good signs. The race goes off and I settle in on the rail near the front, which is exactly where I wanted to be. I just watched the backs in front of me and checked the clocks: 44-59-74-1:45-2:00-2:46-3:01. Feeling confident I’d achieve the primary goal, I jumped into lane 2 and made a surge. With 100m to go I had a final nitro boost, but would need to swing into lane 4 to use it. But as my luck would have it, a hole opened up on the inside and I shot it. I had been waiting to feel this way again for the last 11 months, and there I was, at the end of a race with fresh legs. I caught up with a pack of guys and just tried to get as many as possible. I crossed the line and knew I ran 3:41.

With 800m to go, Rui Silva is in last place. As El Gerrouj takes the lead and starts dropping the pace, the field follows to try and stay in contact. But Silva just waits. In the final half mile, he is slowly moving up, making a pass and tucking back in, over and over. He is patient and waits to eats up track as the rest of the field fades. On the final straight away, as Bernard and Hicham battle for inches, Silva has run away from the rest and takes a look over his shoulder and finishes with arms held high. As he runs across the line in celebration, he hugs a disappointed Lagat from behind and has the fullest of smiles covering his face. He closes in 146.3 [the fastest in the race] and proudly represents Portugal with the bronze medal.

As my momentum carried my legs past the finish, I began clapping. A huge weight was lifted from my shoulders and I could feel the adrenaline pumping. I ran up to race winner, Patrick Casey, gave him a love tap on the ass and continued back to my teammate, Trevor Van Ackeran, to celebrate together. I’d imagine that the average spectator was a bit confused as to why the guy who came in 5th place was running around so excited, but for me, it was a special moment. I was Rui Silva, enjoying the best loss of my career.

In the moments of frustration with running, we begin to over analyze and search for the reasons of our failures. ‘What am I doing wrong? Why do I do this to myself? How do I fix this?’ There exists the internal struggle of trying to answer those questions of doubt, while trying to ignore those reservations to focus on the future and to maintain optimism. While gaining fitness in the many miles of practice is a challenge of physicality, the ability to translate capabilities into performance is a contest of mind. But after just a few minutes of racing, all of the uncertainties disappear and become an issue of the past, and the only question that remains is, “What’s next?”

2004 Olympic 1500 (link)

Author: kylemerber

Kyle Merber is a professional runner for HOKA One One and the New Jersey*New York Track Club. He has personal bests of 3:34/3:52 but would prefer that not be included in his bio because he believes his writing should be judged independently. He tweets a lot @TheRealMerb.

2 thoughts on “Celebrating A Loss”

  1. I think to a lot of runners that makes total sense. Many times it isn’t about the race as a whole but rather how you perform against your own expectations. Especially at races such as Stanford and Mt. Sac, where you’re looking to run fast or run smart. It’s kind of like Ben Folds says, there’s always someone cooler than you. And in racing at any given time, there’s probably always someone faster than you, even if you’re the olympic champ.

    Love the blog, love the intensity, keep training hard and I continue to be amazed at how you guys keep plugging. Definitely inspiring to old dudes like me. Hook ’em – Jeff Wood Texas ’03

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