I had a nice conversation yesterday with Craig Virgin, one of America’s greatest distance runners whose 27:29 10K still ranks in the top ten all-time. He was also a three-time Olympian We talked about his book Virgin Territory, which I highly recommend for its candor and insight on what it takes to become and stay a world-class runner.
Craig noticed a photo in the blog about the late Dave Bashaw, a former Geneva, Illinois runner who passed away in early July from the Covid-19 infection. The photo showed Dave in the company of his North Central College teammates, and it struck a chord with Craig, as that era in Illinois distance running was both quality and classic in its competitive nature.
That led to us discussing Craig’s motivational speaking and addressing young runners about the opportunities and impact that running provides all who engage in it.
I’ve written many times that I was present the day that Craig Virgin ran the three mile course record in Detweiler Park (Peoria) that stood for four decades. That iconic mark set in 1972 motivated many a runner over the years. It was finally broken by a second or two in 2019.
That means Craig’s relevancy as a speaker has lasted all these years. It is for a great reason: No one but one runner in forty-plus years has ever beaten his time on that course. Thousands and thousands of kids at every class level and school size have raced in state meets, pushed themselves to the limit and entered that chute having given their best efforts, yet none of them until last year ever ran faster than Craig Virgin that day in the early 1970s. The Lebanon Greyhoud remains a legend.
As we talked, Craig shared some insights about what he tells high school kids about the nature of racing. I hesitate to state them in full because I think they are his to own. But the advice centers around how to concentrate and process your efforts before and during a race. As he demonstrated many times in competition, for Craig there’s a special “secret sauce” of motivation that has genuine value to kids and adults alike. It has to do with how you perceive time, discomfort, pain, and motivation. If you want to know the full story, you’ll have to book him as a speaker.
Success and failure
This much I can tell you. During my own career, in which both failure and success played a big role in education about life, there were moments when I definitely knew that a portion of personal destiny was on the line. Coming through in those moments is what personal legacies are all about. They may not mean a whole bunch to the world, at least not at the level that Craig Virgin attained as a two-time world champion in cross country, but the moments in which you test yourself and succeed most certainly matter to you.
So what I can offer (again) is my favorite saying from the book Ambiguous Adventure by Cheik Hamidou Kane. This phrase is true more for endurance athletes than almost anyone else. Here it is:
The purity of the moment is made from the absence of time.
If that seems counterintuitive, it is purposely so. We may indeed live and die by the clock in this world, but surpassing that truth is exactly the point. There are some efforts in which we engage that actually force time to expand, or at least how we perceive it.
What a gift that is when we come face to face with it, and recognize the moment and its worth. Perhaps you’ve come down toward a finish line and felt the sensation as even discomfort and pain fade away and you become an instrument of training and determination. That is the purity of the moment creating the absence of time.
Let’s all stop a moment to consider the degree of falseness and fecklessness in this world, and realize how exceptionally valuable it is to have achieved the sense of wonder that comes from genuine effort. It helps you see beyond the ticking irreversibility of the clock and surpass the limitations that people often want to place upon you.
That’s why we’re all here. That’s why a minute can last a lifetime.