Following my writeup about the statistics on the 1974 Sectional meet in which I studied the results relative to the dual meet battles that season, I gave more thought to the outcome and determined that while forgiveness is important, so is honesty.
The truth of the matter about that day is this: I choked.
It wasn’t the first time I choked that season. Nor would it be the last time in my career that I’d fail to run up to potential. We all have our ups and downs in endurance running. Earlier that fall I’d gotten a sidestitch in the early stages of a large invitational in Peoria. I went out hard, got the stitch and struggled home in whatever place I was able to manage. Part of it was a poor choice in pre-race meals. It was also nerves.
That lax performance was a disappointment because I’d won an invitational a couple weeks prior. By season’s end, I’d won ten meets and lost eight to one competitor or another. The goal was to earn a trip downstate. Following a solid fourth-place finish at Districts, I felt ready to race in Sectionals.
And yet, a bit of anxiety took hold. It felt weird to train alone the prior week. Things were shaky around home and I had classroom struggles too. I always run best when pressure is not self-inflicted, and our coach did not always recognize that in me. When high expectations dominated the mind, it was always possible to get too ready. Too nervous. That was most likely the case at Sectionals in 1974.
The type of side stitch I got during that race was not some simple little cramp. I’d run through those many times before. We’re talking a full-on, nearly bent-over type of sidestitch that was probably the diaphragm in full spasm. I never had it in college that I can recall. After college it flared up during the Prairie State Games. I’d raced through two miles in 9:28 during a 5000 meter track race and then it hit me. Pain. I didn’t finish. Again, some poor dietary choices were made.
While I finished in 15:51 that day at Sectionals in 1974, that sidestitch held me back quite a bit. I’d been running times in the low 15:00 range for three miles all season. That time would have put me in the mix with my closest rivals, who all ran up to their potential and made it downstate.
But I choked. Such is life sometimes.
We all learn from disappointments and failures. Later in my career I came through in plenty of big races. But it is important, I think, to engage in honest self-assessment––even years later––to better understand the nature of self and soul.
I think of how Steve Prefontaine must have felt after his epic attempt at running the gas out of his competitors at the Olympics in Munich. He ran a 4:00 last mile if I recall, yet finished in fourth places. His European competitors had his number that day, you know?
Pre was disappointed. In his mind, he likely thought he failed. Yet that race still inspires many runners to this day. The courage of it. Even when we don’t achieve our goals, iEvery race is a step in the right direction if we look at it the right way. That is, with honesty.