Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sun, 30 Jul 2006 05:02:58 -0400

Learning to Win


(from a talk given recently at Jeff Galloway's running camp in California)

I've written on almost every subject related to running, but my true technical contributions are few. Long slow distance (LSD) was one, walk breaks another, and marathon training-for-the-masses a third. Without claiming originality for any of these practices, I've promoted all three for a long time.

I'm happy to have "coached" slow runners, run-walkers and marathoners. But I'm much prouder of another contribution.

This isn't a training approach. It's an attitude toward winning.

Before learning my first lesson in running to win, I had to unlearn an old one. The most popular sign of the 1950s in school locker rooms read, "Winners never quit, and quitters never win."

Later I would redefine the meaning of that line. But at the time I believed it wholeheartedly in its original meaning. So did my coach, Dean Roe.

Mr. Roe coached winners. His first football team at our high school won the state title. One of his early basketball teams played in the state tournament.

I wanted Mr. Roe to make me a winner on that level. It didn't happen in football or basketball, for reasons obvious to anyone who sees me now. (My height topped out at 5-5.)

Our school offered just three sports. Track was the last of them.

You don't need to be big to win at track, I thought, and you don't need to be fast to win in the mile run. All you have to do is try hard. I could do that.

In my first mile race I tried to stay with the leaders, who spit me out of their company on the first lap. Exhaustion deposited me beside the track after little more than one minute's running.

Slumped on the grass, I thought: this was my last chance to be an athlete, and I blew it. I'm a loser.

To Dean Roe, quitting was worse than losing. He wouldn't let me quit. He told me to pick myself up and, next time, to finish what I'd started.

"I don't care if you finish last," he said. "That beats dropping out."

In the next race I finished, succeeding where I'd failed the first time. Without knowing it or having words to explain it, I'd started learning how to win.

In that first complete mile, I ate almost all the other runners' dust. But by getting to this race and then through it, I'd already climbed from the first to the second level of winning. The third and fourth would come later.

The first is starting, taking the first great leap into a sport. Just by doing that, you've already outrun everyone who hasn't yet started or never will.

The second level of winning is finishing what you set out to do, be it a mile or a marathon. By finishing, you've beaten everyone who started but dropped out early.

The third level of winning is improving. You're granted about 10 years of improvement, and getting faster or going longer doesn't require beating anyone else, only a time or a distance.

The final level of winning is continuing after the improvement stops, as it surely will if you run enough years. Slower and shorter running still beat no running at all.

(to continue in RC 635)
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