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

Sun, 6 Aug 2006 05:43:56 -0400

Winning Ways


(continued from RC 634)

Runners have fought a winning battle against poisonous attitudes that infect most sports. This is the view that a race, game or match can have but one winner, that second place is the first loser, that athletes or teams don't win anything unless they win everything -- an Olympic gold medal, a Super Bowl, a World Series.

My college coach, Bob Karnes, was a knowledgeable and thoughtful mentor, one who let me find my own way as an athlete even when it diverged from his. But he also was a product of his times.

Coach Karnes told his teams, only half in jest, "Second place ain't worth a damn." My college racing style results disappointed him. I started races slowly, ignoring the leaders, and ran for time instead of place.

The coach once took me aside and said, "Your problem is that it doesn't bother you to lose [by his definition, which prevailed then]. This will keep you going for a long time as a runner, but it also will keep you from being as good a runner as you could have been."

He was right on both counts. I never led any college race of note. But I'm still running more than 40 years after graduation.

If the only-one-winner thinking had persisted, running never would have become the sport it is. Almost everyone who didn't win the single prize or challenge for it would have quit too soon.

Attitudes toward winning changed. Runners realized that there's much more to winning than finishing first.

Anyone who runs can win -- which isn't the same as saying that everyone always wins. You risk losing whenever you race, but the scoring is personal. No one can beat you but you.

Winning is running up to your own standard of success. Improving your distance or time. Running better in this race than your last one. Racing farther or faster than you would alone. Or simply being in the running and finishing what you started.

I'd like to think I had something to do with the attitude adjustment toward winning. I've pounded away at this theme from the time I learned to type.

Yet my lines pale beside those of George Sheehan. Looking to the right of my computer now, I see a framed piece of calligraphy as the only running saying on my office wall. It's George's line, "Winning is doing your best with what you're given."

Behind me hangs only one medal. It's from the first George Sheehan Memorial Run, engraved with another of his lines: "Winning is never having to say I quit."

This is a recasting of the old "Winners never quit" sign from my first coach Dean Roe's locker room of the 1950s. As long as you're winning, you don't want to quit. The only way you can lose is to stop trying.

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