The 10,000 meter finals at the USATF Outdoor Nationals ran late last night in Sacramento due to the steamy weather that is coating much of the western half of the country. But you couldn’t say the results were a product of the weather. Instead, if they showed anything, it was the relentless, heartless nature of the sport itself.
Highlights, of course, were the wins by Molly Huddle for the women, her third, and Hasan Mead for men, his first. But equal stories were to be found a bit behind in the forms of previous champions and Olympic medalists, Shalane Flanagan and Galen Rupp. We could say the same for retiring 800 meter star Nick Symmonds.
No matter the distance, running is not like a bank savings account into which you put funds (training) and accrue interest that builds over time. To be honest, savings accounts aren’t like that anymore either. But that’s the idea.
Instead running is a lot like hand-packing ice cream upside down in a sauna. The second you stop cramming stuff in – aka training – everything else you’ve already stuffed in seems ready to plop out in a wet mess. That’s why runners are so spooked of injuries or an illness that might interrupt their flow. And why even when they are nicked up a bit they try to hold on to as much training as they can, or cross-train like madmen.
It’s why somebody like eight-time national 10,000 meter champion and American record holder Galen Rupp can go from untouchable on the track and an Olympic silver medal back in 2012 to a frustrating fifth last night in Sacramento. And why 2008 Olympic 10,000 silver medalist (upgraded from bronze by a doping DQ) Shalane Flanagan can see her streak of consecutive Olympic and World Championship team qualifiers since 2004 come to a fourth place halt before that. Both Shalane and Galen moved up to the marathon distance in recent years, and though both have been successful in the long road event, they have paid a price for that success on the track.
That’s the emotional brutality of the sport. It doesn’t care who you were, only what have you done for me lately. That’s the only question this sport asks.
But that simplicity is also why it is relatively easy to accept the results and move on. How well you did is not predicated on the coach not putting you in, or somebody not throwing or kicking you the ball. Point A to point B, that’s the task. No style points, no bonuses for number of laps led, just you against them over this distance, a pure Darwinian system.
So we congratulate the new champions, even as we salute the old, knowing there is little time to savor victory or salve defeat. Because even as the curtain of night falls on one day, the call to arms (and legs) can already be heard beckoning before the new morning light.