If running Boston is the dream of amateur marathoners, competing in the Olympic Marathon has to be the ultimate aspiration for the sport’s elite participants. Only the top three men and women from a given country are allowed to take part—provided they’ve also achieved the Olympic standard. When you consider that the race only happens every four years, getting to compete here is, well, a pretty big deal.
The following athletes will be representing the U.S. in the marathon at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Rather than ask them about their thoughts on competing in Rio, we asked a deceptively simple question: Does running still give you joy and, if so, can you put that joy into words?
Here’s what they had to say:
I do love running. But it’s not everything to me. I would still say that it’s something that I do; it’s not who I am. I love that running can facilitate a family-oriented lifestyle—that I can be home in the middle of the day and go play in the park with my kids. I don’t have to miss many dinners because I’ve had to stay late at the office. It really has facilitated a very fun lifestyle for me. But I also love the competitive aspect of running. Even more so with myself than whom I’m racing against. I love that I can get out on any run, any day, or any workout, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a race, and I can try to do it a little bit better than the time before. It’s so objective and measurable in running. You can track your performance well, and out there on the roads or on the trails, it you vs. you. To me, it’s such a natural way to compete and push yourself. There’s no one there making you go. It’s only you. Maybe it’s because running is something that I’ve been blessed to be good at. It’s probably easier to love something that you’re good at than to love something that you don’t feel like you’re as good at, but I’ve loved that about running.
The thing I love the most about running is the people who I’ve met along the way. I was a pretty shy kid and being part of a cross-country team was the first time I really felt I could go out on a run and people kind of relax and lose inhibition and are willing to talk more. I was one of those people, so it gave me a lot of confidence growing up. And I still meet new, awesome people on a regular basis through this sport. I think you get to know someone better on an 18-mile run than you do spending days with them.
I always call it the “you vs. you” part of running. I like the personal challenge of it. Going out for your first run and then, the second day, you might go a little further or maybe go a little quicker. Whatever stage you’re on, it’s always you vs. you. You can take the competition away and it’s just this personal challenge. That’s something that always drives me. At the Games, I can’t control what everyone is going to bring on that day, but I can make sure I’m the best version of myself. When I retire, it’ll be different goals, but still a personal challenge. For me, I kind of just simplify it as the lovely you vs. you nature of the sport.
Also, it’s just one of those activities where you go out and sometimes it’s hard for you to get out the door. But, once you’re in the moment, you feel so much better just moving. Literally, moving forward toward the goal, whether it’s eight miles or a loop. It’s really rewarding to go out and invest some time in yourself. I’ve never come back from a run and gone "Gosh, I feel worse. I wish I hadn’t done that run today."
Running means the world to me, because of what it has provided, ever since 7th grade. I started running because I wanted to be a good student. My parents expected an A, whether it was math class, or science, art, history, or physical education. It just happened to be that physical education took the spotlight. When I ran a 5:20 mile as a seventh grader, my God-given talent was discovered. Running allowed me to get a free education at UCLA, and eventually wear the red, white, and blue at the World Championships and Olympic Games. It’s showed me the world. So yeah, it gives me great joy. It’s a job, but it not a job; it’s a hobby that I’ve been delighted to pursue. And I’ve enjoyed the scenery. For me, it started on the track, but eventually it turned out to be cross-country and marathons in different cities and internationally.
Running is such a pure sport rooted in competition. Not only do you compete to see who can get to the line first, but also you are in constant competition against yourself. You try to go a little bit further, a little bit faster, and are constantly battling doubts or setbacks. There is no greater joy than achieving a new personal best or running the perfect race after months of hard training. Those moments when everything comes together make all the brutal days of training worth it.