If I’m Honest

If I’m honest, the NCAA Track and Field Championships frustrate me. Not because I never managed to qualify for one while I was in college, but because of what I see as, well, a lack of honesty. That might be a confusing statement, so let me explain.

I’m not suggesting that the sport of collegiate track and field is comprised of a bunch of lying, cheating, money-mongering crooks. Even if you think it is, that’s a totally different discussion. What I am referring to is the effort put forth by the athletes themselves. Sure, many of the athletes present at the national championships are very invested in what they are doing. They spend the entire year juggling classes and training, chasing qualifying marks, and dreaming of punching their ticket to the ‘big show.’

For some, qualifying is all but a given. They are the cream of the crop, the best of the best. They may have even done it before and be returning for their second, third, or fourth helping. Others have a bit more of a battle. They bust their buts day after day, attempting to do everything in their power to extend their season by one more meet. Some make it. Others don’t.

When that fateful day of competing rears its head, many of those qualified stand very little chance of winning. Still, they give it a go anyways. Perhaps they latch themselves onto the back of the 5k pack and pray that they can hang on for a PR. Every now and then one of the underdogs has the performance of a lifetime and finds themselves on the podium. More often than not, however, the victory goes to one of the favorites.

This is where my frustrations lie. Not in the fact that they win, but in the fact that some of them seem to do so with a less than all out effort. Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure they worked for their victory. In some cases it was everything they had, but I’ve witnessed enough races to know that this isn’t always the way it goes. Case in point, this year’s men’s 10,000-meter race.

I watched the race from my hotel room in Georgia as I rested up for an upcoming race. If you watched it you know that the announcers made it very clear that Edward Cheserek of the University of Oregon was the heavy favorite. Furthermore, you also would have heard them express that the best way for someone to beat him might be for the pace to be taken out good and hard in hopes of catching him with tired legs after his victory in the 5,000-meter race.

There were 24 runners in the race, and yet no one really seemed to pressure Cheserek very much. Instead, they allowed him to tuck in behind the leaders and tag along for the ride. There was a slight bit of jostling toward the end, but in the final lap it was Cheserek who made his way to the front and cruised across the finish in first.

I don’t mind that Cheserek won. What I do mind is that I feel like I never got to see his best. In fact, I feel like I didn’t really get to see a 10,000-meter race at all. Sure, it turned into a race in the last lap, but I wasn’t watching a 400-meter race. I was watching a 10k. I wanted to see the runners pour out their heart into a full 10,000 meters. I wanted to see blood and guts and maybe a bit of puking at the finish line. Hunched-over runners, hands on their knees, lungs gasping for air. Pure guts, that’s what I wanted, not a 9,600-meter warm-up and a one-lap race. Now, maybe there was someone in the race who did that, someone tucked into the middle of the pack hanging on for dear life and running a big personal best. Maybe Cheserek himself was giving it his all. But if I’m honest, I didn’t get that impression. Instead I got the feeling that guys were running to win, but not necessarily to attain their fastest time.

At the end of the day a race is just a race and it can be run however someone wants. What’s more important than a race, though, are the things that we do day to day. Like a race, those things should be done with enthusiasm and vigor. We need not set a world record in everything, but we should be committed to giving things a good, honest effort. I don’t claim to be perfect in this realm of life. Yes, I give many things an honest effort, but even I can find myself slacking from time to time.

The important thing is to identify those things of true value, and pursue them with gusto. Don’t hold back for 9,600 meters and then come charging home with a lap to go. Rather, jump in with all of your heart and soul, give it everything you’ve got, and don’t quit until the job is done. Sometimes you’ll get it. Other times you’ll miss your mark. The important thing, however, is that you stay the course, keep trying, and learn from your mistakes, even if that mistake is not trying enough.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Do you put 100% effort into all that you do in life and in running?
  • Do you ever find it appropriate to hold back just a bit, to conserve oneself for what might lie ahead?
  • Do you think that these sorts of behaviors–going all out or proceeding conservatively–are learned or instinctual or some of both for us humans?
Zach Miller

is a mountain runner and full time caretaker at Barr Camp in Colorado. As caretaker, he lives year round in an off-the-grid cabin halfway up Pikes Peak. He competes for The North Face and Team Colorado. Additional sponsors/supporters include Clean-N-Jerky, GU Energy Labs, and Nathan Sports. Follow him on Instagram.