Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Power of the "Near Win"

Nothing gets the competitive juices flowing quite like a second-place finish. That was one of my chief takeaways from reading The Rise by Sarah Lewis - a fascinating exploration of how so many of the world's greatest achievements are rooted in failure. The bronze medalist is just happy to have made the podium. The silver medalist, however, seethes with restless dissatisfaction for nearly winning, which often turns into unstoppable motivation to do more, to do better, to win. One of the prime examples of this dynamic was Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who in the 1984 Olympics in LA won the silver medal, losing out by just five points to Australian Glynis Nunn. Four years later, in Seoul, South Korea, Joyner-Kersee won gold in the same event, setting a world record (7,291 points) that still stands today. She also won gold, and set an Olympic record in the long jump (7.4 m). She was later voted by Sports Illustrated as the Greatest Female Athlete of the 20th Century. Here's a recap video of her in Seoul:

The other story that really stuck with me was of 23 year old Julie Moss in the 1982 Iron Man Triathlon. A total unknown, she came out of nowhere, surprising everyone - including herself - by being far ahead and on track for a win by the marathon portion of the race. But then, her stride started changing, something was wrong, and she collapsed to the road, in total exhaustion. She waved off spectators, who came to her to help her stand (it would have disqualified her if she let them). She tried standing a few times, and fell each time. Finally, she started crawling, hand over hand towards the finish. In the dark of that evening, with the TV screen trained on her, making her slow way forward, you can see the feet of the second-place runner overtaking her only a few yards from the finish line. An unbelievable picture of grit and determination. Millions tuned in to that race. And Moss is credited with being the catalyst for the explosive growth in her sport, especially, but not only, among women inspired by her example.

Here's her race:

In a small way, I had my own near win experience on my long training run this past weekend. In preparation for running Boston, I splurged on a GPS watch, and have enjoyed loading and tracking and studying my data on Strava - one feature of which is that it compares your performance not only to yourself (and I will have some future post on the Marathon Zen wisdom of "run your own race" - not here), but with others on various segments of your runs. A few months ago, after a run through the Stony Brook Reservation, in Boston's Hyde Park neighborhood, I came home to discover I'd run the 2nd fastest time on a 3/4 mile climb through the woods. It's been goading me ever since.  I tried again and closed the gap just before Thanksgiving - but still came in second. This weekend, I ran the segment twice. And beat the record the record twice. And got my first little Strava crown icon.

A little silly I know. But it called to mind again The Rise, and these amazing stories.

Somewhere out there is a girl who has never yet tapped the power within her of that "near win." The equipment and coaching fees that you and I would never hesitate to pay for our girls are simply too much for her parents to absorb. Times are just too tight.

This Holiday Season, would you give to Dream Big! so she can play?

Monday, December 7, 2015

Running "Like an Old Lady on a Frozen Lake"

The marathon - especially Boston - is so riddled with meaning and metaphors. The most prominent of which is probably, "Life's a marathon, not a sprint."

I got a new one on Saturday, at the first charity team group training run of the season. Here I am with the others running for Dream Big! because we believe in the power of girls' sports.

Before our run, we heard from coach Rick Muhr, with words of encouragement and counsel - mental, physical, and a little metaphysical.  One thought, and new metaphor, that stuck with me, was on the importance of running NOT like a long-legged gazelle with great leaping strides, but "like an old lady on a frozen lake," with a measured, quiet, shuffling stride that, however counter-intuitive, turns out to be the most efficient way to propel oneself for 26.2.

It's all about efficiency, Rick told us. And though it seems like the way to go faster and further is with a great, reaching stride, the name of the game for marathon success is efficiency - i.e., no wasted effort. And with that long, leaping stride sets one up for striking first with one's heel, and actually throwing the breaks on with each step, even as you are propelling yourself forward. It's also a greater muscle strain for each stride. More difficult to sustain. Heart rate too high. Cadence too low. Each step too loud, too much effort, and leaving one more susceptible to injury. 

The goal, said Rick, is to be at a cadence of 180 strides per minute, three per second. Quiet. Efficient. Heart rate relaxed. Unhurried. Conservative. Like you're driving with the low-fuel light on even when your tank is full. No wasted effort. And then, the metaphor I carried with me for our first training run along the race course (until just shy of Heartbreak Hill) - to run like an old lady on a frozen lake.

There is power and potential in what we might, at first blush, or based on flawed stereotypes or cultural norms, dismiss as weakness. Which reminded me of the #LikeAGirl campaign unleashed at last year's Super Bowl.

A great inspiration and reaffirmation of the importance of Dream Big!'s work, empowering girls through sports. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

For #GivingTuesday, Would You #GiveBold for Girls Sports?

Do you believe all girls should be able to play sports if they want to? 

Maybe today is the day to make that gift to Dream Big! so thousands more can? 

In the spirit of #GivingTuesday, CrowdRise - the group that provides our fundraising pages for the Marathon (and many, many other causes) - is running a campaign called #RunBold. 

For the charity runner who raises the most by midnight tonight(!), Crowdrise will contribute $100/mile (i.e., $2,620) to their cause and $1,000 each for the nine runners up.

Why not help direct that generosity for the sake of girls who just want to play sports?  

Here's my page: https://www.crowdrise.com/dreambigboston2016/fundraiser/stefanlanfer