Dreams of glory in the Olympics never die

Who rises at 2 a.m. to watch people on TV run a race?

I do.

Well, I did Sunday morning, for the men’s marathon of the Rio Olympics because I wanted to watch it live and because I’m one of those oddballs who finds running an exciting sport. It was a bit comical as I sat up, pitch dark outside, drinking coffee, our dog Ipo sitting next to me, as I whooped and yelled for American Galen Rupp to win this thing. Throughout, I sent text messages and videos I shot with my phone of the race on TV to my sleeping kids on the mainland as the race went on.

“Wake up! The men’s marathon is starting in five minutes!”

“Galen Rupp running second with 5 miles to go!”

“Last mile: 4:35.”

“Rupp has dropped back.”

“Rupp hanging on to third, still could get silver.”

“Bronze for Rupp in 2:10:05.”

My wife opted, like 99.9 percent of the people on Kauai and the rest of the United States, to continue sleeping rather than watch a bunch of guys she’s never heard of racing on foot for 26.2 miles. That, to the casual observer, might be more boring than watching paint dry, if that’s possible. But to me, the marathon is the granddaddy of the Olympics. This is what it’s all about. It’s what really counts. It’s what I was waiting for through the gymnastics, the swimming, the volleyball and yes, even an alleged robbery.

I’m partial to the Olympic marathon because I came perilously close to qualifying for the U.S. Olympic trials at that distance a few decades ago. Maybe it was several decades. It might not have actually been perilously close, either, but that doesn’t matter.

What matters is that there was a time in my life I believed that if I trained enough, put in the miles on the track and on the hills, did enough push ups and ran with weights, I could be one of the country’s top runners. Lord knows what led me to believe this. Delusions of glory, perhaps. I might have read too many books on positive thinking. Whatever. It led me to line up for a 4-mile race in Seattle one morning, with about 5,000 others, confident I was about to run the race of my life and show the world just how fast I was. “Who is this guy?” they would all ask.

Covered those four miles, as I recall, in 20:46, an average of five minutes, 12 seconds per mile. Might have been the best race of my life. Problem was, there were still a hundred or so runners in front of me, apparently having the best races of their lives.

New Olympics plan. I decided the marathon could be my event. It’s longer and required more endurance, not speed. I had run one in two hours, 41 minutes. At that time, I believe the qualifying time for the U.S. marathon trials was 2:23. All I had to do was take 18 minutes off my best. So I trained harder. Logged 90-mile weeks. Ran twice a day. Churned out 20 milers in the cold, pouring Northwest rain. Listened to the theme song from Rocky. I focused like never before on a single goal.

So when I lined up for what was called The Emerald City Marathon, I had high hopes. Lord, let me run faster than ever before, I prayed at the start. The Lord answered my prayers that day. I ran the first 20 miles faster than I ever had. Problem was, the race was another 6.2 miles. I faded and chugged to the finish line and fell short of my goal. It was then I realized I would never qualify for the Olympic trials marathon because I could not train any harder and in reality, just wasn’t that good. The heart and the mind cooperated. The body did not. As silly as it sounds for a mediocre runner, it took awhile to get over the disappointment. I continued running, but did not run a marathon for another 10 years.

I eventually returned to running 26.2 miles more often and even finished the Boston Marathon. I’d like to say I’m more mature now, grown up and older and happy just to finish and no longer worry about how fast, but I’d be lying. Because I still watch the clock. I still like to race. I still have it in my head that if I train smart, wear the right shoes, run enough mile repeats and hills and do enough push ups and eat the right food, I can qualify for the Olympics and make my country proud.

Really, you ask?

Absolutely. They do run the marathon in the Senior Olympics, right?


Bill Buley is editor-in-chief of The Garden Island. Email bbuley@thegardenisland.com


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