The Penguin Chronicles: Learning From The Champions

Illustration: Neil Numberman

The only real measure of success is the feeling you get from knowing you did your best.

Written by: John Bingham

Illustration: Neil Numberman

I regularly host seminars at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon expos across the country, and I’ve been on stage with some of the running community’s greatest athletes, such as Frank Shorter and Jim Ryun, and current greats, including Deena Kastor, Ryan Hall and Kara Goucher. They seemed to have approached their running careers in similar ways. They all posses an obvious drive and passion, and they each have a fierce competitive streak that they call on when they need it.

In June at the San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll expo, I interviewed 1983 New York City Marathon winner Rod Dixon with 2009 New York City Marathon winner Meb Keflezighi. Dixon outkicked Geoff Smith in the final 200 meters for his win. For Keflezighi, after winning the silver medal in the 2004 Olympic Marathon but not making the team in 2008, the 2009 New York victory was one of redemption.

My question to the two was this: How would each of you have defeated the other if you had competed against each other while in your prime?

Dixon was a world-class runner at nearly every distance and won the bronze medal in the 1,500 meters in the 1972 Olympics. He said his strategy would be to try to control Keflezighi from the very start of the race. If he could dictate the tempo of the competition, he could control the outcome.

Keflezighi’s strategy would be to run his own race. Knowing that he had the better 10K speed, Keflezighi said that at Mile 20 he would “punish” Dixon by running harder and faster than he had up to that point.

It was amazing insight into the competitive minds of two great champions. They were each aware of their own strengths and the strengths of the other and they compared those strengths to devise a strategy for victory.

That, it seems to me, is what made these two runners great champions. For them, and others like them, it isn’t just about the times that they ran, it’s about the quality of the competition. The joy was in the battle with their competitors. The question they ask is not whether they can finish in some predicted time, but whether they can, on that day, be the best.

Too many of us focus only on our time and pace because we think, somehow, that the time we run will define the experience. We think that we can measure our effort with a stopwatch.

However, champions such as Dixon and Keflezighi know that the only real measure of success is the feeling you get from knowing you did your best.

This column first appeared in the November issue of Competitor Magazine.

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About The Author:

John Bingham, aka The Penguin, will share his running tales and experiences every month. Have a story of your own to share or a topic you’d like The Penguin to consider? E-mail him at thepenguin@johnbingham.com.

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