I enjoy watching all sports, be it high school basketball or major league baseball. There’s always drama and interest, players applying strategy and effort to excel within the rules of a defined challenge. This weekend, I’ll be watching my nephew wrestle in the state championships. I’ve never wrestled, nor have any desire to do so, yet I’ve learned to appreciate some of the balletic beauty of the sport, as well as marvel at the strength, skill and grit he has developed.
In honor of this championship week, my wife and I watched the only wrestling movie we know, Vision Quest. The movie is worth watching just for the running training scenes set to 80s rock, but it also has some surprisingly insightful moments.
In one scene, a work friend of the film’s high school wrestling hero, explaining why he is going to the climactic final match, tells about watching the soccer star Pele do a bicycle kick on TV and finding himself starting to cry. “That’s right,” he says. “I start crying. Because another human being, a species that I happen to belong to, could kick a ball, and lift himself, and the rest of us sad-assed human beings, up to a better place to be, if only for a minute… let me tell ya, kid—it was pretty goddamned glorious.”
There’s a fascination and wonder in seeing human excellence in any endeavor, knowing they start with the same basic equipment that we all do—but there’s more than that when I watch runners. Not only am I a fellow human, but I’m also part of their tribe. I do what they do, even if they do it better. I can relate to each minute of the race, each pang of fatigue, each burning muscle, gasping breath, inward-looking stare—and the waves of eventual relief, satisfaction and joy.
We’re approaching the Olympic season, when the world turns eyes on our sport once every four years. For distance runners, it starts less than two weeks away with the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Atlanta. The Marathon Trials are always my favorite race to watch, both for the drama—make top three or go home—and for the inspiration, as runners I know and have seen grow up elevate their excellence to a world-class level.
As a marathoner, I also enjoy living the race vicariously. In 2016, I didn’t just watch, but could feel the dizzy fatigue when Shalane started wilting in the LA heat—yet kept hanging on. I know what it feels like to have to puke while running hard, and marveled in 1996 when Kempainen turned his head, spewed Gatorade, and kept charging away from the field in Charlotte. I felt the mixture of courage and worry as Magda pulled away early in Boston in 2008 and then worked to stay there mile after mile. I ached with Amy and Dathan in Houston in 2012, watching the top three runners—and their dream—inexorably pull away. I’ve felt the resolve and solidarity of those back in the pack, celebrating being part of this field, striving toward their best even with no chance for a place on the Olympic team.
We start our coverage of the Trials this week, viewing them not just as fans, but as fellow runners. We look at historic Trials and what we learned from them, preview the course and the challenges runners will face in Atlanta, look at how top contenders handled a half marathon tune-up race, and detail the training weeks of several in the field. We’ll hope our ongoing coverage gets you excited about the races and helps you view them in a new light: as a chance to be entertained, but also an opportunity to learn training and tactics, and, most of all, to be inspired as a fellow runner.
I’ve never watched a Trials without wanting to head out and run long and hard, to set audacious goals and get up early to make them reality. Each of us has our own Trials, our own measure of excellence to inspire us to take control of our lives, to make choices, to get better. Here’s to your golden dreams in this Olympic year.
—Jonathan Beverly, Editor