“We can’t let others tell us that we are dreaming too big. If we keep hitting our goals over and over again then we clearly aren’t dreaming big enough…life is too easy if we are just checking off all of our goals” —Janae Baron, Hungry Runner Girl, OTQ dreamer.
Few places on earth show the full range of human emotion better than the finish line of a marathon: Both the gut-wrenching pain and the triumphant elation of human existence are on full display. In the faces of all runners—those near the top of their field and those looking to complete their first marathon—is the pain of 26.2 miles, the satisfaction of finishing and the exhaustion of giving it their all. And while finishers all share a common emotion and experience, there is a unique display of gut-wrenching emotion on display for those pursuing the once-every-four-years chance of an Olympic Trials berth.
As the clock slowly crawls to Olympic Trials Qualifier (OTQ) times of 2:19:00 and 2:45:00, years of training are condensed into the expiring seconds of the countdown to qualifying times. Amongst the dozens of successes and countless more misses are the individual stories and dreams of those hoping to have their shot at qualifying for the Olympics.
A few weeks ago we told the story of Janae Baron, better known as Hungry Runner Girl, as she set out to pursue the OTQ time. Like most runners, for over a decade she had only dreamt of the possibility of qualifying for the Olympic Trials. Then this year at the St George Marathon she clocked a new PR of 2:49:00, and suddenly her dream of achieving the OTQ time of 2:45:00 was within reach. She set her sights on the California International Marathon (CIM) at the beginning of December.
Coming into the CIM Baron had hoped to knock off 4 minutes from her previous PR, breaking the 2:45:00 time and claiming her spot at the Olympic Trials in Atlanta on February 29. In the months leading up to the race she knew the challenges she faced trying to run a 2:45 marathon were daunting, yet even with her coach predicting only a 60-65% to reach the OTQ, she still went for it.
Baron’s story, while unique in its own right, is one that is deeply relatable to all runners. She set an audacious goal, and in her words, “It was kind of a big flop!”
For a myriad of reasons Baron missed the OTQ time by 13 minutes and 42 seconds. “I dreamed big and failed,” she said. Listening to Baron recount the race and reveal her thoughts after the race I was struck by how little the failure fazed her; she was “heartbroken” but had already moved on:
I see it as a failure—the race was a fail, it was nowhere near what I wanted or trained for—but I think people’s perspectives on the word failure are different. To me, when I say, ‘It was a failure, I bombed it,’ it’s not a bad thing. Yeah, I wish it was different, but I’m not saying I am a failure or a bad person…Just because I failed it doesn’t make me a failure, it’s just part of the process.”
This is the beauty of running—to run is to risk failure. To dream and set big goals will not only ensure you risk failure but will also promise that at some point you fail to achieve those audacious goals. As runners we not only feel this during races but we also feel it every week in training, we feel the ebb and flow of strength and weakness, good training days and bad training days.
“The challenge with running is that we don’t get a new chance every weekend to prove ourselves. Sadly it doesn’t work like that. But I think that’s what makes us love running too; we are just so curious about how we will do… Even though at the CIM I have never wanted to quit more badly in my life for all 26 miles, I never thought this would be my last marathon. It just made me more curious to see how I would do in my next one.”
As runners, Baron’s wisdom is something that we continually need to hear. Whether we reach our goals or fail miserably we still tried. At the risk of sounding cliché, to dream big and set goals is to succeed. As we move towards the new year, Baron’s words are applicable to all of us as we begin to plan—or are already midway through training for—our next big goals in 2020.
“I tried for eight years to get a sub 3, and I failed over 10 times on the way to get that goal, but that’s part of the process. As I look forward, who knows what the next OTQ time will be, but I know I will just have to keep failing my way there.”
Standing at the finish line of the CIM the pain of failure was acutely on display and not an emotion that anyone would envy. Yet in some weird way the runner in me longed to share that deep human experience: To have set a daunting goal, given it our all and fallen short.
While none of us hope to fail, we are naive to think that we won’t at some point be injured and miss a start, get a DNF or miss our goal cut-off time. To run is to ensure failure. If you forget this truth, head to your next local marathon and experience the life and agony of what it means to chase after big goals.