Provision #375: The Olympic Moment

Laser Provision

The games of the 28th Olympiad conclude today in Athens, Greece. As always, these games have much to teach us about the meaning and measure of life. Tears have flowed freely over both great accomplishment and great disappointment. Tears may indeed define the Olympic moment, which I learned something about myself just two weeks ago as I ran a marathon in Alaska. The story follows.

LifeTrek Provision

We’re going to take a two-week break at this point from our series of client interviews on what the experience of LifeTrek coaching means to them, in order to feature a few reflections, this week, on my recent trip to Alaska and, next week, on the publication of my wife’s new book, Trust Matters: Leadership for Successful Schools Click.

Our trip to Alaska was, in part, a celebration of my wife’s accomplishment. This excellent book has been many years in the making. We also wanted to visit friends, to see a new part of the world, and • inveterate runner that I am • for me to run a marathon in Anchorage.

The marathon took place at the end of our trip, just as the Olympic Games were beginning in Athens, Greece. Between our travels and the Games, August has been a great month filled with drama, beauty, and inspiration.

On that score, with its glacier fields, mountain ranges, and wild animals, Alaska did not disappoint. We were able to see both the tallest mountain in North America, which is most often hidden from view by clouds during the month of August, and a very active glacier that was calving right before our eyes on several occasions. “Calving” is when enormous chunks of ice break off and crash into the sea with great noise, splash, and waves.

Given that a glacier can easily do nothing visible to the naked eye for long periods of time, the captain of our boat remarked that the glacier “had been kind to us” during our brief visit. It had indeed. The drama of nature returning not only ice but the mountains themselves to the sea was a humbling reminder of the awesome forces at work all around us • whether we hear, see, and feel them or not. We are but specks on the canvass of a universal stage. Click for Pictures.

Which is my segue to the Olympics. The first Olympic games were held almost 2,800 years ago in Greece as part of a religious festival. They grew in such importance as to include athletes from diverse city-states and social strata, to mark the passage of time (the four-year interval was called an Olympiad), and to interrupt such otherwise uninterruptible activities as the conduct of war.

So that’s at least one way to define an Olympic moment: it’s when we put our differences aside in order to compete and have fun together in tests of strength, speed, coordination, agility, flexibility, and balance. That too is a humbling reminder of the awesome forces at work around us. So many people and backgrounds, so much ambition and effort. No one country, let alone any solitary individual, can ever contain it all. We are but specks on the canvass of a much larger stage.

Unfortunately, the Olympic games were abolished by the Roman Emperor Theodosius more than 1,600 years ago. The games were viewed by the fledgling Christian State as a pagan cult and a pernicious threat to orthodoxy. Differences were not to be set aside; they were to be suppressed and ideally obliterated.

It took 1,500 years and almost a century of striving for the Olympic games to be revived, in 1896, with the noble vision of waging athletic contests to promote international understanding and peace. “Leave your petty politics and vain quarrels,” wrote the poet Alexander Soutsos in 1833, “recall…the Olympic games…where athletes and kings came to compete.”

And so they do, having this year beckoned some 4,000 athletes from 130 countries back to where the games began. Wars may not have ceased, and hostilities have at times been evident, but the Olympic spirit lives on.

One moment I will not forget from this year’s Olympics was the bronze medal finish of 31-year-old Deena Kastor in the woman’s marathon. Unlike other events, the marathon represents such a sustained expenditure of energy for such a long time that it has a way of stripping to you to the core. In those final miles, which go on interminably, you are laid bare • whether in triumph or tragedy • for all the world to see.

Kastor ran her own race, moving slowly up through the field. At the 5 kilometer mark, she was in 28th place in a field of 82 runners. By the halfway point, after 13. 1 miles, she had moved up to 12th place. And then the real race began, as she gradually increased her pace to pick one runner off after another over the next 20 kilometers. Her closing 4.5 miles was the fastest of anyone in the field at any time during the race. It was a thing of beauty and wonder to behold.

And for those who were watching on television, there was plenty to behold. When Kastor passed Elfenesh Alemu of Ethiopia at the 40 kilometer mark, the tears had already started to stream down my cheeks, if not hers. I knew then what she did not know: that she had earned herself a spot on the medals platform. Had the race gone on much longer, she would have taken gold. That’s how fast she was running.

But she didn’t know for sure that she would get a medal until she ran into the grand old stadium where the Olympics were reborn more than a century ago. And that’s when her emotions overwhelmed her. “I couldn’t contain myself,” she said, “I couldn’t believe that everything had worked out so perfectly. That all my work in training had paid off. That I was becoming part of Olympic history. And that the power of dreaming was about to come true.”

That was hardly her experience a few months earlier at the Olympic trials, where she felt like the race was never going to end. Here, however, she just kept getting stronger. “I kept waiting to feel bad,” she recalls, “but I never did. At the finish, I had quite a bit left. I’d like to say I could have gone another 5-K at the same pace. I was so elated with my run that the endorphins were really flying.” And so she ran, flying around the track for a lap and a half, with mouth open and tears streaming down her face.

I know both of those feelings. You may remember my Provision after I ran the Big Sur International Marathon in April Click. It was a tough day on a tough course for an injured runner like me. Within a mile after seeing a fellow contestant die at mile 17 in 85-degree heat (30 degrees Celsius), it was all I could do to walk in and finish in 5 hours and 10 minutes.

That experience left me with more than the normal amount of jitters as I stood on the starting line in Anchorage. Even though my injury was behind me, and even though I had had some good training runs, there was still a twinge anxiety as to whether my days of sub-4-hour marathons were over. Like Kastor, I too took off wondering if and when I would start feeling bad.

But it never happened. The course was flat and the weather was relatively cool, at least for someone from southeast Virginia. That assisted me to feel strong the whole way through, running only three minutes slower in the second half than I did in the first half. Knowing that I was on pace for a sub-4-hour marathon was great incentive to keep running strong, especially in those tough final miles. I ended up finishing in 3 hours and 57 minutes.

Mile 22 has been described as the halfway point in the marathon, because it takes about as much focus, determination, grit, and effort to get through the last 4.2 miles as it does to get through the first 22. When the goal is within reach, the body rises to the occasion. Otherwise, things can fall apart fast.

One thing that helped immensely in the Anchorage marathon, as opposed to the Big Sur marathon, was my cheering squad. On the day of the Big Sur marathon I never saw a familiar face, let alone heard my name, slapped a hand, or received a kiss. “The loneliness of the long distance runner,” to quote Alan Sillitoe, was what I experienced.

Anchorage was a totally different experience. Not only was my wife along for the journey, but so were our friends and their 9-year-old son, Paul. Being familiar with the city made it easy for them to meet and cheer me at many different points. The cheering was so raucous that one runner, as I passed him, asked me, “Are you Bob?” When I said yes, he replied, “I wish I was Bob!”

It made a huge difference. To hear people shouting, at considerable distance, “We want Bob! We want Bob!” made me want to arrive in short order and with a smile on my face. Gifts of water bottles and hand slaps spurred me on. At one point, my cheering section donned left over “Sponge Bob” party hats and starting cheering, “Go Sponge Bob! Go Sponge Bob!” to the amusement of other runners and spectators. If only I had been in costume!

As with Deena Kastor, it was an emotional experience for me to finish strong. As I came up the final hill, I too had a few tears over a well-run race. And I had to laugh at myself as well. Four years ago I ran the Boston marathon in 3:46; I was demoralized by the times I had to stop and I was upset with myself for not running faster. Now I look at that time and think, “Wow! To run that hilly Boston course in 3:46 is great!” How perspective and the passage of time change things.

In the end, I’ve decided that tears are another way of defining the Olympic moment. Tears have been shed in joy and in sorrow, in triumph and in tragedy, in victory and in defeat. They are, you might say, the universal human language. They transcend culture, race, gender, age, orientation, and belief. They remind us, in no uncertain terms, that even we specks are important on the trek of life.

So here are a few lessons I took away from experience of the past two weeks:

  • One bad experience does not, necessarily, produce another.
  • Training and hard work do pay off.
  • Interruptions can be treated as refreshing breaks.
  • Having people to support and cheer you on really makes a difference.
  • Stay hydrated • life is lubricated by both sweat and tears.
  • Don’t take yourself so darn seriously.

Coaching Inquiries: When was the last time that you cried in victory or defeat? What did it teach you about the meaning and measure of life? Who coaches and cheers for you on the sidelines? How could you get more support and accountability in pursuit of your goals?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob.

I really enjoyed Christina’s last Parenting Pathway on the First Day of Kindergarten! I left my 19-year-old daughter at the University last night. I too rocked her before I left. If I had not practiced many of the suggestions in her article when she was 5, I would not have had such a rich and fulfilling day yesterday. Nor would she have been able to say goodbye to me with such peace and tranquility. Keep up the good work.

Do you think it would be feasible to provide coaching to me down in Australia? We have a few hurdles such as time-zone differences, currency, and international phone costs to overcome, but I am interested if you think it is possible. I appreciate your thoughts and love your Provisions. (Ed. Note: LifeTrek Coaching is not called International for nothing. We have had clients in Australia before, and in other countries around the world. I look forward to speaking with you soon.)

I have enjoyed the client interviews, but I get the idea. Coaching is a great benefit to people! When are you going to resume writing the lead Provision article on a weekly basis? I appreciate your reflections, insights, and perceptions on the course of life and I’m anxious to get back on track with your weekly wisdom. (Ed. Note: After this week and next there will be one more month of client interviews, to demonstrate a bit more of the diversity of our coaching projects. Then we’ll be on to a new series. Thanks for the affirmation.)

Congrats on your sub-4-hour finish in Alaska. 

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services