Make It Memorable: The marathon wisdom of Wesley Korir

38d2198032d970ec36d5af1f16a91d40The week before I ran the Toronto Marathon last fall, I was terrified.

I get nervous before every race, even the ones I might not feel terribly invested in. But this one was different. Six months of gruelling, time-consuming, toenail-destroying training was about to be called into question, and the task in front of me suddenly seemed impossible.

And so, with less than 24 hours to race day, I did something a little crazy: I changed my race goal.

I had been gunning for a 3:20 marathon, a time that was both comfortably within the Boston-qualifying window, and also close enough to put me within shouting distance of my much-faster older sister. But the night before the marathon, I tossed this goal aside. I no longer wanted to run a 3:20. Instead, I wanted to run like Wesley Korir.

Let me explain:

Wesley ran his debut marathon at Chicago in 2008. A former collegiate track runner with no previous experience in the marathon distance, he was deemed ineligible for inclusion in the elite field that year. So Wesley paid his own entry fee and started his debut marathon with the masses, a full five minutes behind the rest of the elites.

image2I had the pleasure of meeting Wesley last summer, at a fundraiser to benefit the Kenyan Kids Foundation, a charity he co-founded with his wife Tarah McKay (an accomplished Canadian distance runner in her own right). He spoke about his experience running his debut marathon in Chicago. Though he had hoped to earn a place on the elite start line, Wesley was unfazed by this setback. He knew that the marathon was going to be difficult under even the best conditions. So his aim was not to run for a goal time or place. His primary goal, he explained, was to make a good memory.

What happened next was truly remarkable. Wesley got clear of the mass start and quickly found himself running alone, taking in the Chicago sights and high-fiving spectators along the course. Feeling no pressure to perform at an elite level, his pace was controlled, even, and relaxed.

So relaxed, in fact, that he almost didn’t notice as he began to overtake the elite field. He ended up posting the fourth-fastest time on the course that day.

Going into my marathon last fall, I resolved to run like Wesley Korir. That is to say, I resolved to make a memory with the marathon. No matter what happened out on the course that day, I wanted to focus on enjoying the experience.

I like to see results when I train; I’d hazard a guess that most of us do. PBs, podium finishes, and Boston-qualifiers are all supremely satisfying, and can motivate us to push on, and to train harder than we otherwise might. Having goals is a good thing.

But sometimes it’s important to remind yourself that, as great as all those things can be, they are not the reason you run.

This past week of training was particularly hard on me, culminating in an interval workout that I walked away from uncompleted. I’ve never done that before; even in the face of some major personal crises, I’ve never failed to complete a workout once I started. But this week, it all just fell apart.

So on Saturday morning, I got out of bed, shook off my self-doubt, and resolved to run like Wesley Korir.

I laced up my New Balance 1500s and set out for some long, slow distance – far and away, my favourite type of run. I placed no expectations on myself, my time, or the distance I would cover. I was running for one reason alone: to remind myself what it felt like to run happy.

Wesley Korir’s emphasis on running for intrinsic value helped me to overcome my paralyzing self-doubt on the eve of the Toronto Marathon. And this week, it helped me once again – this time, to reevaluate my circumstances outside of racing.

As a runner, I have the right to work my ass of in pursuit of my goals. But I don’t necessarily have the right to the fruits of that work. In the marathon, and in distance running in general, a lot gets left up to the gods, to chance, to the whims of fate.

I came here to chase big dreams. But there’s no guarantee that I’ll ever catch them. So I’m doing my best to enjoy the journey, and to make it memorable.

One bad week at a time.

Chase big dreams.

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