I used to work with a champion. I just didn't know she was a champion. Instead of spending her lunch break eating the usual cheesy pizza or greasy burger she would go for a run.
She did this almost everyday. One day I finally asked her how far she ran over her lunch break. I should have had a clue that something was up when she said she ran 10 K, and she still had time to change and be back at work before the rest of us got back from the local greasy spoon.
I don't work with her anymore but Diane Gentry is still a champion. Almost every year she runs the Bolder Boulder and finishes in the top 5 female finishers. In fact, in 1997 she won the woman's citizen's race with a time of 34.59.
For those of you not familiar with the Bolder Boulder please allow me to explain. The race is one of the biggest 10 K races in the world with over 50-thousand people running it each year to celebrate running and Memorial Day. Among the runners are the top professional athletes from around the world. Pros from the elite running countries like Kenya, Ethiopia, Japan and Eastern Europe, along with the best from the United States, all compete in this very prestigious race.
Almost every year Diane is battling for the win. A few years ago at the age of 43 she came in second overall in the woman's race with a time of 35.51. That means in the last ten years she barely slowed down one minute. I could easily imagine that the under one minute time difference (over 10 kilometers) could easily be due to weather conditions such as wind or heat or even rain.
It completely blows my mind that at the age of 43 she is running a 35 minute 10 kilometer-rolling race at altitude. That means that she is running mid 5-minute miles for the entire 6.2 miles of the race.
Let me just try to put that into perspective for you. I suspect that if most of us were to go out to our neatest track and sprint around that track as fast as possible, we would not be able to sprint for one lap at the pace she runs the entire 10 kilometers.
Don't believe me? Go try it yourself.
Next time you are running, find a local track and sprint around it once. To keep up with Diane you have to do it under 1.30. If you are very good you just might be able to make that 1:30 split. If you do make it, try to maintain that same pace four times around. If you can do that you will be running a 6:00 minute mile, or about 20 seconds slower than Diane is running her average mile on race day.
I've tried this and the very best I have ever done is match her pace for one lap. After which I turned blue, heaved up my lungs, fell over from oxygen deprivation, and immediately checked myself into the nearest Hospital level 1 ICU.
What makes this even more amazing is just how hard it is to break the 35-minute 10-kilometer mark. I remember when I started running the Bolder Boulder I just wanted to break the 1 hour mark.
After a few years of trying I got my time down to 55-minutes. Now I'm close to breaking the 50-minute goal, and I think that with some more work and a much better diet I could break 45-minutes.
But that's the really easy bit. It is not all that difficult to go from a 1-hour race time to 45-minutes. You basically need to trim the fat and increase your strength and speed. This is just a matter of hard work and smart training.
But that's not the case when you are knocking at the door of a 40-minute 10 K time. To go from 40-minutes to 35-minutes is a world of difference. To begin with you are already very fit and trim just to be able to run a 40-minute race. There is no fat to lose or corners to cut.
You have to put in the time and do the very very hard work. And after you've put in the time and done the hard work maybe you'll speed up another minute or two. It becomes a question of diminishing returns. You can train more, but you won't necessarily get much faster. You can spend more time in the gym,and on the track, but you may not be able to crack the winning time.
I believe it's that last tenth of a tenth of a tenth that separates us mere mortals from the champions. Those last few seconds are the ones that determine if you finish first, fifteenth, or five hundredth. These last ticks of the clock are the mark of the true champions.
Ask yourself this question. When was the last time that you raced and you really clawed and fought for every single second? That's what champions do every single race they run.
To put it a different way (a more personal and meaningful way for me) last year Diane finished the race second in the woman's citizen field. She was only beaten by 20 seconds for the overall title.
I, on the other hand, ran the race in just over 55 minutes yesterday. There were over 2000 women that ran faster than I did, but only one of them ran faster then Diane. The women who ran faster then Diane was a full 12-years younger and should have technically run as a professional, and not a citizen. She happened to be training in Boulder and decided to enter the race as a citizen, and not as the professional runner that she is. Apparently the rules allow this.
This was not the first time that Diane was beat by a pro. When I asked her about this a few years ago she just said that's just how it is, and all she can do is run her own race.
Now that's how a true champion faces a tough loss. Oh yes, and she also added that she was just biding her time and waiting until she old enough to run in the master's category.
Come to think of it, I'll try to use that same strategy. If I can run a 52-minute 10 K at the age of 80?.I might just crack the top 10 woman's field.