- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 14, 2004

Athletes who are successful at professional road racing are people who can deal with tremendous amounts of adversity on the road to success — and more adversity after that.

Case in point — British marathon great Paula Radcliffe.

The images of her tragic decline in the Olympic marathon, where she was the resounding favorite, were seen by millions of people around the world. Even the least empathetic person could not help being moved by the moment when Radcliffe finally succumbed to exhaustion, trying desperately to continue to run with a few miles remaining but stopping to sit on a curb.

Her head in her hands, she cried uncontrollably, a decades-long dream of an Olympic medal were cruelly ended on the streets of Athens. It was difficult not to want to shed a tear for her because we runners all have had moments when utter disappointment dashed all of our hopes.

Radcliffe’s hardships were only half over, as she then proceeded to drop out of the 10,000 meters, another event where she was favored to win a medal.

Of course, the questions began swirling immediately. At 30, was Radcliffe washed up? Was the woman who crushed the world marathon record with a 2:15:25 just 15 months before now past her prime?

That was August. This is November. And last week at New York, Radcliffe dug herself out of the abyss, worked through nausea at 24 miles and landed a huge victory in the New York City Marathon.

Coincidentally, the men’s winner at New York also was an early leader in the Olympic marathon who did not cross the finish line in Athens. But like Radcliffe, Hendrik Ramaala of South Africa found redemption on the streets of New York.

These are different people than most of us. They have an amazing ability to shrug off major disappointments. They have a unique way of dealing with disasters and coming out positive, even confident. They even seem to gain additional inner strength from having lived through adversity.

Maybe because it proves that when you are sitting on top of the world, you are just one race, just one workout, just one step away from falling hard. We always talk about the fact that you are only as good as your last race, and nothing is more true than when we discuss the top ranks in the world’s professional road racing business.

But these athletes serve as a reminder to all of us, no matter how far behind them we finish, that life as a runner is not always about improving or always succeeding. It is more about developing the character to deal with life’s speed bumps and other barriers and having the guts and drive to overcome and achieve again.

I suspect much of the success of a Radcliffe and a Ramaala comes from a strong belief in oneself. I admire that attribute in a person. Not overconfident or cocky. Not bravado. Just a firm believe that hard work combined with realistic goals will lead to success at some point. Maybe not today or tomorrow or this year but at some point.

In the meantime, we are so fortunate to be participants and spectators in a sport where we see people succeed and fail on a weekly basis, much like we do. But the fact that they continue to line up and don’t quit is quite an inspiration.

Big Apple notes — This year’s New York City Marathon had 36,513 finishers, the largest number ever in a marathon that is run annually. An impressive 98 percent of the 37,257 starters finished, with 11,590 women and 24,563 men successfully completing the race. Participants came from more than 100 countries and all 50 states and the District.

Race officials also said an estimated 2.5million spectators lined the course and 243million people watched worldwide, including live on BBC.

Boston to bid — The City of Boston and the Boston Athletic Association said last week that they will bid for the 2008 U.S. Marathon Trials.

The BAA will bid to play host to both the men’s and women’s races, which always have been held in separate locations. Boston has served as the site for the men’s U.S. Marathon selection race on multiple occasions, beginning in 1908 and as recently as 1960. The women’s marathon trials, which were run for the first time in 1984, never have been held in Boston.

The trials would be on a flat multiple-loop course around Boston, unlike the hilly traditional marathon route from Hopkinton to Boston. It would be scheduled on the Saturday or Sunday before the Monday marathon, which would be held on April21, 2008.

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