For the first time ever I was a spectator of a track meet I’d never be a participant in.
Not because I’m not good enough, or couldn’t reach the qualifying standard
but because I’m American
And this was the EUROPEAN champs.
I’ve decided that I’d never miss another chance to see one of these in person.
I had THAT much fun.
It was the first time in a long time that I was able to experience pure unadulterated joy while watching my sport without the typical accompanying feelings of disappointment or anger
(because if I’m in the stands of a meet I should be able to compete in it’s usually not for a good reason).
This time I was able to watch and cheer unabashedly for athletes that I no longer (for the moment) had to view as my competitors.
With that said…as I was watching the multis unfold over the first two days I remember thinking…
If only I had the mental health of a multi-eventer…
obviously, I don’t know what goes on in the heads or in the private lives of these athletes but I am inspired by their performances nonetheless.
This is what I learned…
This is what WE ALL can learn from the sport’s most versatile athletes:
You need different shoes for different shit:
I know what you’re thinking…duh.
Do me a favor and hear me out…
With seven different events for the women and ten for the men ranging from the track to the field and back there are plenty of equipment changes.
Have you ever thought about how many times you approached a new event with the same “stuff” you used for the last?
How many times have you been faced with a brand new challenge and tried to get through it with the same old shit?
I sat in the stands thinking to myself while watching them…
every new challenge requires new tools, maybe a new attitude, new skills.
It’s not so crazy now to think that perhaps whatever this new thing is that you’re facing,
trying to accomplish
or get over
is just waiting for you to change your gear
You’re not actually competing against anyone else:
In the multis you’re more competing WITH a field of other women or men than you are competing AGAINST them.
This is because of the way the multi’s are scored.
You put up your best effort in any given event and are awarded points based on the scoring table.
The officials will add up the points later.
The person with the most points wins.
There aren’t any bonus points for being the winner of an event within the seven or ten.
Sure…they enter into an event pretty much knowing beforehand how many points a season’s best will get them, and how many points a personal best will get them.
But…they also probably know how many points the other participants are likely to win in the same event
Even still…they ALSO know that focusing on someone else’s points does nothing to improve their own point total.
the focus shifts to them doing the best that they can do within each event.
Let’s go ahead and blame social media for the rise of this “comparison” mentality.
Which, like I always say (to people I speak to in person), “comparison is an act of violence against oneself”
Because what are you really doing when you look at someone else’s social media feed and start thinking “damn, I’m failing because that’s not my life?”
What are you really doing?
What are you really saying?
You’re essentially saying…
without knowing that person’s back story, circumstances, strengths, weaknesses, or resources
with an entirely different back story
a different set of circumstances
different strengths and weaknesses
should have exactly the life of the person pictured.
Instead of you getting out there “racking up the most points” you can by giving your best effort
you’re counting someone else’s “points” which doesn’t advance your cause
Multi event athletes know that what someone else is doing has no bearing on what they can do, or what they will do.
They just get out there…
focus on themselves…
and do what they can…
maybe it’s amazing…
maybe it’s not…
but it’s their own.
When in the pursuit of a big goal short term memory is key:
With seven or ten events to contest no one is better at managing energy, emotions, or mental fatigue than multi-event athletes.
How do they do it?
With short term memory.
I watched Nafi Thiam obliterate the field in the javelin, celebrate a bit, and then settle down.
She still had an 800 to run.
I’m pretty sure she wasn’t thinking about how awesome the javelin was, or how she placed in the hurdles or the 200 during that 800 meter run.
But here we all are…
still thinking about how that one time, we tried that one thing a few years ago, that we were sorta kinda embarrassed about because it didn’t turn out the way we had envisioned bringing an attitude of apprehensiveness to our next endeavor
we’re still celebrating a victory from another time under altogether different circumstances bringing an attitude of bravado to a new venture that we haven’t yet earned.
If you want to win a heptathlon/decathlon you have to take it one event at a time.
And give each your best shot.
You analyze what didn’t go so well…
give yourself a pat on the back or a fist pump for the things that did…
and get on with it.
The sum is greater than the parts:
Multi event athletes know that they aren’t good at everything…
and that that doesn’t matter.
Because what they care about is their “body of work”.
when it’s all over…
and they’ve crossed that finish line after a gruesome 800 meter run they finally look at the results’ board to see where that “body of work” places them within the field.
But it doesn’t matter until it’s over, the effort fully given and exhausted.
KJT destroyed the field in the 200. And produced a long jump effort that would have seen her into the open long jump final.
But those strong events…together with her weaker ones ALL counted toward the end result.
A silver medal, arguably her best performance ever in my opinion in terms of poise and fight.
You see where I’m going with this yet?
We reject our weaknesses as if they can’t possibly add to our experience.
Some of us would rather take a zero and not even attempt something we don’t feel strong enough to do…
rather than give our best effort and “put points on the board” that will add value to our own body of work.
I’m pretty confident that at my funeral (which is already planned and arranged in writing safely with the executor of my will by the way) no one who stands up to speak in remembrance of me will say…
“yea but when she was feeling vulnerable she found it really difficult to make eye contact”
“she lived a good life but she got out jumped quite a bit in training and lost more diamond league meetings than she’s won”
They will reflect on my “body of work” though…
starting from 1985…
You CAN “lose” all the way to a victory.
I won just one meet in 2016.
Just finishing is a victory
And this is why, at a lot of championships, everyone does the lap of honor.
They weren’t competing against each other.
They were competing with each other.
Feeding off of the energy that the others were bringing to the table.
inspired and motivated by the fight in the eyes of their colleagues that reflects their own.
I was sitting with Thomas, a Belgian decathlete, while watching the meet from the warm up track on the big screen.
I was telling him how I’d really love to try a hep one day, that I had a few events to learn but that I am intrigued by the challenge but also deathly afraid of the 800.
And do you know what he said to me?
“It’s a little over two minutes of your life.
It’s just over two minutes between you and the finish of a tiresome two day ordeal. And you’ll get out there and you just do it. And you’ll be exhausted. But mostly, when you finish, most of all…
You’ll be proud.”
I thought, wow.
And then I thought about the 1500 meter run, and the 800 meter run both the final events from the men’s and women’s multis respectively. And I reflected on what I saw.
Runners often cross the line and look to the results board for the time and place before deciding how to feel.
Jumpers often whip their heads back after a jump to see if they’ve gotten a fair or foul flag before deciding how to feel.
But these athletes…
these multi event athletes that have been competing for two days…
collapse to the track in relief or exhaustion…
hug their colleagues…
look for their support team…
ask for water…
all before looking at the results’ board.
maybe it’s because going into the final event the places are all but secured
but I’d like to think that maybe
if you truly gave it your best
and you were able to finish what you started
the results don’t matter.
Blogger’s Note: I had an incredible time in Berlin, one of my favorite European cities and stadiums for European Champs. I’m grateful to everyone who came together to arrange for me to have a credential and most importantly to all of the athletes that showed up and showed out…this entry is part one about my time in Berlin at the European Champs.