Over the last few weeks, Nick and I have spent some time talking about London and processing our thoughts about his races. We know that understanding this stuff takes time, and we know we’ve still got a long way to go on the subject. We realize that, whether people say it or not, the number one question they want to ask us is something like,
“So, what happened?”
In short—we don’t entirely know. I know that’s not the answer people want to hear, and it’s not the one we want to give, but for now, it’s the truth. We have some ideas, but at this point, it’s too soon to jump to a simple answer. Maybe it was something we did wrong in the planning; maybe it just wasn’t Nick’s day.
But, to be honest, right now, we feel like we need to take a vacation from thinking about running. And a real vacation as well. As I write this we are on a ferry bound for the Greek island of Paros. And, looking out across the waters of the beautiful Aegean, watching as islands float by, I’d be lying if I said we’re moping.
On “doing your best”
That’s what people say, isn’t it? We’ve been thinking about what that expression really means, and wondering if we can walk away from our Olympic experience claiming that as our comfort.
In one sense, we do know that in that race, on that day, Nick gave his best. There’s no doubt in our minds that is true. He positioned himself perfectly and, for the first three laps, he executed a near perfect race strategy. He pushed himself to his body’s limits until he crossed the finish line. That was evident.
But, in another sense, what is incredibly frustrating about that race was that Nick’s performance was nowhere near to his best. Two weeks before the Olympic final he had smashed his own personal best and run 3:30.3, a time that ranked him fourth out of all his Olympic competitors this year—a time he had only ever dreamt of running. We felt that, especially with Nick’s history as a good championship racer, he was in the best possible position going into the Olympics. But sadly, I don’t think anyone involved in the sport would agree that Nick’s performance in that final was anywhere near that of a 3:30-caliber athlete. So, can we really claim he did his best?
What happens when everything you’ve hoped and prayed for doesn’t happen? What happens when the reality, as it turns out, is even worse than you prepared yourself for? I realize that comes across quite harsh. It’s not necessarily the placing that makes me say that. We know that ninth in the world is not a bad placing, really. Nick has come back from injuries and placed about the same in other years and we’ve been happy with that—but that’s been off of 2 or 3 months of training. What made this race difficult were our expectations going in. When you’re on the mountaintop to start with, you hope and pray you’ll climb a little higher, you realistically expect consistency, and you even prepare yourself for the chance of a slight regression. But, “slight regression” would be an understatement to describe Nick’s race. It was the going from an effortless-3:30 kind of shape to, less than 3 weeks later, struggling to hold on to 3:34 pace and tying up to run 3:36. Truthfully, we just didn’t expect that at all.
It was a hard few days after the final. I’m not embarrassed to say that race was exactly the opposite of what we prayed for, and what our friends and family prayed for. It was and still is challenging to contend with that. We’ve always felt that God is present in everything—certainly in our spiritual lives but also in our physical lives. He’s in our days, our bodies, our careers, and yes, even a little race. He’s not a distant presence unconcerned with the details of our lives. But that’s a difficult assertion to make in the midst of disappointment, because it acknowledges that God is in that too. And as humans who want what we want, it’s hard when we don’t get it.
I mean that expression it in both senses. Yes, it’s hard when we don’t receive what we want, but it’s also hard when we just don’t “get it.” We want, so badly, to at least understand why things happen to us. But sometimes we don’t get that, either. We’re learning that lesson slowly. Failures bring out the perfectionist in us all, and in a sport like this one, fine tunings and fractions of seconds are what separate joy from heartbreak. The need to solve or fix what went wrong quickly becomes an obsession, and we’re constantly battling against that. Maybe we’ll figure it out—and rest assured, we’ll certainly do the best we can to fix things for next time—but there’s no guarantee that will happen. Simply wanting to understand does not entitle us to.
That’s the harsh reality of this sport—and, of life, too. We don’t always get everything we want, and we don’t always understand why things happen. And we’re okay with that. Nick and I are open about how faith plays a part in our lives, but we don’t follow God just to get what we want—and I admit this is a lesson I sometimes need to be reminded of. We follow God because, despite what we think we want, what we really want is Him. Not success, not money, not medals. And He’s the one want that we always get.