Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Never Quit Fighting

Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time.....

No, I can't.

Three times now, I have tried to start this blog post. The idea..the concept...the rough outline...was to make it fairy-tale-ish about a boy with a smidgen of talent and a ton of hard work who trained for 15 years and is now one of those "where did he come from?" overnight successes.

But I can't tell that story. I don't know enough of the details. I know enough of the background to be able to appreciate the now, but I don't know enough to weave a story that will delight and pull you in.

What I do know is that 15 months ago I met a young man who was, quite possibly, at one of the lowest points he'd visited in quite awhile.

He had, literally, left all family and friends and moved to a new town to live and train with a group of professional runners - all with the idea of working with some of the best, and in doing so, making himself better.

Through no fault of the program or the people in it, things didn't pan out quite like he had hoped. It simply wasn't a good fit for him.

On top of that, he'd suffered an injury less than a month after arriving. It was the first time he'd really had to deal with an injury that affected his performance, and it plagued him the rest of his time here.

He regressed in his rise to the top of his sport. His times were off. His finishes were less than expected. He pulled up and was DNF in a race for the first time in his life.

And yet, he never wavered. He still trained. He ate what he was supposed to eat, he ran when he was supposed to run, he worked out when he was supposed to work out, he did physical therapy for the injury religiously.

And he went back home - back to the coaches and the trainers and the support network that had worked for him in the past. That was last July.

Still, it has not been an easy year. The running coach has emailed workout routines to him from two time zones away. The strength coach accepted a new job and moved to a different state just a handful of months after this guy returned home.

He is not sponsored fully by an athletic company the way most elite runners are. (He is sponsored partially by Brooks - we must give props where props are due.) He has a full-time job as an elementary teacher for disadvantaged kids. His training must be done before and after school - often starting at 6 a.m. and not finishing until nearly bedtime. And yet, he has persevered.

Because of his dedication...even determination...even stubborn doggedness...his return to form has been measurable this year. Winning races. Setting new personal best times. Turning in the fastest mile ever run on Tennessee soil. 

4th Place Finish at USA Outdoor Nationals
(Always look for the bright yellow)
Des Moines, June 22

And ultimately placing 4th at the USA Track & Field Outdoor Nationals this past weekend in his chosen event, the 1500m. Watch the video of the finals - at no time EVER during the entire race was his name mentioned. At the bell for the last lap, he was tied for last place in a field of 12. In the last 400 meters, he passed 8 of the fastest men in the country. He ran with former US champions and world competitors and Olympians, and he placed 4th.

There is a chance that he'll actually get to travel to Moscow in August to compete at the World Championships. It's similar to figuring out which football teams get into the playoffs - there are a lot of "if this happens, then that will happen" scenarios that need to play out among the top four finishers and be settled by July 20th. In the meantime, he's still fighting - fighting to get that qualifying time that will make him ready to grab that chance, depending on what the Top 3 do in the next 4 weeks. And to fight for that time, he's going to have to travel to Europe, where he has never been before, and run races over there with the best of the best.

So...how does this fit in with MY journey? I mean, that's what this blog is about, right?

Well, this 15-years-in-the-making overnight sensation is my coach, Matt Elliott. He's the one who gives me tips on how to get better as a runner, or how to get in better shape. (Although I'm not nearly as good as he is at following directions, I'll confess.) He's the one who answers my technical questions. He's usually the 1st or 2nd to hear about any milestones that I hit.

And he is one hell of an example to try to follow. With him as my guide, I have no room for excuses. As long as he never quits fighting to be his personal best, I can never quit fighting to be my personal best.

I will be forever grateful that our paths not only crossed, but crossed when they did. Our relationship grew out of the timing and what we each needed at that moment, in a way that I don't think would've happened if either of us had been at a different point in life.

Keep fighting, Matt! (As if you could do anything else.) ;)

American Milers Club Series, Indianapolis, June 15
New PR in the 800m - 1:49.47
If you want more info on this pretty amazing guy (yes, I'm biased):
Google Search "Matthew Elliott Runner" for previous videos and articles
Check out FloTrack's interview video from this weekend - 25,000 hits and counting
Follow Matt on Twitter - @MattElliott1500
Friend or follow him on Facebook 

1 comment:

  1. Great story. We are pulling for him to get an "A" in the next few weeks.