Witnessing a runner missing her Olympic Dream on the track isn't the whole story—Phoebe explains why, and we adore her for it.
You can’t see the big story.
I was on an easy run with my training partner, Megan Malasarte, last week. It turned into more of a therapy run really. Training partners are sometimes the best therapists, and easy runs with training partners are sometimes the best therapy.
Being ladies, we started the run talking about what ladies like talking about most: the latest on our friends’ dating lives. Hot Gossip! In particular, we were discussing why more of our friends don’t online date. Online dating makes sense to my practical, goal oriented, not-single self. Megan said something really profound: you connect with people through stories, and one of the most important, most relatable story you have is the story of how you fell in love. Online dating is not a glamorous story. It is not relatable. It doesn’t seem organic. It’s not traditional. People are hardwired to want to live a cool story—and online dating is not cool enough for some people. However shallow that may be, it is valid.
As little girls we grow up watching Disney movies thinking about love and finding it and living happily-ever-after. A good story has a serendipitous beginning, some struggles, lots of emotions, a few unexpected turns and a beautiful ending where everything magically pieces together.
This made me think about my story. In particular, my love story with track and field. For years I dreamed about making the Olympic team. I wanted to make the team not to compete, but to have the story. A beautiful story where I started as a walk-on at Tennessee, worked my way up to being the best, had a few set backs accompanied with some emotional breakdowns, and overcame it all to achieve the ultimate goal of being an Olympian. It’s a nice, glamorous, relatable, inspirational story. It proves that great things can come from not great beginnings. And that maybe life is fair sometimes, and if you work hard you can achieve anything.
I was married to the idea of this story. Fulfilling this story was my main motivation. It is what pushed me to train every day. Each setback was just a blip to make the story more exciting—it almost made me more jazzed to achieve the end goal—competing at the Olympics. The story I had made up in my head always ended with an Olympic berth. The thought of not making the team was unfathomable. Plus, even a hint of doubt would be a distraction I did not want to deal with on the start line. Believing you’ll get the fairytale ending is a prerequisite to truly going all-in to something. I wonder how many runners would train as hard if they knew they wouldn’t make their goal?
As the trials began to unfold, I knew that an Olympic berth was going to be a tall order. I was lucky to qualify out of the first round. I ran a semi-ok time, but got third in the heat. How the heck was I supposed to get top-three in the finals if I can’t even get top-three in the rounds?! I gamed up and squeaked into the finals by placing fifth in the semi-finals. I was the last person in. I have been the slowest in the field before, and usually I love being the slowest in the field—you have zero expectations. Being seeded last means that anything higher than last is an accomplishment! I was ready to go accomplish something in the finals!
On the morning of the finals, I felt good and went into Navy seal mode: Accomplish task at hand. Thirty seconds into the race, I realized that the Olympic Dream wasn’t going to happen. In running you allot your energy accordingly so you have a kick the last 100 meters. I had used up my kick halfway through the race. By the last 200 meters I looked up at the screen and was embarrassed that I was so far out of the race that I wasn’t even in the screen. I was outclassed that day.
I would have had a pity party for myself right there at the 150-meters-to-go mark, except I knew that I was, as my coach says, “giving it the beans,” meaning I was doing my best and there was not much more I could do. I was like a 1980s Ford pickup truck—redlining with no acceleration, but gosh dang, I’m trying. It’s hard to beat yourself up mentally while you are beating yourself up physically to the max.
I exited the track and immediately went for the sunglasses so I could cry in semi-private. Which “private” in this age means I can cry, but it would be hard to tell after the fact in all the Instagram photos. I was sad not because I don’t get to line up in that brand-new sharp USA jersey in Rio, but because my story feels like a letdown. I didn’t get my fairytale ending. I got a mediocre performance, a heartbreak, a sad post-race beer and a story with a seemingly uninspiring ending. It sucked.
Well, at least in the moment it sucked. It felt like I was going through a breakup of a 10-year relationship. It wasn’t supposed to end like this. It was supposed to end with track and I living happily ever after. Sidenote—It is kind of funny how the emotional investment in a track career is similar to the emotional investment in a long-term relationship. There’s commitment, love, anger, frustration, appreciation, accountability—the track relationship may be a little abusive sometimes though. But like they say, it is better to have loved and lost, than to have never loved at all…? (I hope!)
Anyways! I was having this pity party to Megan, and she told me that I was inspirational, and that maybe my story isn’t over. Or that maybe this is a small piece in a bigger story. She said that it would be cool to zoom out 10 years to see how this all plays out. Megan is a glowing ball of positivity, and everyone needs a Megan.
This was the first time I had a glimmer of hope since the Olympic Trials. She’s right; right now I can’t see the big story. No one can see the big story in the moment. Maybe this Olympic story isn’t the story I am supposed to tell. Maybe the failure doesn’t matter because the process was a crash course in Life. Maybe telling this failure is my story. Or maybe things just don’t work out how you think they will, because that’s life, and you pick yourself up and keep going because your story is never truly over.