Alternatively titled: Learning humility from the marathon
Long, boring story that you won’t care about:
In 2010 I traveled with some friends to New Orleans to watch the first round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament. During Kentucky’s blowout win over East Tennessee State my friends and I began a “bar debate” that got so spirited, angry and nearly violent, that all present still talk about it to this day. The question that inspired such passion: could my four friends and I replace the Kentucky players and hold off East Tennessee State with a 19 point lead over the last five minutes? What started as a funny little discussion to while away a blowout became a heated screaming match that nearly resulted in us getting ejected from the arena by a burly, humorless security guard. You know why that argument was so much fun? There is absolutely no way to know who’s right. I mean, short of actually going out and playing those guys, all we could do is conjecture and raise our voices for emphasis. And five otherwise reasonable guys had wildly different opinions. (Editor’s note: I’m a bit embarrassed to say that at the time I was in the affirmative on this argument. Now I think we’d end up losing by 10).
That’s because there’s almost no way to quantify how good an average joe is vs. a great basketball player. Or boxer. Or football player. Or, well, you get the point.
And this is one reason why running is so fascinating. I know exactly how I compare vs. every other person who’s ever run a marathon. More interesting, I know exactly how much better (or, more appropriately, worse) I am than the greatest runners out there. Think about this: When I run 400 meter repeats, I basically sprint in at around a 6 minute per mile pace. When Kenya’s Dennis Kimetto broke the marathon world record in Berlin with a 2:02:57 finish, he averaged 4:42 per mile. This is an insane thing. I can tell you – backed by math and science – exactly how much more awesome that guy is than me. He runs 26.2 miles at a pace 1:18 faster than I run a quarter mile. GOD DAMN.
So while we are all pretty convinced that Michael Jordan can beat us one on one, we know by exactly how much Dennis Kimetto will beat us in a race.