No runner can fake his or her way through 26.2 miles.
That’s even more true for the top marathoners in the world. The largest events, broadcast on TV, reveal who has done the work or if someone is having a bad day. There’s no hiding at the front of the pack, especially for the sport’s top athletes, who often openly share their training and goals.
Those who didn’t know before Sunday’s New York City Marathon that Shalane Flanagan wanted to win a major world marathon title before possibly retiring and Meb Keflezighi was running his final, and 26th, marathon, certainly found out by watching it on TV.
Both have been amazing ambassadors of the sport and among the best marathoners in U.S. history.
As the elite women’s race unfolded, Shalane was there in the lead pack. Her grit and determination, as she lowered the hammer on the rest of the field, proved emotional and inspiring.
It was one year earlier, at nearly the exact same mile 23 marker, where I found myself at a make-or-break point in the race. It’s a gut-checking point in New York as runners enter Central Park and confront the hills.
Watching this year’s race, it was difficult to not feel a surge of emotion as Shalane surged over the hills and grabbed her destiny. Tens of thousands of miles brought her to the final stretch of the marathon and a convincing win.
After finishing, Shalane hugged the people closest to her — and the TV mics unintentionally picked up a few interesting comments. “We did it,” she said, underscoring her understanding that it takes a team of supporters to reach our goals. “That was for Meb,” she added. A touching tribute to one of the sport’s most recognizable and gracious figures.
Meb endured a grueling schedule of public events celebrating his career and contributions to the sport in the week leading up to race day. Perhaps he had hopes of breaking the tape, but he finished to an adoring crowd — a fitting end to an amazing career.
The moment also struck an emotional chord with me.
At the 2016 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, my friends and I found ourselves walking on the streets following the race when we crossed paths with Meb and his entourage. I called out to him, to congratulate him on making the U.S. team, and he shook my hand.
So I asked if he’d take a photo with a friend, and he graciously accepted the offer — this after running a grueling race in 80-degree weather.
Coincidentally, a few hours later, we found ourselves at an after party — celebrating his effort. There, he hugged and greeted every person in the packed room, and promptly gave a speech thanking his supporters and loved ones.
A true class act.
While Shalane and Meb inspire thousands of people who love to run, I’m most impressed by their authentic character. More important than their footprint on the sport, they are inspiring people.
And it all reminds me that we have the same opportunities every day — not just as runners, but as people — to inspire those around us. We can bring out the best in people, if we choose to be the best versions of ourselves.
TOP PHOTO: Shalane Flanagan celebrates after winning the professional women’s division at the 2017 TCS New York City Marathon. Photo by Derik Hamilton / USA TODAY Sports