Rev. Baden Stanley

Rev. Baden Stanley

Each week we hope to post a blog on a Monday or Tuesday. These blogs will hopefully stimulate thought, discussion and even debate around key topic that are affecting our society at this time of great change and challenge.

It takes a team

I was always interested in long-distance running. As a young
child I used to run laps of  half-acre
field beside our home, my father watching in bemusement as I literally ran in
(largish) circles. In secondary school I learned that I had neither the agility
nor the speed to sprint, so I focussed on the longer distances. I trained obsessively
with a single target in mind – to beat Kevin Empey in the 3,000 metres on sports
day 1980-something. Kevin was a brilliant all-rounder, a star athlete who had
inspired me when I saw him win the long race comfortably the year before. As I
trained, I dreamed – not just about winning this race, but of becoming a world
class distance runner. Running laps on a hockey field can be mind numbing so in
my head I was running the marathon in the Olympics; I was the unknown athlete
from Ireland who was about to rip apart all previous records by running the
first sub-two hour marathon, 26 miles, 385 yards. I would work out the
mathematical permutations as my body pounded its weary way around the all-weather
(grit) hockey pitch. Each mile would have to be run well under six minutes and
the mythical ‘wall’ that hit at 20 mins would have to be breached. It may well
have been the endorphins triggered by the adrenaline rush, but as a young teenager
I truly believed this was going to happen.

And so the day of the race (3,000 metres) came and I was
ready. I was ready for the distance, I was ready for the fast pace I would need
to win, I was ready for Kevin Empey… but I wasn’t ready for Denis Moloney.
Kevin and I hit the front early in the long-lapped race. I pushed the pace hard
because I knew he had a killer sprint finish, he seemed somewhat surprised to
have me stuck to his shoulder and it became a mighty struggle as we pushed the
pace faster and faster. With one lap to go I prepared to launch my final surge,
I could see Kevin was struggling and while I was exhausted nothing was going to
keep me from my destiny – Ballads would be written about his epic contest,
girls would swoon when they saw my athletic prowess (I was a teenage boy- everything
back then was about girls swooning!) But while I began to edge past Kevin
something completely unexpected (by me) happened. When I went over the race in
my mind later, I realised that I had become so focussed on where Kevin was, I
had paid no heed to what was going on behind us. While Kevin and I were
tussling for dominance, Denis Moloney was slowly making his way back into the
race, steadily he ran until that moment at the beginning of the final lap when
he surged past us. Kevin and I suddenly became allies as we tried so hard to
respond but the earlier titanic struggle had taken its toll. The result was,
Denis Moloney 1st, Kevin Empey 2nd, and me 3rd.
It was no consolation that I had shattered my previous personal best nor that I
had run the race of my life. I was devastated. I had dreamed a dream, I had
trained and prepared as best I could, but it wasn’t enough, it was never enough.

My focus shifted to marathons again, and the dream remained,
but in truth, my heart wasn’t fully in it. I ran several half-marathons in
respectable times, and even ran 20 miles for charity one Saturday afternoon
with a classmate pacing me on a bike! But it was not to be. I watched world class
athletes eat away at the world record, 2 hours 7 minutes, 2 hours 4 minutes. It
has been inevitable that sooner or later a human being would run 26 miles 385
yards in less than 2 hours. And this weekend, it finally happened (kind of). Eliud
Kipchoge, a Kenyan athlete, has been working towards this moment for many years.
And while his time of one hour, 59 minutes 40 seconds is incredibly impressive,
it cannot stand as a world record. To become the first sub-two-hour marathon
runner Eliud had to build a team around him- a team of word class runners who
helped pace him at an incredible 2 minute 50 second average kilometre speed. He
also had a motor bike pacer and specially designed shoes to help him. None of
this should take away from his super-human achievement, it is a truly
remarkable accomplishment and it has reminded me of two very important truths;
it is vital that we as humans dream big and don’t settle for the lowest common
denominator; and it takes a team. My running phase was very much a solo
experience – it was about me pushing my body to be the best it could possibly
be, but always on my own. My dreams, my ambition, my pride. Eliud realised that
to make history it cannot be a solo run – it takes team, it takes coordination,
it takes encouragement, the picture above shows his pacers in the background
cheering him on, shouting encouragement and celebration. They too are part of
history in the making. We are made for community; we need each other to reach
our individual and common potential – it takes a team.


Share this post