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A 3:30 Marathon? Winning is Believing in Yourself

by Peter Shankman
Sat, 9 Feb 2008 at 12:08 AM

When I discovered "outside sports" — and by "outside sports," I mean anything that involved me getting off my (at the time) huge ass and sweating in an effort to lose weight — I would tell anyone who would listen. Didn't matter if I didn't know what I was talking about ("I ran my first 5k! That's so massive!" "Er, Peter, that's 3.1 miles – about the distance from your apartment to the subway." "Oh.") or if my stories had merit to no one but me ("... and then, at mile 4.0219, my heart rate dropped by a beat and a half!"). It didn't matter, because to me, it was the most important thing in the world — even if I sometimes thought I was the last person in that world to discover it. (I found running. Several days later, I discovered fire. I'm hoping next week to invent a round device that rolls for easy transport of rocks.)

Anyhow, I was pretty sure that the majority of the time, I was the only one listening when I told my stories. My parents listened, of course — I mean, that's what parents do. And I'm not denying that there wasn't anyone prouder than them (except for me) when I broke my 4:00 goal in the NYC Marathon in '06. But they were also smart — they didn't know any of the running greats, or Triathlon heroes, but they were smart enough to know that it was a pretty safe bet that I'd never win a marathon, or heck, even place in a 10k in Central Park.

Because I knew that and was okay with it, they knew it, and were okay with it.

The only person who didn't know it, because it would just never occur to her to think that way, was my Grandma.

When I spoke to Gram, which was several times a week, at least, I'd usually mention if I had a race coming up. She'd wish me luck, and then, without fail, the next time I called her, the first question from her 90+-year-old lips would be, "Did you win?"

Every. Single. Time.

And I had to explain, each time, "No, Grandma, I didn't win… A much, much faster person won, but I did really well, and felt good, and am improving my time every race."

To which she'd respond, "Well, maybe next time."

I knew I'd never win. Come on. Last time I looked, I wasn't Kenyan, didn't train in Colorado, and didn't sleep in an oxygen tent. I don't weigh 110 pounds, and I occasionally (and by occasionally, I mean "way too often") enjoy food that's not the most conducive to going faster. Like sugar. Or donuts. Or donuts with sugar. Wrapped in a hot-dog bun. That's been coated with sugar. So yeah, it doesn't take a sports medicine degree to know that I ain't coming in first any time soon.

But Grandma never thought that way. In her mind, why couldn't I win? I was, after all, her grandson.

And perhaps, unbeknownst to her, what she was really saying was, "Believe in yourself like I believe in you, and you can do anything."

I don't know if "anything" will ever mean winning a marathon, but you know what? Maybe it means trying to break 3:30 this year.

My 98-year-old Grandma passed away this past Tuesday. And this November, when I'm out there, running as hard as I can, I'll remember her question to me. And although I'm pretty sure I won't win the marathon, perhaps I'll do better than I've ever done before.

And if that happens, I'll turn my head up to the sky, and maybe I'll say, "Hey Grandma? Guess what? I did win."

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