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Can I Do That?


My thoughts after watching the Tokyo Olympic Marathons


 — Jared Ward —

I credit the Olympic Marathons with a huge surge in runners’ motivation, resulting in impressive Strava and Instagram posts over the past couple weeks. Certainly, my motivation was affected; I had trouble sleeping ahead of my Saturday long run after the adrenaline rush provided by watching Molly earn the bronze medal—and then I got out of bed with Clayton and ran a great, hilly, sub-2:30, 25-mile run. We talked about her race and the upcoming men’s race for much of the run.

Molly is a fantastic runner, from NCAA titles to taking the marathon by storm—but her bronze medal last Friday stands as a beacon of hope to runners like me. Molly is relatable (or was relatable—I see this beginning to change), when I saw her on the podium I thought, “maybe I can do that”. I don’t think I’m the only American marathoner to have these feelings.

With these thoughts hot on my mind, I watched the men’s race Saturday. No one is touching a game-ready Kipchoge, but I kept wondering where I could be in the race—had I been in the race—and executed it to my potential.
Am I a dreamer for thinking I could medal? Yes. But I think dreaming is undervalued. I use dreams and goals to get me out of bed excited in the morning. Achieving the goal or not is almost a moot point to me—a goal has served its purpose if it provides me with the motivation that pushes me to my limit.
A few stats comparing 2016 to 2020:
Winning Time
3rd Place Time
Women's RIO
79 degrees mostly sunny 78% humidity
2:24:04 [serving doping ban]
Women's TOKYO
85 degrees mostly sunny 68%
Men's RIO
73 Degrees rainy 94% humidity
Men's Tokyo
82 Degrees cloudy 75% humidity
These are all tough conditions (although the Rio men likely had the nicest weather). Temperature and humidity certainly don’t tell the whole picture, but all 4 races were pretty humid, and pretty warm. The women’s races were tactically different, but the men’s were very similar. Kipchoge moves with 10-ish miles to go, and things break up. I got to watch this in RIO—from right in the pack at mile 15, to 100m back 1 mile later. My memory is that Kipchoge ran a 4:35-ish mile to break things up.
The break was a little more gradual in Tokyo (perhaps suggesting the conditions felt worse to the runners), with Kipchoge accelerating the pace around mile 16 to about 4:50/mi for a few miles before pushing to 4:40/mi for a few more — a move that left him alone on the road.
It’s a lot easier to consider covering a move from the comfort of my couch — but I would have liked to know how long I could have hung on. In Rio the top 3 men’s finishers were wearing prototype super shoes—shoes estimated to make elite runners, on average, 1-2 minutes faster. I ran 2:11:30 in Rio, and was asked many times since if super shoes were the difference between me and the podium. I don’t think they would have gotten me there; I ran a smart race, but not a gutsy race. Gutsy racing covers Kipchoge’s move(s), and stays in the race as long as possible—smart racing hedges bets. Also, the Saucony A8 are some of the lightest flats on the earth. As far as traditional flats go, I probably had the best shoes. But the bottom line: I didn’t believe I could medal in 2016, so there are few scenarios in which I cover that move (even in supershoes).
But in 2021, I’m starting to believe.
My wife wanted to go to Paris anyway.
– Jared