2020 – An Olympic Year by Rob Napolitano
Part 1 – So, what are the odds?
It seems the conversation with every acquaintance you make finds its way to that quasi-statement, “So, you’re going to the Olympics?” Knowing how complex this conversation can get, you smile and reply, “That’s the goal.” However, the reality of the situation is only you and maybe a few others truly understand what it takes.
In less than two days I start my indoor season,and the countdown to chasing the Olympic standard in the 1500m begins. For most, the clock will never stop. Afterall, the odds of becoming a Track and Field Olympian are about 0.01% – one percent of one percent. That number is ineffable and is incredibly daunting at the least,but attaining it is where I and so few others have dedicated our lives. So, why even try to make an Olympic team? Or better, how do you try?
The why is simple: because I can. Every year for the last 12 years, I’ve run faster than the year before. More importantly, I think I can actually make it. I’ve run a mile in 3:54.2 seconds; I can see the Olympic standard an arms-length away.
And how? Well that’s the hard part. The impossible part.
Part 2 – Patience makes perfect
Close to 30,000 miles later, 14 sub-4-minute miles (hopefully more by the time you read this), 10 Ivy League Titles, 3 USA Championships, a lot of winning and way more losing, I’ve learned how you try to make an Olympic team: become the most patient person you know.
I go to bed early, miss dinners that start too late, run upward of 80 miles a week no matter the weather,and prioritize training above almost everything. It’s a work hard, sacrifice, repeat life. But what if that doesn’t work?
See, last year was a bad year. Yes, I set three personal records in separate events, but I peaked 5 months early. I ran the 9th fastest mile in the world the previous indoor season, but I was at the back of the USA Championships that summer.
Now, I’m playing the long game. My focus is on long-runs ranging from 15 to 17 miles, strength workouts that hold 12,000 meters of running well under a 5-minute pace per mile, and stacking mid-80-mile weeks supplemented by cross training and lifting to build a better base. Intensity will come in time but not yet. If this already seems intense, know that it takes a lot more than base building to make a team.
Part 3 – Spring Sharpening
Those words usually come with 120 meters left in a track interval. You’re sprinting hard. Rounding off the final turn your peripheries somehow widen, although you could swear you were already blind from fatigue and nausea, as your training partners swing wide in an attempt to beat you to the line. You try to relax your face, but it’s stuck in an accepting grimace. Your ears perk up to the sound of coach telling you to put it into gear and somehow you begin to float.
You cross the line and two times are yelled out – “53.6!”, your time for the 3rd 400m rep of the set, followed by “4 minutes!”, you rest before you do it one last time. Some jog, some stand with hands on their knees, someone might have to vomit, and everyone groans their doubts. But come the end of four minutes,we are off to the sound of ‘click, clack, click, clack’. Our spikes hit the ground in sync. It doesn’t even feel like you’re breathing, who has time for that now? You’re flying.
‘Hit it!’coach yells and everyone lifts off. Suddenly you are no longer on the practice track. You’re running for a spot in the Olympic Games.