Osaka Notes, Day Nine-by Mary Nicole Nazzaro


One of Nicoles' first interviews was with Catherine Ndereba. Here, in her day 9 column, she speaks about the most elite of elite champions, and her amazing consistency in the marathon!

Osaka Notes
By Mary Nicole Nazzaro
Day 9: Sunday, September 2, 2007

Ten lessons to be learned from the competitive career of Catherine Ndereba:

1. Consistency. You can't win major marathons – lots and lots of them – plus assorted prizes like the 2003 and 2007 world championships gold medals, and Olympic silver in 2004 – unless you're stunningly consistent in the way you live and train. It takes a heart for commitment and an unwavering desire to keep improving to stick to that kind of a regimen. Ndereba does it better than anyone.

2. Pride. Not the kind of chest-thumping a kid sprinter might show after one good race, but true pride in oneself and one's endeavors. When you have pride in who you are, it shows not only in what you do, but how you do it.

3. Letting go of control of the results of a race. In not so many words, this one spells "faith," and anyone who has ever talked with Ndereba knows that she wears her faith in God proudly on her sleeve. But when you line up regularly with the best in the world, you really can only do one thing: run your race, and let the results speak for themselves. Sometimes that's gold. Sometimes it's silver. Sometimes it's crash-and-burn. But whatever it is, Ndereba never takes it personally and never lets it get control of her head. She just gets ready for her next race.

4. Showing up. She's been on the scene for, it seems, forever – so it's hard to remember that seven years ago, she wasn't even on her country's Olympic team. Then, she said her time would come. Now, at age 35, she's more than just the elder stateswoman of the sport. She's its crown jewel. When Ndereba is there, you know it's going to be a championship-caliber effort – not only from her but from everyone around her as well.

5. Showing up prepared. She showed us a glimpse of this one in New York early last month, when she ran the New York Half-Marathon. Asked how the win in NYC would affect her training for Osaka, she just smiled and said "The preparation [for Osaka] has been perfect." Today she ran 2:30:37 in 86-degree heat, besting the 2007 London Marathon champion Zhou Chunwei and Japan's marathon darling Reiko Tosa. Zhou was widely expected to challenge for the title, and Tosa was carrying the hopes of a nation that had not yet medaled in these championships. Ndereba's perfect preparation still took the day.

6. Adaptability. The marathon is different every time. Even on the same course. Ndereba ran – and won – the Osaka Marathon in January, and joked today that the world championships run was a completely different race. "If I could have run naked, I would have!" she said, in reference to the stultifying heat here. (In January she was in gloves and an undershirt under her singlet.) But here's the take-home lesson: Ndereba figures every marathon out as if it's just a new mental puzzle and always figures out how to get onto the podium. Cold, rainy, wind? Ndereba will be there. (Boston 2000, 1st place; Helsinki Worlds 2005, silver medal) Heat and hills? Ndereba will be there. (Athens Olympics, silver medal) Temperatures in the stratosphere and no shade in sight? Ndereba – well, you get the idea.

7. Eyes on the prize. Catherine Ndereba keeps herself focused squarely on the goal of every race. There is only winning, and getting to the finish line however she has to do it. Today she had seven other women with her through 38 kilometers. She wondered to herself, "How am I going to win this one?" And then she saw that she had another gear, and popped herself into overdrive for the last three kilometers. Margin of victory over second-place Zhou: eight seconds. In other words, just enough.

8. Give credit to others. Ndereba always credits the people around her who have helped her to become the racer she is today. She also credits her faith, unabashedly and openly, and gives all the credit for her stellar career to her devotion to God. Whether or not you share that faith, you have to be inspired by her devotion and her unwillingness to put herself at the center of the conversation when she has achieved so much

9. Balance. She's married and has a daughter, Jane, who has charmed more than one post-race press conference. She's patriotic and driven, passionate and mature. She understands that life is about more than running…but that when you're running, you're to do it all out, to the very best of your ability. She does it as well as it's ever been done at the elite level.

10. Humility. Looking for egos in track? Look elsewhere. Ndereba may be known as "Catherine the Great," but she carries herself with the air of someone who knows she has a responsibility to go along with all that running talent, and that she is simply fulfilling that responsibility when she runs.

World championships marathon, Sunday, September 2. Ndereba wins the gold medal by eight seconds and a lifetime of living these lessons. On this last day of the 11th IAAF World Track and Field Championships, we salute her for being the greatest of champions and the humblest and most decent of competitors.

Hongera, Catherine. Congratulations.

M. Nicole Nazzaro
The China Sports Blog:

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