As an athlete, there is often a desire to push your body to incredible levels in order to achieve instant success, rather than staying patient and eventually gaining far better results.
While it is not always as easy as waiting for things to come good, especially as far as sponsors are concerned, the more gradual approach can often ensure that that your career lasts far longer and the amount of success gained is more illustrious.
When they started their respective international careers almost 20 years ago, it is unlikely that Jo Pavey or Bernard Lagat could have imagined they’d still be competing on the track in 2014. Let alone captaining their continent, as they did this weekend.
Far from being in the team purely as senior figures there to guide and advise their more wayward and inexperienced team mates, they were there to compete.
After a summer where she has mixed it with the best and in some cases beaten them, Jo Pavey came into this competition, with serious intentions of winning or at least pushing herself close to the Africans. So when she could only finish third, you sensed the disappointment post-race: “I didn’t feel great out there today, so I’m pleased enough to come third, the African girls are obviously girls I really respect; they’re awesome, I would have liked to have been closer to them and I think I could have been.”
Such a clear desire and drive to succeed is probably what separates Pavey apart from some of her counterparts around the same age. Despite having not raced in 2013 due to pregnancy, there was no change to her goals in 2014: “It (2014) was all very cut throat really, because last year I was pregnant. So all of this year was about qualifying, so I didn’t have the luxury of going to lots of those big races because I wanted to qualify for both the 5 and the 10k, I had to get the qualifying times and do both the trials. All of those things were so crucial.”
The hard work paid off and the veteran was rewarded ; first with a Commonwealth bronze and then with a career crowning moment at the European Championships where she claimed her first ever gold medal.
Weighing up her fantastic year, Pavey said: “To be honest, I’m just so pleased with the season it’s been my favourite of my career…. My main joy about this year was just finally getting a gold medal at a championship, which I’ve never managed to do before. I never thought it would take me until the age of forty to do it. Just as a whole I’m thrilled with it all and that’s my main emotion at the moment.”
As for Lagat, few things have changed since his major successes at the 2004 Olympics for Kenya, and 2007 worlds for the USA. The ageing process has certainly been kind to the middle distance legend, not only in the way he looks, which is still about 25, but in how he races. While his times and position within the fields may have dropped slightly, a strong level of competitiveness remains.
Coming into the weekend’s competition as captain and defending champion, Lagat put a lot of pressure on himself to deliver once more against Ndiku and co. So when he too could only finish third, you sensed that while his head felt like he had ran well, his heart wanted more: “Today I wanted to see if I could retain that title again, but you know I gave it my all and so I’m really proud to represent the continent like what I’ve done.”
To compare the Lagat of 5 years ago to the athlete he is now would be unjust and unfair. However, with the medal collection continuing to grow, it seems that the coffin is still way off being nailed shut.
At almost 40, he took World indoor silver this year and was good enough to qualify as the fastest American for this competition, not a bad achievement, when you consider the level of competition now existing within the US.
So what next for 2015, When he will officially join Pavey in the over 40’s club? For Lagat, it appears things will be staying much the same: “From I think, 2 years ago I was saying, ‘I’ll take it one year at a time’ and I think it has been a strategy that has worked for me. So I’m still going to do the same thing again, 2014 is over and 2015 is coming. I’m going to concentrate on 2015 and then see what I can do in 2016.”
While he is very much part of a select group of runners still running on the track at his age, there are still some other Long distance stars continuing to churn out the super miles, but instead on the road. The best example being Haile Gebrselassie, who at 40 basically runs half marathon’s for breakfast, or so it seems,. His recent success including last year’s Great North Run.
Although, Lagat told me he would like to do some more road races, he ruled out the idea of running anything that far: “Road racing is not a type of racing that is out of my reach, as long as I don’t try to go crazy and try to do a half marathon or a full marathon then I’m good doing the 5k, 10k or 1 mile. I think those are events that would really appeal to me; I think I’d do a very good job in them.”
In fact he already has some lined up: “I would like to run some of the US races like Beach Tobagon and Carlsbad again, it was an amazing race. I’m going to Philadelphia to race, so I’m going to see how that one goes.”
Despite her long hard season, Pavey too will be turning her attention to the road, sooner rather than later. She already has two races planned for next month; first in Edinburgh for the Great Scottish Run and then in Portsmouth for the Great South 10 miler.
Given that she is also now looking after two kids, it seems in her case that the busier you are when you’re older, the easier it becomes to keep going.
Maybe if I combine Lagat’s year by year approach, with Pavey’s busy schedule , I’ll be able to keep going in journalism until I’m forty!
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