Who Is There At The End

Phil Goldstein | North Forty News

In 1975, and just out of college, I decided I’d take up competitive distance running. As I eventually progressed to 80 to 100-mile weeks of training and racing, I learned the real value of that decision.

I started running because I wasn’t progressing with my tennis, and I wanted to finally kick a three-year, off-and-on-again smoking habit. Growing up I never distinguished myself athletically in any of the higher-profile sports (although I pitched our little league team’s only non-loss one season, a 10-10 tie). Tennis presented another opportunity for finally finding the competitive recreation outlet that football, basketball, or wrestling had provided for my more athletically gifted friends throughout high school and college. But this column’s not about me finding a sport at which I could finally succeed; it’s about the self-esteem and confidence it brought me that I’d not had in my life up to that point.

Running’s simplicity suited me more than one-on-one or team sports. It’s all you, and I got all in—I stopped smoking, changed my diet, drank less beer, got more sleep and trained almost every day. Within weeks after I started running regularly, I began entering short races, usually 5 or 10 kilometers. 

After fading badly from contention in those early races, I sought coaching from a member of the local track club. Among his training tips, he taught me pacing strategy, sharing a simple but sage mantra that made his point: ‘It is not who is there at the beginning, it is who is there at the end.’ With better conditioning, and tactical experience, and despite starting the sport 10 years later than most of my competition, I began having success. And as my elapsed times decreased, my self-confidence increased.

In 1976, I ran the Marine Corp Marathon in Washington, D.C., the first of eight marathons I’d enter and finish. In 1980, I earned an invitation to the first of three successive Boston Marathons by running a qualifying time at the New Orleans Mardi Gras Marathon. All marathoners aspire to compete in Boston because admittance requires completion of another marathon in the prior year under an age-specific time limit, a standard far more stringent back then than today, when six times more runners get accepted. 

Following that first Boston Marathon, I finally had the self-confidence for making a much-needed career change. My running success helped me land a full scholarship toward a master’s degree in sport management at my alma mater, West Virginia University, with an assistantship coaching women’s track and working in the athletic business office.

That degree and work experience led to my recruitment for a senior position in athletics administration at Bowling Green State University, where the hard-nosed athletics director said he hired me because, if I could survive marathons, I could survive working for him.

And 30 years and 3 other universities later, when I’d had enough of the stress of athletics administration, I applied those old running lessons about changing the pace, not daunted by the prospect of learning a new part-time vocation, this time in executive search and consulting.

Unfortunately, around that same time, injuries from all the miles took their toll, and 5 orthopedic surgeries later I decided I’d stop the punishment. By then I’d competed in over 500 road races and even a few triathlons. 

Meanwhile, with the part-time work not providing nearly the relevance and identity that came with the training and competition, I once again drew on the confidence and self-esteem garnered from marathoning and tried entirely new endeavors, including community service, non-profit advising, sports coaching, and, most challenging but self-gratifying of all, writing for North Forty News and other media.

I miss the training and racing; it’s the only athletic endeavor in which I had real success. But the day I stopped running, I started walking, biking, swimming, weightlifting, or pickleballing. So, I’m still competing, only now it’s about going as hard as I can for as long as I can in whatever else I can. And for me, that’s all the self-esteem I need.

Not bad for a short, skinny, uncoordinated kid who once could only envy his football hero friends. It is not who is there at the beginning, it is who is there at the end. Write me and share the life endeavors that helped you gain confidence.

Phil Goldstein writes Tales from Timnath periodically for North Forty News. Phil is a 12-year Timnath resident who proudly serves the Town of Timnath as chair of the Timnath Planning Commission. Phil is finally using his journalism degree after getting sidetracked 49 years ago. The views expressed herein are Phil’s only. Contact him with comments on the column or suggestions for future columns at [email protected].


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