Don't Be John Calipari

Why can’t I just say, “It was a great race!” Why can’t I just smile and say, “I ran as hard as I could, so I’m happy!” A simple, satisfying summary. That’s all people want. They don’t want a play-by-play detailing every little thing that went wrong or could have gone better. They just want a simple, one-sentence recap. 

But I can’t do it. Every single time I try to pack the race into a happy, little, one-sentence nutshell, I fail. I’m the worst race summarizer of all time. 

“How was your race, Amy?” 

“Eh, well, you know, it was good. I mean, I didn’t run well. I was tired going into it. My schedule’s been busy. My training has been on the fritz. I pretty much knew going into the whole thing that I wasn’t going to have a great race. I’ve bailed on a lot of workouts. So, you know, it was okay. It was the best I had in me that day. So, it’s good. I mean, I’m happy.”

“Oh, uh, that’s cool.” 

“Yeah. But I think I might be anemic.” 

“Oh, uh, that’s cool.”

GUYS. This is real. I actually gave that exact race summary to three of my running buddies during a recent long run.

Yes, even the anemia part.

[…] 

I’ve always struggled with race reports. You would think that something like, oh, say, writing a weekly column about running would give you adequate practice recapping races. 

Nope. Nope, it doesn’t.

I struggle. When someone asks me how my race went, I am suddenly (and unreasonably) burdened with enormous pressure, as if that person is about to judge my whole potential and worth as a runner by that single performance. And, of course, if that single performance didn’t happen to be my best race ever, I don’t want those judgments being made.

Commence “Operation Give-A-Bunch-Of-Reasons-Why-The-Race-Didn’t-Go-As-You-Had-Hoped-So-People-Know-You’re-Actually-A-Better-Runner-Than-The-Results-Imply.” (It’s kind of a wordy operation. A brusquer person might call it “Operation Excuses.” But where’s the fun in being brusque?)

Approximately 1 percent of my races could be qualified as “my best race ever.” This, of course, means that 99 percent of my races require some kind of disclaimer.

“I was undertrained.”

“I was battling an injury." 

“It was hot.” 

“It was hilly.”

“I think I might be anemic.”

It’s like I have to qualify my time by making sure the variables are published. I want people to know, “Hey! That wasn’t my best! I can do better! Don’t judge me!” But why? Why is this so important to me? Why do I feel like I have to defend myself? Am I embarrassed by my time? Am I disappointed? Am I embarrassed that I’m embarrassed and disappointed?

I think, yeah, maybe. 

It’s a tricky thing sometimes, the world of training and racing. We push ourselves to do better. Every long run, every workout, every recovery day is part of a calculated effort to be better than we’ve ever been before. We are driven by the desire to improve. Because we know we can. And that’s good, right?

At the same time, it’s easy to become hyper-focused on, well, ourselves. I become so zeroed in on my race, my pace, my goal time, my results—that it’s hard to remember the big picture. Namely,

1)   I’m not the only person to ever run a race.
2)   I wasn’t the only person in this race.
3)   No one cares what my time was.
4)   The last thing people want to hear from someone who just raced a marathon (or half marathon or whatever) is excuses. Trust me on this one. 

The biggest mistake I make post-race is confusing how I see myself with how others actually see me.

Others: “Wow! You just ran a marathon! That’s awesome!”

Me: “I ran the first few miles too fast. It was hilly. I was battling an injury. I had stomach issues. I’m going to run higher mileage in training next time. I’m going to do more track workouts. I can do better. This race was basically a disaster.” 

And even though I try to remind myself not to list every disadvantage I faced, even though I tell myself not to confess every disappointment, even though I tell myself they don’t care if I could have done better, I can’t help myself. It’s like a gag reflex. They ask the question, and I start vomiting excuses. I just don’t know how to answer gracefully. 

But I’m going to learn, even if it kills me. Why? 

Because I watched Kentucky beat Notre Dame.

And then I watched John Calipari’s post-game interview.

And then I hated myself.

The #1 University of Kentucky Wildcats played #3 Notre Dame in what was the biggest and most exciting game of this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament (at least, so far). There were twenty lead changes over the course of the game, with Kentucky winning in the final seconds, 68-66. The country was riveted. The players exhausted. Their fans on the verge of cardiac arrest. No matter which team you were pulling for, you had to admit, it was a great game. 

John CalipariUnless, of course, you were Kentucky coach John Calipari.

Media: “Well, coach, you are headed to another Final Four, but how tough was this test?”

Calipari: “Well, we didn’t play very well, and Kentucky I thought played—really controlled the whole thing…”

My head shot up. I had been sitting on the couch, working on my laptop during the game. “Um… Did he just say they didn’t play well?” 

Kentucky and Notre Dame just survived sixty minutes of heart-stopping basketball, and all Calipari could say was they “didn’t play well?” 

Okay, fine. So maybe it wasn’t Kentucky’s best game ever. But c’mon. You can’t play your best game every night. And it’s the Elite Eight, for crying out loud. You just played a really, really good Notre Dame team. Give them some credit. Don’t start off with, “We didn’t play well.” It’s so self-aggrandizing to stand on the court after a victory and declare that you didn’t play well just because the game didn’t go exactly how you wanted it to go. It’s unattractive. It’s annoying.

It’s exactly how I sound after most of my races.

Oh, my gosh. I’m John Calipari. I lamented as I sat back down on the couch. I’m the worst.

Never again, folks. Never again. I’m a changed woman.

Every race can’t be your best race. In fact, even if it were, by definition, your “best” would then become your “average.” And how do you even define your best? Is your best race always something quantifiable, like a specific time? Or is it something less tangible, such as strategy or effort? Can we have different “best” categories, like they do at the Oscars? (“And the award for Best Performance in a Marathon on a Hilly Course and Less Than 12 Weeks of Training goes to…”)

Give your best effort on that race on that course at that distance on that day. That’s all that matters. There is nothing to defend. Nothing to excuse. It’s a race, for crying out loud. Races are hard. Courses battle back. So do the elements. So does your body. Give the sport some credit.

And the next time someone asks you how your race went, imagine what John Calipari would say. And then say the opposite.


Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious Runner and Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story.  Click here to receive Amy's weekly article via email.

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