Updated: Feb 18, 2020
There seems to be more and more talk about "Greatest of All Time" athletes lately, or maybe I am just noticing it more. With all the sports I know about, I can only confidently say there are two Greatest of All Time: Wayne Gretzky, "The Great One," and Eddy Merckx, "The Cannibal." However, this article is not about "Greatest of All Time" athletes. This article is about Greatness.
What is Greatness?
First off, Greatest and Greatness are related. Greatest is based on tangible things; wins, points, time, etc. Anyone can be great, but very very few (two in the history of sport by my count) can be the greatest. Being great comes from the intangible, unmeasurable, and esoteric. You do not have to be fast, fit, physically gifted, or (to put it bluntly) "any good" to be great. Without fail, at the beginning of a Run Clinic when I start talking about being a great runner, someone will say they can not be a great runner. This is even before I go into what makes a great runner (SIGH). So, if you are still reading this article, here are the intangibles I feel make a great triathlete/runner/cyclist/swimmer/dog walker/proctologist/ sushi chef/etc.
1. Accepting the sport for what it is.
I am going to use running as my example for all these intangibles, but keep in mind these intangibles are constant across any sport. To be a great runner, you have to accept running for what it is: putting one foot in front of the other faster than your normal gate. It is incredibly simple; when a child learns to walk running follows very quickly. But, it is the simplicity that causes the struggle and the beauty. If you are reading this article, you have had several years of experience being able to run. How often have you thought "something is off with my stride," or "this doesn't feel right," or even "I can't run right." The struggle of knowing you can be a better runner and wanting to figure it out is the first key to being a great runner.
2. Appreciating the sport for what it is.
I admit appreciating and accepting are similar, but I make a distinction between the two in my head. Accepting running is understanding that it is simple. Appreciating running is understanding that it is hard. It is not always hard, in fact sometimes it is easy. This is the appreciation, sometimes you feel like your stride is perfect and you very well might be the fastest person in history, while other times you feel like it is impossible to put one foot in front of the other and the world is coming to an end. Both of these situations may very well (and commonly for me) happen in the same run. To appreciate that both of these situations are a part of running are the second key to being a great runner.
3. Respecting the sport.
Running will exist with or without you. Running does not care if you are great, the greatest, fast, slow, or hate it. To respect running is to understand it is more than just you. Respecting the sport is the key to being great, and the one that I have the most trouble with, and work on everyday. The great runner is the one that smiles for the entire run, no matter how bad everything is falling apart. The great runner is the one who cheers on his/her fellow runners. To understand that running is more than the runner is the third key to being a great runner.
Those are my keys to being great. At the end of the day I truly do believe anyone can be great. It takes work, and the work never ends. Being great at something takes active involvement, you do not get there and then stay great forever.