Molly Huddle and the race for self-worth

I’ve been thinking about Molly Huddle. If you don’t know who Huddle is, she ran the 10,000 metres at the World Championships last week. Currently, the internet is full of people laughing at her, calling her arrogant, stupid, an embarrassment to her sport but she actually ran a pretty good race. She was leading a lot of the way through and she put in a decent amount of effort into chasing down the two experienced women who eventually overtook her. Exhausted and watching her chances of gold or silver fade away, she raised her arms in triumph at at least collecting the bronze… only to have her teammate Emily Infeld zip across the line at the last second to snatch it.

People said she was stupid for letting up in the last few seconds, that she was arrogant for celebrating before the medal was assured. There’s a certain amount of disrespect in assuming that pretty much everyone else in the race had just faded away into nothing, for sure, but she had her eyes on the prize and she’d spent the whole race fighting for it. The question in my mind was not whether or not she deserved a medal – with the amount of work put in, she certainly deserved to walk away with something. It was whether or not she knew what she was really fighting for.

After she scores were announced, she burst into tears. “I’m old!” cried 30-year-old Huddle. “This chance will never, ever come again.” There speaks a person well-versed in writing herself off. I should know, we can smell our own. Her fight was a fight shared by anyone who knows they are unacceptable without the ultimate prize (whatever it is), those of us who spend days and weeks fighting to be the best and knowing that nothing will ever be good enough. If you want to be depressed, this is a really good way to go about it.

I’m not a runner – I actually can’t run at all because of my knees, which upsets me greatly as I love running. But I have my own battles to fight nonetheless. There are some days where I am determined to get everything done, to clean my entire flat, learn 6 languages before breakfast, practice 3 hours of yoga and write a book of poetry. Then the washing machine breaks and I can’t find that really important thing I need and my poetry is shit anyway so why I am I trying and before I know it I’m watching someone else dart across the line to take my prize and leave me in the dust with a lost chance which will never ever come again. Only that person is me.

Sometimes you push yourself to the limit and things go wrong as a result. It’s unfair that pulling out all the stops can mean you end up with even less than you hoped for. If Huddle had just focused on taking it steady and getting to the line, she could have had something, but then again maybe she couldn’t – there’s no way of knowing at this point. But seeing yourself as being ultimately good and acceptable and your achievements as impressive is intangible – all the medals in the world don’t even come close.

Maybe Molly Huddle will make her comeback and maybe she won’t. I hope she does. I hope she’ll be standing on the start line at the Olympics feeling pleased with herself and ready, wanting to run a race she can really be proud of, whether or not she leaves with the shiny bit of metal. Maybe she’ll be able to see her legacy not as someone arrogant and stupid but as someone who is determined and fought for what she knew she deserved, even if she didn’t go about it in quite the right way this time.

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