The Oscars. Actors honoring other actors for their vivid portrayals of people in film. Though I usually forget to watch this premier awards show, it appears that viewership is on the decline. According to a February 2016 Deadline article, the 88th Academy Awards was “an 8-year low for the telecast” with 34.4 million viewers. Still, 34 million is a sizable number of people who tuned in to see Spotlight win Best Picture, Leonardo DiCaprio win Best Actor for The Revenant, and Brie Larson win Best Actress for Room. Speaking of the spotlight, millions upon millions of runners acquired their own pieces of hardware (e.g. medals and belt buckles) in the year 2016; furthermore, three merit a second mention of their astounding accomplishment. Welcome to the 2016 Running Oscars.
For continuing the conversation on body image, the Running Oscar goes to Rachele Schulist. An accomplished distance runner at Michigan State University, Schulist posted a picture on Instagram that outlined the mental and physical angst that kept her from putting forth her best efforts. After speaking with her family, coach, and teammates, she released the picture – and a bold statement – to the world. “The idea that you have to look a certain way and be thin to be a fast runner is bulls***. She added this remark in a December 2016 interview with Chris Chavez of Sports Illustrated. “What your body may look like when you compete at your best may be different than someone else and that’s OK. Just own it.”
For demonstrating stellar sportsmanship, the Running Oscar goes to Abbey D’Agostino. A 5,000-meter race competitor at the Rio Olympics, D’Agostino collided with Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand. Instead of pressing forward, Abbey offered Hamblin a helping hand, and that same generosity was reciprocated by Hamblin later in the race when D’Agostino fell again. In a December 2016 Boston Globe article, Abbey had this to say about the encounter. “While it’s still surreal in a lot of ways, the more I process and understand it, the more I’m so grateful to realize the impact that it had.”
Finally, for showing great courage after great loss, the Running Oscar goes to Patrick Downes. A spectator at the 2013 Boston Marathon, both Downes and his new bride lost their left legs as the bombs erupted at the most famous footrace in the world. A November 2016 Boston College news piece profiled their journey after the marathon to coincide with an HBO documentary, and though their progress is nothing short of amazing, it has not been devoid of immense difficulty and many tears. “People look to us,” says Patrick, “and [think], If Patrick and Jess are doing OK, so are we. But our progress isn’t linear. It inches up, and goes backward, every day.”
Patrick completed the 2016 Boston Marathon in 5:56:46, becoming the “First Boston Marathon Bombing Amputee to Finish the Race on Foot.” Though Downes was wowed by his running feat, the race was a merely a footnote to his actual reason for being there. “While I think marathons are an incredible thing, it’s nothing compared to what Jess has been through over the last three years. I’m so proud of the way she’s pushed through all the setbacks that she’s had.” Their story is also being told in the Mark Wahlberg film Patriots Day (2016).
And for stepping on the final timer mat somewhere, the Running Oscar goes to the millions of runners who finished a race at a given spot on this big planet. Though I don’t know the backstory of these men and women (and children), they made stellar strides towards their respective goals. They ran Boston and New York and Chicago; Western States and Leadville and Wasatch; the Peachtree and the Bolder Boulder.
Unfortunately, I will not be privy to hearing even a percent of a percent of these stories, but that’s where the web reveals its strength as the narratives unfold in grand fashion. Strava Stories, for instance, has some compelling tales from 2016 worth a read, including one on UTMB (Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc), the Berlin Marathon, the Red Hook Crit 5K in Brooklyn, and the notorious Barkley Marathon.
What does 2017 look like from a running standpoint? Are there Oscar-worthy moments that will be forged on the roads and on the trails? Without question. One in particular comes to mind. Lelisa Desisa, Eliud Kipchoge, and Zersenay Tadese will attempt to finish a marathon in 1:59:59 or less. A sub-two-hour marathon. The current world record, 2:02:57, is held by Dennis Kimetto of Kenya. Can any or all of these brave men sustain a 4:34 mile pace for 26.2 miles? In the words of Tony Bignell, Nike’s VP of Footwear Innovation, “We want to show that it’s within the capability of human physiology.”
Breaking two hours in the marathon? That sounds like the equivalent of Best Picture. Which man will do this?
The Running Oscar goes to…