By Steve Holt, Opinion Editor
A wise coach once told me, “If running were easy, it’d be called football.”
He couldn’t have been more right.
Many people have a skewed view of toughness in America today. Professional athletes whose sports are shown on network television and ESPN are put up on a pedestal as the epitome of toughness. Toughness is seen through physical size and strength, rather than mental strength and desire.
For this reason, the toughest athletes on campus don’t play on a diamond, field or court, but rather beat their bodies beyond what any human should for little reward. They will never receive million-dollar endorsement deals, appear in commercials or be recognized walking through an airport.
They are distance runners.
Take ACU’s Bernard Manirakiza, for instance. Manirakiza is one of ACU’s best hopes to participate in the Olympic Games, an ambition that most people under-appreciate but the junior distance star yearns for.
Manirakiza, who finished fifth at the NCAA Division II Cross Country Championships on Nov. 22, runs twice a day for much of the cross country and track seasons, beginning at 6 a.m. most mornings. He and his teammates train for speed by running mile repeats at somewhere in the 4:30-4:50-per-mile range.
(Just to put that in context, I was an all-county selection in track and field in high school, and my best mile during a competition was 4:52, which Manirakiza can do several times during practice.)
In addition to two-a-days and speed workouts, Manirakiza lifts weights, eats sickeningly healthy and runs 10-15 miles every weekend.
Running is a lifestyle.
However, one might think the Burundi native is predisposed to success in distance running. This may be partly true, but he still must train hard for it to pay off with wins on the track and cross country course.
And these guys aren’t super-human, either-they feel pain. On Sept. 28, Kenyan Paul Tergat became the first human to break 2 hours, 5 minutes in the marathon. He later admitted that after the race, he couldn’t even bend down to untie his shoes, and that the next day, he couldn’t walk.
They’re human, folks.
The thing about Manirakiza is that he hates to lose-and he doesn’t do it often. It still kills him that he ran 4:05.44 to place fifth in the mile at the 2003 indoor track and field nationals, even though he lost one of his spikes just a few laps into the race. I watched him come from behind twice to win individual national championships in the 800- and 1,500-meter runs at the outdoor track and field nationals.
The look on his face as he passed the nation’s best middle distance runners said, “I will not go home without a first place medal.”
Anyone who has tried to start jogging to lose weight or just maintain a healthy lifestyle knows how hard it can be to get started, keep it up and increase mileage. To Manirakiza and other ACU distance runners, running is so much more than staying healthy or maintaining a certain weight (Manirakiza weighs 120 pounds, for Pete’s sake!)-it’s a constant drive from within to go an extra mile and do it faster than the last.