“A man’s nature and his way of life is his fate, and that which he calls his fate is but his disposition.”


Ron Clarke went into the Tokyo Olympics as the world record holder in the 10,000 meters. He ran the race out front from the gun, then got outkicked by both Billy Mills then Mohammed Gammoudi. He tried the same thing in the 5,000 meters then got outkicked first by Bob Schul, then Harold Norpoth, and finally Bill Dellinger.

The next year, he set 12 World Records over 18 races, each time taking it out as hard as he could, leading from the gun.

He moved to Switzerland to live at altitude and prepare for the Mexico City games. Again, he took out both races from the gun. He collapsed upon finishing the 10,000 meters and couldn’t remember the last lap. He came in sixth. He recovered enough to run the 5,000 meters a few days later but could only manage fifth.

He could be a cautionary tale about the perils of running from the front. While it allowed him to set records, it hindered him in championship races. He could be a cautionary tale about stubbornness, having made the same mistake four times.

Ron Clarke, however, was a man of principle. “The single most horrible thing that can happen to a runner is to be beaten while he is still fresh,” he’d say “No matter who I was racing or what the circumstances, I tried to force myself to the limit over the whole distance.” He did just that in every single race that he ran.

He marched towards his fate with his head held high, and ran a life without regrets.

This is not an advocation of frontrunning. If your goal is to win an Olympic gold medal, Ron Clarke is proof that it is not a viable strategy. It is, however, an advocation of principle.

It is hard to regret anything, knowing that you fought as hard as you could.

I paced a friend to her first sub-three marathon. With two miles to go, I did some math, realized we were cutting it awful close, and told her so. She stared ahead stone-faced and didn’t respond. With a kilometer to go, I realized it would come down to a few seconds and let her know. We had to go now. Again, silence. We charged down the line and I watched the clock tick closer and closer– we made it, much to my relief, with three seconds to spare.

I asked her, once she was able to talk, if she was nervous about whether or not she’d be able to break three. “No,” she replied. Flat and Honest. “I didn’t have anything left. If I had run three flat and one second I would have been just been happy that it was over.”

The benefit to finishing on empty is that you don’t have to wonder “what if.” You worked as hard as you could for the best possible outcome and achieved it. Whether or not it was what you wanted, it was still the best possible outcome.

You cannot control your life.

You can control how you live.