We can feel it.
Just north of the Boat House, approximately the 5.5 mile mark of the men’s marathon Olympic Trials that was held exactly two years ago today, is where Ryan Shay collapsed and died of a heart attack caused by an enlarged heart. It was both American marathoning’s best and worst days rolled into one.
It was a great day because Ryan Hall, Dathan Ritzenhein and Brian Sell made the Olympic team. Hall did so spectacularly while Sell fought for third place as if he was in a gang fight. Hall also established himself as the most talented American-born marathoner ever by obliterating the field and a hilly course in 2:09. Over terrain more favorable to fast running, Hall might have challenged the American record.
It was the worst day because of what happened to Shay. That’s the part of the day no one will ever forget. There was a newlywed young man ready to enter the prime of his life cut down by some ridiculous congenital effect.
It was the cruelest thing ever.
So when we run through the spot where it happened with “Ryan’s Rock” serving as the makeshift shrine near the mark, and an officially dedicated bench by the city of New York farther up the road with the inscription from Shay, “It is necessary to dig deep within oneself to discover the hidden grain of steel called will,” it’s very difficult not to be overcome with emotion.
Shay’s friend Meb Keflezighi felt the same thing when he ran through Central Park during the New York City Marathon last weekend. In fact, Keflezighi gave tribute to his friend when he crossed the tape as the winner of one of the sports’ crown jewels and fought back a range of emotions during his dedication.
How could he not?
In fact, Keflezighi, the first American to win the race since 1982, said he targeted a specific spot in the park to begin his surge to the finish line. That spot was where his best friend died two years prior.
The memory of Ryan Shay is one of the reasons why many of us run. Distance running, and marathon running in particular, is as beautiful as a sport can be. Bathed in simplicity, running is as pure as athletics can be. But it’s also a cruel sport. Often, every weakness is exposed during a competition no matter how strong or well prepared a runner is.
But then again, that’s part of why we love the sport so much.
And so on the anniversary of the best and the worst day of our sport, we remember the glory and the agony. We can’t have one without the other:
“It is necessary to dig deep within oneself to discover the hidden grain of steel called will.”