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How to be An Elite Runner (for the non-elite)

Elite athletes are the best of the best. Here’s the not-so-obvious way they excel.

Philadelphia Marathon Elite
Nicky Tamberrino Philadelphia Marathon 2022

We can learn a lot from Des Linden but I think the greatest lesson she ever taught us was that activating the appropriate response to life will reward us with unexpected results.


In 2018, Des won the Boston Marathon but early on Des wasn’t sure she’d even finish the race! It seemed life had different plans for her that day but instead of getting stuck, she refocused. She didn’t resist reality when her goals seemed to be slipping away. She just redirected her energy to helping fellow elite runner, Shalane Flanagan.

Of course, Des won and it was an incredibly inspirational performance! But her success was decided the moment she got out of her own way, accepted her circumstances, and adjusted her attitude to make the best of the experience.

Outstanding athletes do the unexpected whether that’s running incredibly fast or being exceptionally helpful, positive, or bold. What is awesome is that we all have the choice to be extraordinary in one way or another - and if we are flexible with our goals, we can’t lose.

Elite athletes succeed because they don’t value performance over everything. Their strong confidence (and consequent success) is supported by the ability to recalculate frequently and determine how to extract the most value out of an experience. On a good day, the best course of action may be to outperform others; it may also be to help others perform.

Not lately, but sometimes I run fast. That is what I used to think it meant to be elite. This makes sense because that is how you qualify to be on the team. But these days a lot of people are “fast”, and women seem to reach their running prime as they age (to a certain point) and so there’s always someone coming up to my age bracket who is threatening to kick my ass.

Basing our status in the running community on our performance makes us fragile and maybe that goes without saying. Comparison to others as the “root of all evil” has been well broadcast. However, many of us are still basing our self-worth on how we measure up to our previous performances. I’m sure you can see the flaw in that but even as I write it, I know my days of disappointment are still ahead because running slower makes me feel like my “stock is dropping”. A phrase my husband playfully uses to describe one of our plummeting values when we do something the other doesn’t like.

When we redefine what it means to be elite, we never have to worry about our “personal stock” dropping without our consent.

Here are three affirmations to remind you that you have control of your status in running and in life:

  1. Courage: I am the best at showing up and getting back up.

  2. Creativity: I am the best at improvising.

  3. Compassion: I am the best at finding the good in myself and others.


The path to success is clear if you get out of your own way by accepting your circumstances, and adjusting your attitude as Des showed us in 2018.

When excellence is a mindset, being elite is for everyone.

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