Open the Door

I recently read a fascinating article earlier this week regarding the history of the 100 meter dash.  This is the race that we humans use to officially crown the fastest runner in our species, and therefore is the best data source we have for how we are evolving speed wise as creatures.

An oversimplified benchmark of “world class” speed is the ability to run 100 meters in 10 seconds flat.  In the electronic timing era, roughly 40 years, 630 sub-10 second 100’s have been recognized in official sanctioned competition.  This is MOVING.  The fastest 100 meters I’ve ever seen live was Ahman Green at the Nebraska State Track Meet in 1994; he ran a 10.4.  Someone running a sub-10 second would beat him by about 10 yards, which is difficult for me to fathom.

During this same time, the 100 meter dash world record has been broken 26 times; 3 of those times the record has been thrown out due to the athlete testing positive for some sort of performance enhancing substance that wasn’t vegetables. 

If you break it down and remove the 3 athletes who tested positive for performance enhancing drugs from the record breakers, the record has been broken 23 times.  On 21 of those occasions, the athletes have had a trail wind.

I don’t know off hand the exact measurement of how much trail wind is allowed to be an official record, but on 21 of the record-breaking 100 meter dashes, the athletes have had at least some wind behind them.

So maybe all 21 of these men have just been very lucky on that day.  Or maybe they just took the opportunity.  And you know what?  Maybe that’s all luck is.

To run 100 meters in under 10 seconds, it has been calculated that you need to take 5 steps every second.  Let that sink in.  Your foot has to strike the ground 5 times in the time it takes your six-year-old to say “One Mississippi.”  To shave minute amounts of time off of these runs, these guys don’t even breathe that much.  I watched an interview with Carl Lewis (pretty fast) who said he used to take two breaths during a 100 meter run; one at about 30 meters and one at 80 meters.  These people look for absolutely every single edge they can; you see a lot of NFL guys who wear long hair, and they’re pretty fast.  Ever see an Olympic sprinter with more than  ½ inch of hair on their heads?   And in another sport where great and world class are separated by millimeters, swimming, those people remove hair from their bodies with a thoroughness and frequency that astonishes.  (I lived with some swimmers in college; I’ve never really recovered from some of the things I accidentally saw.)

So back to luck.  Are all of these guys who broke the 100 meter record lucky because they had a slight wind at their back?  Or did they merely show up to that particular moment in time having put in so much time, effort, blood, sweat, tears, and hair removal that they were absolutely ready?  It’s said that luck is just the intersection of hard work and opportunity.  I like that idea.  These guys didn’t break a record because of wind.  I could race these people if I had a jet engine on and they would still beat me.  It was just a sliver, however tiny, of opportunity that they grabbed onto and didn’t let go.

We all know there are days when the wind is definitely not at your back; but when you’re down, remember that winds change.  Your time will come.  A door won’t necessarily open for you, but a door will eventually show up for you.  And when that happens, make sure you know everything possible about how to open the darn thing up.