Grete Waitz has died aged 57, on Tue 19th Apr 2011. The Norwegian athlete was a huge figure in the marathon world, at the forefront of changing perceptions of what women can achieve. There are huge goal achievement and self improvement lessons to be taken from her, so I thought I’d pass them on.
Although remembered as a marathon runner, Waitz competed in the 1972 and 1976 Olympics at the 1500 metres. Let’s not forget the huge goal achievement of competing in *any* Olympic Games!
Then she ran her first New York marathon in 1978, out of curiosity and being encouraged by her husband. She had never run more than 13 miles before.
Now, standard marathon training will definitely have you run more than 13 miles. I should know, as I ran London in 2008. The goal lesson here is that the route to most goals has already been laid by others before you. That was certainly the case with me.
Despite being in pain for the whole second half of the race, her natural athleticism combined with her well known determination, not only saw her finish, but in a world record! 2 hours 32 minutes.
She went on set the record 3 more times, and 33 years after her 1978 run, the record as of Apr 2011, is 2 hours 15, by Britain’s Paula Radcliffe.
That shows just what an achievement Waitz’s run was, and she went on the win the New York marathon 9 times in total!
She missed the 1980 Moscow Olympics due to the US boycott. Another life lesson there, is that sometimes there are things we have no control over, and Waitz just continued running (and winning) New York.
In 1984 she got her Olympic marathon run, picking up the silver medal. It seems hard to believe now, but 1984 was the first women’s marathon in the Olympics. It had previously been considered too arduous for women!
Again, this was not something Waitz could do anything about directly, but she indirectly had a *huge* influence on changing the perception of women athletes, and it gave her that Olympic medal. Rather than accepting beliefs about what she and other women could accomplish, she went out to change those beliefs.
The development of the big city marathons now makes it easy for any woman to run the marathon. I say ‘easy’ with a note of caution, because running a marathon is not ‘easy’, but the opportunity *is* accessible to anyone who wants to apply to do it.
2 hours 32 is not an earth shattering time in 2011, but it still a world class time. Names like Paula Radcliffe may have taken over from Grete Waitz at the forefront of the event, but Waitz’s achievements were huge.
Something else that should be noted – she was liked by all. Humble, polite, down to earth. You don’t have to be superior to achieve superior results.
Grete Waitz has lost her battle to cancer after a 6 year fight. She didn’t give a lot of public details about her illness, she was quite a private figure, but I will remember watching her on TV, and will think of her with some great achievements, and some great lessons we can all take benefit from.