OTQ: My Journey Towards a Dream
O. T. Q.
For most of my running career— kickstarted in 2011 after an 8-year post-college hiatus— the letters didn’t mean a thing. They weren’t attached to me, or my goals. They were reserved for elites; those that routinely broke the tape in their own races. Those that didn’t have full-time office jobs or a wife and two small children.
That changed on a sunny December morning in 2018, when I crossed the finish line of the California International Marathon in two and a half hours. It was a nearly eight minute PR for myself. While I couldn’t spell my name right for a post-race TV interview (I mean, come on, have you tried spelling ‘Klastava’ while run-drunk?), I now carried a feeling that at the age of 36, my dreams weren’t closing. Instead, they were just beginning.
I thought back to the night before when a friend had asked me if I ever thought about going after the Olympic Trials Qualifying (OTQ) standard (2 hours 19 minutes for men). I was hanging out with my some of my rabbitElite teammates, runners who had all either OTQ-ed in the past, or had the goal firmly in their sights. For my entire running career, that three-letter acronym seemed like a pipe dream. Was I too slow? Was I not talented enough? Was it just too far-fetched?
I have never dreamed big in my entire life. I always chose the small goals.
Every time I set PR goals for the year, I kind of set small attainable goals like one to two minutes ahead, instead of saying ‘Hey Nick, you have this, go bigger.’ I would set easy targets, because I didn’t want to risk facing the embarrassment of announcing a goal and not achieving it.
When you dream big, you open yourself up for scrutiny. That day at CIM something changed for me. Maybe it was the supportive friends who told me I should go for it, or the Nike “Dream Crazy” ad that had been playing over and over again in my head, or all the self-confidence my coach had helped me build. Whatever it was, that day I knew I was going on a new journey for the next 12 months, and I wasn’t holding back.
It wasn’t going to be easy. I’m not a single bachelor in my early 20’s straight out of college. I’m a married father of two daughters under the age of three. I have a full-time job as a software engineer. I’m going to have to increase my mileage from 60 miles a week to 90-100 miles a week. I’m approaching my 37th birthday and after this year, and the OTQ window won’t open again until 2021. So while my window is opening, it is also closing.
It meant that more than anything, my wife and family were going to have to sacrifice a lot to help me reach this crazy dream. In black and white terms, it’s a selfish pursuit. I knew that through it all I had to be the best dad to my daughters and the best husband to my wife. My family is a prominent theme in my running, involved in everything as we all work to support each other. When I told my wife this would involve an increase in mileage and more of a time commitment, she could not have been more supportive, telling me we will make it work.
With the support of my family, I reached out to my coach to tell him my goal for the next year. His response: “Let’s fucking do it!” The one caveat placed on me was that I needed to trust the process, and keep a good mindset throughout this journey.
In the past (and I’ll write about this more in the coming months), I had struggled with issues of anxiety and inadequacy. I bottomed out in my running career in the summer of 2018 due to intense pressure inflicted on myself, and took a couple months off before rebounding with a new sense of purpose. It wasn’t about the number for me anymore. One good workout wasn’t going to make me, one bad race wasn’t going to break me. I had to learn to love the process—and mean it.
This journey will be about focusing on the process to get there, and the things I can control along the way: enjoying every run, not stressing or getting caught up in one or two workouts or missed runs, and focusing on effort. Life is a comedy after all, not a drama, and I am the sum of all my training, good and bad.
So, follow along with my journey, with the stroller runs and adventures with my daughters, through the highs, the lows, and everything in between. I know that no matter the size of this dream, if I put my heart into this, I can’t fail, because I will have given it my all.