For years and years and years, I dreamed of seeing the Olympic stadium looming into sight. I went to sleep with the thought that '"One day, one day, if I train hard enough I'll be there", and often woke up with the nervous anticipation that the gruelling training run about to begin "mattered", because it was a few more steps on the path to the place that I would genuinely have given my life to have finished first in. That's how dedicated, committed and stupid I was back then. I would have killed (me) to be first.
But today, almost 20 years on from my last serious run, as the floodlights broke through the grey London sky like a million watts of hope shining out of the murk, I was not heading there to compete or bask in the glory of success. Instead I was looking at it from the outside, through the window of an anonymous black cab winding my way to a TV studio, less than half a mile (or 1 min 41.01 seconds) away, but a million miles from the performance pressure cooker of my boyhood dreams.
And yet now, more successful than I could ever have dreamed of, I can reflect on the lessons learned in the disappointment of shattered expectation.
I have been many things in my life. I have been a 'track star,' I have been a 'former' international athlete, I have been a salesman, a casual leisure attendant, a loved and loving son, an academic failure, a therapist, a celebrity life coach, an internationally best selling author, a grieving son - twice, a committed partner, and a kitty daddy...but the difference that makes all the difference is not the label or pressure we put on from the outside, it's the place we hold for ourselves, within ourselves, no matter what is going on around us.
In the Olympic marathon of life the world can be going to hell and you can still be ok.
The secret to optimum performance is not to get faster, but in fact to get less slow, to do what you know you can do regardless of where or why or in front of who. Sporting greats are the ones who perform like it doesn't matter even when it REALLY does.
In the history of the Olympic games only 15% of athletes have managed to set a personal best under the pressure of those five interlocking rings. Careers, lives and legacies are defined not by '"Citius, Altius, Fortius." Or "Faster, Higher, Stronger." But instead by who ties up the least.
That's when we all do or best, when we hold ourselves lightly, and stay out of our own way. And it's exactly the same for those of us outside the stadium too.