Sam Mussabini Wasn’t Talking To You

Posted by Filed Under: Inspiration & Motivation

ian holm as sam mussabiniIn the 1981 movie Chariots of Fire, running coach Sam Mussabini tells Harold Abrahams, “you can’t put in what God’s left out.” The implication is that you’re either born with the natural talent to be fast, or you’re not.
On the surface, this quote seems to imply that if you’re not fast now, then you’re never going to be, which is more discouraging than getting outkicked to the finish by a senior citizen. The quote is far from inspirational; in fact, it may be the worst thing any coach has ever told an athlete, with the exception of whatever it is that Marty Schottenheimer used to tell his teams prior to playoff games.

What you need to understand is that Sam Mussabini was talking to an Olympic medal hopeful in Harold Abrahams and when you reach the level of Olympic medal hopeful this is probably a true statement. You do have to have some natural ability and talent to complement the training and hard work that you’ve put in. However, it is not true for you, assuming of course that there are no Olympic medal hopefuls out there reading my opinions on running, and really, why would there be? Those of us mere mortal runners can always be better. There’s always something we can “put in” to become faster. Usually what we need to put in is more miles or faster miles, which means it’s not always appealing or easy but the speed is there to be had.

I want to encourage you not to ever believe that you’ve reached your full potential as a runner. Don’t buy into the idea that there is something in your genetic makeup that is limiting how fast you can be, because the chances are pretty good that you’re not at that limit yet. You can be faster. It’s not true that when they were giving out velocity you thought they said animosity and asked for very little. Don’t allow yourself to use the excuse that God left something out when he put you together. As excuses go, that one’s pretty lame, especially when you consider that there are so many more creative excuses that you can use.

No, Sam Mussabini wasn’t talking to you. But if it’s quotivation that you’re looking for, you might be interested in the following John Steinbeck inspired quote: “You can’t make a racehorse out of a pig, but you can make a very fast pig.” Implying that you readers are pigs, albeit fast ones, is just one of the many reasons that I imagine the Olympic medal hopefuls are not interested in my opinions. Many of us will never be thoroughbreds, but don’t let that deter you from setting your sights on being the fastest swine in your age group at your next race. Remember, average runners train at a pace they’ve already mastered, great runners train a little faster.

Pictured above: Actor Ian Holm as Sam Mussabini in Chariots of Fire

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About Ian

Hello, my name is Ian and I'm a runner. After several years of promising to train for and run the Bolder Boulder 10K I finally signed up for it in 2005 with zero training under my belt. Shocked that I was slower than I thought I should be, I made it my goal to be faster the following year. I'm still not as fast as I should be, but I have been a runner ever since. I believe in quality miles over quantity of miles. I believe that you have to run faster in order to run faster, and I believe that I can. I believe in the Garmin. I believe in motion control and that I have an unhealthy addiction to running shoes. I believe in carb loading and tapering, even before a 5K. I believe I’ll never need to buy another t-shirt ever again. I live to run and I run for the post race spread, where the free food and drink flows like milk and honey, and sometimes even includes milk and honey.

  1. Sheamus on July 8th at 6:09 am

    Good call. It’s slightly cliched now, but Steve Prefontaine said a lot of very positive things that can apply to all runners, including:

    “Some people create with words or with music or with a brush and paints. I like to make something beautiful when I run. I like to make people stop and say, ‘I’ve never seen anyone run like that before.’ It’s more than just a race, it’s a style. It’s doing something better than anyone else. It’s being creative.”

    “You have to wonder at times what you’re doing out there. Over the years, I’ve given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started. It comes down to self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement.”

    and the classics:

    “A lot of people run a race to see who is fastest. I run to see who has the most guts, who can punish himself into exhausting pace, and then at the end, punish himself even more. Nobody is going to win a 5,000 meter race after running an easy 2 miles. Not with me. If I lose forcing the pace all the way, well, at least I can live with myself.”

    “How does a kid from Coos Bay, with one leg longer than the other win races? All my life people have been telling me, ‘You’re too small Pre’, ‘You’re not fast enough Pre’, ‘Give up your foolish dream Steve’. But they forgot something, I HAVE TO WIN.”

    Sheamus’s last blog post..The Great British Weather (And My First 5K Time-Trial)

  2. Blaine Moore (Run to Win) on July 8th at 6:34 am

    I don’t mind being referred to as a pig, if it makes you feel any better. Heheh.

    Blaine Moore (Run to Win)’s last blog post..Tyson Gay Updates

  3. Viper on July 8th at 9:10 am

    Hmm, perhaps this also explains why I have so much animosity.

    Viper’s last blog post..The Puke Threshold

  4. Gymnotes on July 8th at 9:46 pm

    This is just bizarre. My summer school class watched Chariots of Fire today. Freaky, man.

    Gymnotes’s last blog post..and then there were two?

  5. RunColo on July 13th at 4:57 pm


    My college CC coach once said and was even quoted in the paper as saying “Improve 1% every day”. Apparenty the paper even thought it was a good quote.

    Not me, I kept thinking of a linear timeline and wondering how I would be running my fastest 8k when I am 70 years old.

  6. Reluctant Runner on July 14th at 1:34 pm

    Well put. I often tell myself that though I may never be THE fastest, it shouldn’t stop me from trying to be MY fastest.