Sam Parsons grew up idolizing Steve Prefontaine and watching “Without Limits'' every weekend on the way to high school meets. While toeing the line before his qualifying 5000-meter heat at the World Athletics Championships, Parsons looked at the Hayward Tower, saw Pre’s face and “couldn't believe that some five-foot nothing kid from the middle of nowhere in Delaware gets to run on this track.”
The qualifying round was Parsons’ first time competing at an outdoor world championship. Nervous, he called his girlfriend to tell her that he shouldn’t even step on the track.
“It might’ve shattered my confidence and belief in myself for the rest of my career,” Parsons said. “I wanted to skip the qualifier altogether and make sure I was 100% for the European championships. At this level, if you’re not 100% you’ll be exposed.”
Through hard work and self-belief, world ranked No. 33 Parsons finished ninth in his heat. His time was fast enough to earn a little q for Sunday’s final with the top distance runners in the world.
“This is an absolute dream,” Parsons said after his qualifying race. “I can’t believe I did it. It’s unreal. This is something I’ve never dreamed I’d be able to do. I’m going to run a final at Hayward.”
To deal with the pressures of racing, Parsons practices mindfulness. Therefore, being bumped, cut off, or tripped up by others doesn't bother him.
During the semifinal race, two runners took a tumble and almost took him out. Those moments can lose a race, but he’s practiced it all beforehand. He knew what he was going to do, because he ran the race 50 times in his head before it started.
“I lived this whole race already,” Parsons said. “Those things like pushing and shoving, or you look up at the screen and see Jakob Ingebrigtsen passing you, they’ve already happened. So they weren’t anything.”
It was 90 degrees on the track at Hayward Field on the final day of the World Athletics Championships. The men’s 5000 final featured one of the most talent rich startlists of the entire meet. The final 15 featured monsters like Olympic 1500 champ Jakob Ingebrigsten, American record holder Grant Fisher and reigning Tokyo 5000 gold medalist Joshua Cheptegei.
Ingebrigsten won the gold in the 5000. He stayed in the lead pack until the final lap, and turned the race into a final 400 meter sprint. Parsons finished 15th of 15, but was happy to just be out there with some unreal runners.
Parsons said this level of competition is like a different world. He’s stronger for it, and he’ll learn from it. People experience growing pains every time they move up a level in competition, he explained.
“You’re on the first high school team at a varsity race,” Parsons said. “You get your ass kicked. Everyone is so much faster than you. Slowly but surely you start to figure it out. You win states, set records and go to college. You get your ass kicked at college. That’s what happened today.”
His nerves were pretty level, Parsons said. It was a new experience for him. He wasn’t planning on making the final, so he didn’t know how to prepare or recover.
“I learned these guys are world class runners,” Parsons said. “There is a lot more training I need to do to raise myself to this level.”
Parsons now looks ahead to the European Championships in Munich in August. He is happy he’ll only have to run one race in Germany.