The professional and semipro runners in this world are more connected than athletes of most if not all other sports. For example, Jenny Simpson won the 1500m at the world championships this week. That is a huge accomplishment. No one from the US has done that since 1983. We have had a number of medals in other events, but this one is gold. She has raced to the highest level from the American system of training. When one of us succeeds, we all succeed. Why does this mean something to me specifically? In 2008 between her winning NCAAs and USATFs I did a long run around the Boulder reservoir at the same time she did a 16-17 mile long run. One of the best in the world running out there alone at 7 am on a Sunday on the same dirt roads that I was running.
That is just one more aspect of running that is awesome to me. We build people up in our minds to be superhuman, yet they are all just humans, like you and I. It has taken me several interactions with "superhumans" to really understand they are no better than I. To be running the same distance and pace and course for a long run as Jenny Simpson or Nate Jenkins gives me a huge amount of confidence that I will be able to do the workouts they do and run the times they do.
On a separate note, grad school fulfilled this for my academic mental aspect. Stumping one of the leaders in the field is extremely satisfying. I talk about potential and possibilities and when one of the top ten in the world does not know the answer, I know we have so much left to learn about even something as strait forward as heat treating steel. Perhaps I will be the one to push the boundary?