Finding Your Stride

Never Too Young to Change the World.

If asked Natasha Vejar-Preece would describe herself as “lazy,” she is anything but. In fact, Natasha is a middle school student hoping to make a difference in her community. On April 8th, 2017, this young woman will be working behind the scenes to make sure her Children for Children 5k is running smoothly.

IMG_0255-S-e1431640831721-300x203At 13, Natasha is the youngest race director in San Diego. Two years ago as part of her school’s community outreach program, the then 11-year-old nervously stood in front of the Mission Gorge Trails board of directors pitching her idea. Her mission is simple — to get kids helping kids participate in sport. All proceeds will benefit children in low-income areas to give them more opportunities in sport through nonprofit organizations such as Kids in the Game and the Jackie Robinson YMCA. Natasha may seem like your typical teen, she enjoys: volunteering, running, traveling, history, and pastries; She dislikes math and has no idea what she wants to do when she grows up.

But upon meeting Natasha she portrayed herself as very professional. I felt like I was conversing with a young woman my same age. As she sat across the table from me, carrying her notebook and sipping her tea, I saw more than a teenager. I saw the future generation valuing her community and reminding me that no one is too young to change the world. Natasha is growing up into a strong, young woman shaped by the competitiveness of sport. When asked what motivates her to keep going she said, “Winning! Natasha has formed the Children for Children Foundation to support her race. If you are interested in donating to her foundation or racing in the Children for Children 5k check out her event on active.com.  She says one of the most challenging parts of being a race director is getting people to sign up. So if you live in San Diego, love trail running and helping children — I hope to see you there!

 

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ski trip

Sean invited me to the mountains for the weekend (maybe I invited myself, but the details of how it went down are not important). The important part is – I WAS GOING SKIING!

It had been nearly two decades since the first and last time I stuffed my ten-year-old feet into awkward boots strapped to two thin blades of fiberglass.

It’s like riding a bike, right?

Apparently Sean is a pretty good snowboarder (I think he was a ski instructor in college but I have not confirmed this). It is no secret that I’m a novice, so before he could change his mind I quickly assured him that I’m a fast learner, semi-athletic, comfortable adventuring solo, and do not need a “baby sitter!”

In typical “Shannon” fashion this ski trip was everything but a bike ride.

I rented skis and borrowed the rest of my gear from friends. I definitely looked the part. My coat had U.S. Ski Team embroidered on the sleeve. I later learned that this would be very confusing to my fellow skiers. I carried my Camelbak because I wanted to stay hydrated for my training. I later learned that this was useless when the water froze.

In addition to a weekend of epic skiing, I also needed to get my runs in, so I laced up my Brooks Cascadias, put on some Yaktrax, and hit the snow-covered trails. I was forced to use tiny muscles and tendons in my feet that I didn’t even know existed. At least I was well warmed up for the mountain.

Time to hit the slopes.

The first run I managed to muscle my way down without a wipe out. Once we reached the bottom I drew in a deep breath and exhaled out, “There’s no way I can survive the whole day like this.”  With lactic building in my quads from being in a constant squat for over 5 minutes, we boarded the ski lift for another run. Sean gave me a few pointers on how to ski with more grace. Then I was free! Free to go at my own pace. Free to listen to music. Free to watch the other skiers and try to copy. Free to find the perfect line. By the end of the day I was beginning to gain some control over my skis. As soon as I felt my confidence rise, I’d find myself frantically looking for my skis, face-first in the snow. The mountain had a wonderful way of reminding me that she’s always in control.

That night a storm rolled through.  POWDER!  Hundreds of skiers shoved and pushed their way onto the tram just to be the first to cut snow before anyone else. Snowboarders were tuning their boards. Skiers were switching to powder skis. The mountain had a consistent flow of snowfall all day, which meant no one could see further than 20 feet in front of them. A completely white out.

The tram brought us to the top of Chip’s run (a blue surrounded by blacks). I pushed my skis forward, my eyes trying to adjust to a world without color. Paralyzed by fear. Sean coached me down for part of the mountain until he could no longer contain his excitement. I knew I was holding him back. I gave him the “thumbs up” to go down the rest of the way without me. I followed the signs for Chip until they were complete covered with snow. I skied over to the lift operator.

Me: Can you point me to Chip’s run?

Liftie: Are you by yourself?

Me: Yes

Liftie: Do you know how to ski black diamonds?

Me: No

Liftie: Have you ever skied this mountain?

Me: No

Liftie: I don’t want to rescue you. You need to take the lift down.

Feeling defeated, the lift operator stopped the lift, so I could get on.  I watched mounds of skiers flock to the summit. Tears froze to my cheeks. I went to the lodge to drink some hot chocolate and reset. On my way I saw a sign “free mountain tour.” I skied over to the mountain host to get more information.

Me: What does this sign me?

Host: Free mountain tour.

Me: (duh) I mean, how does it work?

Host: Are you a good skier?

[I mostly ski greens but successfully skied down a few blues]

Me: yes

Host: How often do you ski?

[counting my trip to Colorado 20 years ago]

Me: This is my second trip, fifth time, but I’m picking it up fast.

Host: Okay, you will join Peggy and Wendy. Both ladies have been skiing over 20 years. And I grew up on this mountain. My dad bought me my first set of skis when I was 4-years old.

Fake it until you make it, right?

First mistake: failing to get off the ski lift.

Oh shoot! I’m still on this thing.

Jump. Plop.

Skis in the air.

It could happen to anyone.

Second mistake: taking a wrong turn, heading towards a huge dip and not stopping.

Maybe I’ll get lucky.

Down. Up. Plop

Skis in the air.

That nearly knocked the wind out of me.

Third mistake: trying to keep up with Peggy and Wendy.

Carve to the left

Carve to the right.

Too fast. Plop.

Hurry! Catch my skis before they roll down the mountain.

Typically the mountain host would kick me out and make me complete ski school,  but like I said, I was picking it up fast. We skied all over the mountain. They would go first and wait for me to catch up. Peggy was a retired teacher. Wendy a retired insurance saleswoman. We talked education. We talked sports. We talked life. Both Peggy and Wendy are energetic, strong, independent women. I was with my people.  After eating lunch at the summit, Peggy and Wendy agreed the visibility was too rough to ski down Chip’s run.

I can’t wait to take on the mountains again in my new ski gear.

 

 

I’m Scared But Who Isn’t

Year after year I gear up for a fresh season of racing. I lace up my brand new spikes trying to block out this deep fear that seems to have taken permanent residence in my muscles. During my first few strides I catch myself wondering where my energy went. My body feels like it’s running with a 70lbs weight vest strapped to its core. My legs feel like they’re trudging through mud, consumed by an overcast of worry.  I whisper to myself, “You are going to be okay.” I move my legs quicker and faster to remind my muscles what they are about to endure. I try to eradicate this fear altogether, but like clockwork it always shows up right on time. It never seems to take a year off.

Fear is uncomfortable. It evokes anxiety. I can spend hours systematically dissecting my fear, trying to understand what scares me and why it scares me. I ask myself, “Why do you put yourself through this fear and potential rejection and pain year after year?” Ultimately, fear is a product of uncertainty. With a portrayal of confidence I can tell you my greatest workout, I can tell you I’m ready to race fast, I can upload my best and most exciting pictures to instgram (which I do), and then you can scroll through them and think, “Yeah, she’s doing okay” but in reality we just don’t know.

A long time ago (21 years to be exact) I started running competitively. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I would soon be exposing my heart to the greatest amounts of pain and rejection I would ever grow to know.  For years I have invested tears and sweat into my training all because I wanted to go head-to-head against other amazing, talented women who like me worked just as hard to put everything on the line, literally.  A race.

From my earliest racing memories to just last year at the 2016 Olympic trials, fear has had a lasting imprint on my heart and in my mind. I remember as a 10-year-old walking to the start line of the 400m prelims at the Junior Olympics in tears. I looked for a familiar face in the stands. I caught a glimpse of my mom’s smile. She spotted the tears trickling down my cheeks and onto the track.  I can just barely make out her blurry hands moving in a forward motion, encouraging me to dip deep and find my courage.  That race I crossed the finish line with an undeniable smile across my face. In just 66 seconds I went from feeling like I was going to shit my pants to exhilarated. Not every race ends in a smile. Testing your grit on the track is scary. All I have ever wanted that day and every day since was to prove to myself and to the people who support me that I am strong, I am resilient, and I am brave.

It’s the day before the 2016 Olympic Trials. I’m about to race with a fractured foot and after two grueling months of training on an elliptical or in the pool (not the most ideal build up to a race).  My 2012 versus 2016 Olympic Trials experiences are like comparing a banana to an orange. Yes, they are both Olympic Trials, but they taste different, they feel different, they look different, and frankly one is just better than the other.  I’m told you shouldn’t spend too much time comparing year to year. I think we naturally do, but looking backwards for too long is unproductive (another lesson I am becoming way too intimate with). I reference my journal…

June 30, 2016

…It’s my birthday and it’s the night before the first round of the 800m at the Olympic Trials… I biked 20 minutes for my warmup and attempted a few strides in my trainers. Yes, it [my foot] still hurts. Despite feeling frustrated, an overwhelming feeling came over me — I belong on this track, I belong at this event and I deserve to be here. I’m excited to continue my fight. Lining up tomorrow is proof to myself that I am tough, I am brave, and I am capable of enduring more pain than I ever thought possible… I may not be in peak shape physically or mentally but I am brave and maybe that’s all I need tomorrow…

July 3, 2016

…I needed more. Although I was disappointed in the outcome, I was proud of myself for lining up. Of course, I was counting on my bravery to power me through the rounds. It was my best strategy and it was my only strategy. It was the same strategy that propelled me to a first place finish at the Festival of Miles just one month prior. I was scared of what the next 2 minutes would bring. I scanned the crowd for a familiar face. I saw my mom jumping with anxiety. I knew she was more nervous than me, and in that moment I would have done anything to run over to her, give her a hug, and tell her “everything’s going to be okay.”  Instead, I gave myself a little pump up talk, “You have been through a lot of pain and hurt these past 2 months, and still you stand on this starting line about to race at the Olympic freakin Trials. You are going to hurt on this track today and when that pain comes, embrace it, run through it because nothing can hurt as much as the pain you felt exactly 2 months prior…”

Although the track can leave us feeling vulnerable and exposed, fear is an important ingredient to survival. The unknown isn’t going anywhere, which means fear isn’t going anywhere, either. Fear and courage do not exist without the other. Fear is courage’s brother. They go into battle together. This season I may have the same drive and desire to compete, but I’m taking on a new approach. I’m leaning into the unknown. I am going to make fear an integral part of my team. Fear is not the enemy. I no longer want to declare war against fear. I want to make space for fear. Navigating the unknown is inevitably a scary journey that often provokes emotion and can leave you feeling vulnerable and exposed. I know this will not be an easy path, but moving forward this is my best chance. All I can do it keep investing, and maybe that will lead to a lot of tears and sweat, but I will channel my bravery and hope for the best.

We Are All Just Boulders

Sometimes life is a mountain — beautiful, beyond our control — and we are all just boulders.

People come in and out of your life like boulders plummeting down a mountainside. These boulders have momentum. If you’re lucky your boulder will roll at the same speed as another boulder, but more often than not, boulders move at different speeds.

Sometimes out of nowhere your boulder will hit a tree. Sometimes your boulder will get stuck in a canyon until an avalanche of boulders sets you free. It’s the obstacles you don’t choose that make you who you are. It’s the people you don’t choose that change your life forever.

In the running community I have crossed paths with some amazing, strong-willed, and hard-working women. These women represent my avalanche of boulders. We go on runs together — they know when I’m sad and ask me why, they always make sure I’m included in fun things, I share my secrets with them, and they share their secrets with me. It’s these women that I have grown to trust with my heart and soul. Trust is created over time — very slowly — usually by revealing your heart a little at a time, choosing to be vulnerable. When I’m racing with these women I do not feel alone. They give me energy. They give me strength. It’s a sisterhood unlike anything I have ever experienced before.

Of course I’m scared my boulder is going to take a sharp right turn, get lost, or worse, fall off a cliff into a meadow with no other boulders in sight. However, I am more scared of trying to climb back up the cliff to get on the same path.  I’m thankful boulders can’t roll uphill. I’m thankful life is always in motion. Each boulder travels along its own path. A boulder’s journey may be rocky and near impossible to predict, but it’s beautiful, especially when traveling in unison.

Maybe I’ve taken this boulder analogy too far.

 

 

Authentic Women

Living authentically means you are living true to your passions, true to your purpose, and true to your potential. Staying on a path to live a life of authentic truths can be challenging. Last spring when I felt like I had lost my anchor, I wrote down this sentence.

I am a strong, independent woman who lives in the extremes, moves towards her next adventure, and refuses to settle for anyone who can’t keep up

I’ve been trying to embody my authentic self, ever since.

Today I feel free. Like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. My once narrow lens, now, sees a myriad of possibilities. Living authentically can feel overwhelming at times. Sometimes I want to revert back to what is comfortable. Sometimes I want to hide from my emotions. And that’s okay.

I want to be the type of woman who refuses to give up on her dreams despite life’s greatest efforts telling her to stop. Nearly every decision I have made (e.g., moving to Eugene, moving to San Diego, running at 6AM, sleeping by 10PM on a Saturday night) over the past 4 years has been with one goal in mind – to one day call myself an Olympian.

Only 3 months prior to the moment I planned on making this dream a reality, my heart was hit with some unexpected pain. I almost quit running. My coach had to talk me out of it. He was not happy with me. He couldn’t understand how I could so quickly throw away the past 4 years of training. He was right; something didn’t feel right. Hanging up my spikes after years of preparation and only 3 months outside the Olympic trials wasn’t true to my soul. Eventually, I returned to track practice not because my coach was frustrated with me but because I wanted to fully embrace my authentic self.

Then a mere 2 months before the day I was supposed to toe the line at the Olympic trials, I endured a stress fracture in my foot. First, my teetering heart, and now, my body was telling me to quit. I didn’t listen. As an authentic woman I wasn’t going to let anything come between myself and my goals. I continued to train on the stress fracture, and on July 1st I lined my spike up behind the start line and eagerly waited for the sound of the gun. I didn’t make it past the first round. Some may have viewed this performance as a failure and maybe it was, but the triumph was in each stride leading up to that afternoon when I walked out of the stadium and onto the track. I know what each stride took, and none of those strides were easy. I praised the effort it took for me to train through a broken heart, to train through a stress fracture, and then to bare my heart and soul in front of thousands of people. Even in moments of failure I am beautiful, I am strong, and I will get through it with more love.

In that moment walking towards the start line with a fractured foot and not knowing whether today was the day my bone would break all the way through, I was scared.  I was also scared when I started this blog. Every time I submit a new post my heart drops a little. Will people like it? Yesterday, I applied for a tenure-track assistant professor position at a top-3 university in special education research. Tomorrow, I plan to continue training for the U.S. Championships in June with hopes to making the world team in London. And guess what? I’m scared I won’t be selected for the job or my training won’t be enough for a top 3 finish. Goals can be scary because the outcomes are unknown, but what’s even scarier, is if I choose not to write, not to apply, or not to train. The moments we wish to redo are also the chances we don’t take. Sending you off with this little reminder — be brave. love boldly. live vulnerably. live authentically.

love nonie

 

Today is my grandma Nonie’s 95th birthday. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to meet her. She passed away nearly 50 years ago; she was 45 years old. My dad was 7 years old. This post is in memory of her.

 

Although my family doesn’t know that much about grandma Nonie, my dad has been able to share a few pretty cool and heartwarming stories. She was passionate about photography. In the early 40s while promoting at local nightclubs, she would take pictures of the beautiful dancers and patrons. Apparently she was always in the darkroom developing her film. She and her family often took road trips to California to visit her sister. She worked as a lunch lady at my Dad’s elementary school while taking classes at the high school around the corner. Although her life ended much too soon, she had built a strong and beautiful family. I’m very proud of her.

 

In 2008, I was moving from Florida to Missouri. I was in the midst of a life-changing event; I was recently kicked off the University of Florida’s track team and transferring to the University of Missouri. My heart was broken and I was required to uncover resiliency that I didn’t know existed. I soon learned that I would have to tap into this resiliency again in 2014 and 2016. Each time my grandma Nonie seemed to be encouraging me to keep going.

 

Before my road trip to Missouri in 2008, I visited with a friend of a friend’s grandma; She was from Cuba and described herself as a very spiritual person. His grandma, via my friend’s translations, told me that my guardian angel was my grandma Nonie. She had never met me before and I had never told her about my grandma Nonie. But somehow in that moment she knew. Tears immediately filled my eyes. However, life went on and I soon forgot about this experience.

 

Then in 2014, I left Eugene for an opportunity to train at the Olympic Training Center in San Diego. I found myself in another life-altering event. When I first moved to California, I was far from family. I felt isolated like I was the only person on my journey. I eagerly reached out to my distant cousins, and the very next weekend I drove north to visit their home in Corona. After sharing a few laughs and smiles over a home-cooked meal, my cousins pulled out a box of keepsakes. In the box we found 16 hand-written letters from my grandma Nonie to my cousin’s mom, Pat (Nonie’s sister). As I read the letters I thought about how my grandma touched the very papers that I now hold in my hands. As my eyes lingered on her every word, I started to cry. I thought about how this is my grandma’s hand writing, how it is unique to her, and how her penmanship belongs to no one else. Each letter was signed, “love nonie.” I felt as if she was sending me her love, so much that I had a tattoo artist copy her signature and then tattoo it onto my side.

 

Writing has become a lost art. Although writing may take longer than talking or typing, it’s the time it takes for your thoughts to flow from your heart to your mind and then down to your fingertips onto these very pages where creativity flourishes. My grandma’s letters inspired me to start writing, again. My writing is unique to me. This is my journey documented by my penmanship (and typed in this blog for you to read).

 

We are not walking this earth alone. The connection I feel towards my grandma only seems to intensify when I’m going through moments of heartache. When I need her love the most. While I wish I didn’t have to feel hurt and pain, I also realize it’s a deep human experience. I trust my heart will rebuild. I trust my heart will heal. What makes us vulnerable also makes us beautiful.

A letter to myself

Dear Shannon,

You need yourself the most right now

You are just over half way through the year. You have driven to the desert and back five times. Mostly to touch, feel, and fill your soul but also to suffer through some honest reflection on what you have learned so far this year. First, you have learned that nothing is guaranteed. Even the people you trust most with your heart are temporary. You have also learned that like flowers, feelings are temporary. Your heart may be broken now, but it will not always hurt in this way. Your heart may love now, but love changes, and your heart will not always love in this way. Your heart will love deeper and hurt more, and there is nothing in this world more beautiful than proving to yourself just how strong you are.

 

You have always been fascinated by people. You feel a deep connection to people. Be gentle and be kind to others. Choose to live vulnerably, especially in a world where it is so easy for people to be cold, cynical, and aloof. Don’t let knowing this scare you from loving deeper. In fact, let this be the very reason you choose to love with your whole heart. The world needs more love. More love in this world is possible.

 

Let go of trying to know and lean into the unknown. There is wasted energy in worrying about what might happen or what might not happen. Let this vulnerability towards ambiguous outcomes give you the necessary confidence that you know exactly who you are and where you are going. Let loving boldly and living vulnerably challenge you into understanding yourself and connecting with others at a deeper level. You will be okay!

Love, Shannon

I’m Surfing

 

“Don’t Worry! The future will reveal itself one day at a time. That is fast enough” – Fredrick Lenz, Surfing the Himalayas.

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First my mind dwells on the past. Then it worries about the future. All I desperately want is for my mind to rest on the present moment. If my body lives in the present, then I want my mind to be more like my body.

 

Sometimes even the most well-intentioned strategies aimed at learning how to live in the present are destined to fail. It’s not necessarily the fault of the person so eager to grow nor is it the fault of the techniques, themselves. Rather, the issue lies in the timing, motivating operations (MOs), and simply, how a person’s mind works. If pain and discomfort are inevitable for growth then maybe learning how to spend quality time with pain and discomfort is the key to healing.

 

I break my stride a lot (a.k.a sometimes my heart and soul get hurt), and the world doesn’t wait for me to heal. Instead, the world keeps moving forward at this annoying, steady pace. It doesn’t slow down. It doesn’t speed up. As Fredrick Lenz said, it reveals itself one day at a time. So that I don’t get left behind or swooped up in the chaos of my own brain, I choose to throw myself forward and attempt to move at the same pace as the world.

 

Watching a seasoned surfer crisscross on top of a wave before effortlessly diving into the water is absolutely beautiful. I want to do that, but mostly, I want to be challenged. I want to learn something new. I want to take on a sport in which I have no idea what I’m doing or where I’m going. For me, throwing myself forward means throwing myself into surfing.

 

The first time I paddled out across the break, waiting for my first wave, my hopes were high. I felt brave, excited. As my board glided down the wave — my body awkwardly wiggling on top — I saw the front of my board slowly dip into the water. I felt the rest of the wave crash over my motionless body. My hands touched the sand. Then my feet touched the sand. I remember telling my body to be patient, “Soon the strength of this wave will pass and when it does you will swim to the surface and breath.”

 

Then it happened, again. The waves crashed sending me underwater and tossing me like a rag doll. Each time I resurfaced taking in the biggest breath of salty-filled air. With every loss of my balance I felt my bravery lessen. I found myself fighting between what was within my grasp with the strength and power of nature. An hour went by, I shivered, and for the first time, I felt the coldness of the water against my hands and feet. I found my way back to shore, picked up my board, and walked my sandy hair towards the showers. The next day my arms were promptly paddling back into the waves.

My desire to throw myself forward and lean into a new skill combined with my need to survive while underwater, naturally placed me in the present moment. For entire moments I didn’t think about my life on land. My mind was purely focused on what my body was doing. My mind was consumed by the present. I craved more.

If the future only reveals itself one moment at a time — one wave at a time — then I really need to practice embracing these moments. I need to go surfing more. As my surf board cuts through the glassy water, my mind gets to be more like my body. Rather than feeling scared of each wave, I start to view each wave as an opportunity. With each wave one of two things are inevitable — one, I ride on top of the wave with an element of awkwardness, and if I’m lucky, a little grace; or two and the more likely scenario, I tumble beneath the wave feeling pain and discomfort. What I love about surfing is that no matter what happens whether I’m riding on top or crashing underneath, I’m honing my skills, learning something new all while my mind and body collide in the present moment.

I’m Blogging Again

 

My blog “finding your stride” died a few years ago.

 

Where have I been? I’ve been awkwardly navigating life as a (1) post-doctoral researcher, teacher, fellow, person; (2) running semi, part-time, professionally; (3) going through a breakdown spiritual and personal growth; and (4) obviously struggling with my identity.

Processed with Snapseed.

Although “finding your stride” has long been dead on the Internet, the realities of figuring out my place in this world continued to be alive and well. Publicly sharing your every run, stride, walk, or stumble as you navigate life can be a vulnerable place of residency. As I inevitably lost my balance, I grew increasingly scared of this vulnerability. So, I stopped blogging and eventually stopped writing, altogether.

 

Then about 5 months ago I was hit with some major losses. As I tried to get my life back on track (literally and figuratively), I started to see the light in my dream of one day calling myself an Olympian go dark — two months out from the Olympic Trials I endured a stress fracture in my foot. The very moment I spent the last 4 years preparing for; the motivation behind that lonely move to San Diego; and the reason I continued to put my research and teaching aspirations on hold… had disappeared. My heart was hurt, my soul was hurt, and now, my foot was hurt. I did the only thing that brought me comfort… I wrote.

 

I wrote for an hour everyday for the next 5 months. Then, four of my friends (and my mom) shared their joy in hearing “my perspective on life,” and subsequently, encouraged me to share my writing. They were inspired by the grace in which I bounced back from pain, and most of all, the timeliness. I decided that even if my writing only touched these five people, I’M ALL IN. These amazing people gave me all the support I needed to get the fire burning, again. You know who you are.

 

Where am I going? I have no idea. I’m in the midst of a challenging and exciting time. Call it change, transition, or independence. I’m looking forward to being comfortable with the uncomfortable. My mantra for the year is: Love. Lean into the unknown. Repeat.

 

This blog is about not knowing. I will share my growth from the past, my passion for the present, and anxiety over the future. Here goes nothing.

 

Invest in the Mile

The UW Husky Classic has always marked the start of my track season.

I have been racing here since my professional career took off in 2012.

I always run the 800m and I always write a blog right around this time.

 

So let’s stick with tradition… in regards to the blog not the race distance.

 

I have won the invitational division of the 800m for the past 3 years. One might say, this is my comfort zone. My safe race. However, I am not running the 800m this year. My coach doesn’t want to put the “pressure of racing my specialty distance” on me this early in the season. His words not mine. So instead, I am racing the mile.

 

I need to share a little history of me attempting to run the mile before the title of this blog will make sense. In high school two amazing milers, both in which went on to earn full athletic scholarships at Division I Universities, accompanied me. With them dominating at the mile distance, that left me racing a ton of 400s and 800s. Going into my senior year (exactly 10 years ago), I was feeling spontaneous and decided to enter an indoor mile. I literally ran out-of-my-mind that day, and surprised everyone, even myself, by running a 5 minute mile flat. You see, in high school I only trained when we had practice so that meant I was not logging in miles on the weekends, before school, or in the winter. So when I said, “I literally ran out-of-my-mind that day,” I meant it. To this day that is my mile PR. I have run the indoor mile two or three other times since then. And I have run the 1500m four or five times. I did manage to run a PR of 4:27 in the 1500m for my last attempt in 2013.

 

I share this bit of history because every time I run the mile it’s once per season and always at the beginning. I usually run the first two laps well and then okay for the last two. My coaches are notorious for coming up to me after the race and saying, “Maybe you’re not a miler. Let’s stick to the 800m.”

 

I’m tired of approaching my running career in this manner — opting out of priceless learning opportunities. I need to be willing to invest in loss in order to grow as a runner, and most importantly, a competitor.

 

When people are watching you and expecting you to perform it’s easier to stick to the race you’ve shown the most promise. It’s harder to be open to loss. Our egos are notorious for getting in the way. As I read the Art Of Learning by Josh Waitzkin, he and his Tai Chi Master, William Chen, talk about the investment in loss.

 

Specifically, they talk about how investing in loss is also welcoming the learning process with open arms. Having a growth mindset. First, you let yourself feel vulnerable. Feel pain. And second, you do all this without repeating old habits but rather learning new skills and forming new habits.

 

This is the mindset I want to use when I approach the mile this weekend. When my body is tired and wants to be done running after two laps, I will imagine myself as, in Josh Waitzken’s words, “a soft piece of clay being molded into shape.” I will embrace this opportunity to learn. To endure pain and hurt and see what my mind and body are capable of. This weekend I will invest in the mile.

 

Wishing you best in Finding Your Stride