problem solving

Making Moves


It is Monday afternoon, a workday. The weekend is over. I am sitting in a coffee shop. The chatter of people around me is soothing. Put me in a library and I am distracted by the eerie quite, but put me in a coffee shop and the background noise allows me to focus. I can get lost in my work. A coffee shop is where I wrote my 350-page dissertation. I would arrive around 7:30 in the morning and stay until lunchtime when I would go for a run. Then I would come back around 2:00 in the afternoon and stay just past dinnertime.

In all the moments that I found myself in a coffee shop, writing, I only became distracted once, and that was to watch the Boston marathon. Immediately following the finish I was inspired, no propelled, to go for a run. Needless to say, I didn’t get much done that day.

Here I am again, in a coffee shop, where I do my best thinking and writing. I am writing to you about what’s next for me. My last blog outlined my experience as a free agent. Although I am mostly optimistic and excited about what’s ahead, I am also nervous with anticipation. All this anxiety makes me ask irrational questions that I don’t know the answers to like “What does my future hold?” and “What place is the best place?”

I have known about my situation for about 3 months, which left me actively searching for a new coach for about 2 months. I called everyone I knew for advice that I wasn’t going to follow. “What would you do if you were me?” I would plead. I learned that people have strong opinions. Even though I knew I wasn’t going to follow any one person’s advice, I wanted to know their ideas, thoughts, and opportunities. I wanted to know the criteria they would use to make a decision. Talking to people is the best way I solve problems. So I talked.

Word got out that I was searching for a new place to train. I was blessed with some amazing opportunities. I found myself in the best scenario possible. Every team, coach, and track was a good option. But this also made the decision one of the more challenging decisions I have ever had to make. Fortunately, I was not alone in the decision process. Every thought about what I was going to do next year was filtered through Daniel. Although I didn’t think it was possible, I fell in love with Daniel even more throughout the process.

I’m moving to California. No, I am moving to Texas. No, I am staying in Eugene. I tried to imagine myself in each place. I listened to my feelings. I created a 15-column spread sheet. Then I distracted myself. I jumped off cliffs. I swam in lakes. I went on epic road trips. Ultimately, I told myself that sometimes you just have to take risks and figure it out on the way down.


So here it is, my risk. I am moving from one OTC to another. I will be training in Chula Vista with Joaquim Cruz and his team at the Olympic Training Center. Eugene will always have a piece of my heart, which makes the move even harder. I am thankful for the support and hospitality of the Eugene community, and can’t wait to be back competing at Hayward Field. I do not know what the future holds but I am looking forward to finding my stride in San Diego.

Thanks for reading!

3 Tips to Solving Problems (From a Runner)

My blog is about how running promotes personal growth in an array of different areas.  Last month I invested in a life coach (I like to refer to him as my business mentor).  He suggested blogging about how to solve a problem.

I like to start every day with a little make-up because my motto is: “if I fail at something, today, then at least I look good, today.”  So I painted my face and went searching for problems.

At approximately 11am I found my first problem: running for sustained periods of time.


PROBLEM: How To Run for Sustained Periods of Time (from an 800 meter runner’s perspective):

Sponsored by OTCE and BSSC, I was given an amazing opportunity — testing my VO2 max.  For anyone who does not know what this looks like, I have provided a picture.


In scientific terms VO2 max involves exhausting your aerobic energy system while measuring the maximum amount of oxygen utilized during exercise.  But I like to describe VO2 max as running in place until you cannot run anymore while wiping drool off your snorkel-like mouthpiece.

Surprisingly, this test allowed me a lot of time to practice solving the problem — how to run for sustained periods of time. Please keep in mind the following describes my every action and thought throughout the 2-part test.


Part 1:

The pace started at 8:30 min/mile pace and every 4 minutes the pace increased until the treadmill propelled me to 5:30 min/mile pace.

The scientist: “I am going to start the treadmill. Jump on when you are ready.”

Me: Wow, this treadmill is moving awfully fast. This has to be faster than 8:30 min/mile pace. [jump on] WOW! that was deceiving. This is definitely 8:30 min/mile pace.

The scientist: “3 minutes remaining”

Me: WHAT? I have only been running for 1 minute. This is going to be a long test.  To help this go by faster I need to start implementing some strategies. Strategy 1… counting. 1, 2, breath in, 1, 2, breath out, 1, 2, breath in, 1, 2, breath out. YES! This strategy is definitely slowing down my heart rate. 

The scientist: “I am going to speed up the pace”

Me: Need a new strategy.  Strategy 2… think positive thoughts. Shannon, great job swinging your arms. Not working. I need another positive thought. I know! Pretend you are on a trail… in a park… Pre’s trail… no… MKT trail.  Look at the pretty trees passing by. Oh! look at that runner with her dog. This soft ground is so nice. Much better.

The scientist: “I am going to speed up the pace”

Me: This trail thing is not working anymore. I am going to need to pull out all the tricks. [look around] I see a line. Shannon, focus on this line. Pretend you are running a fast workout along the inside lane of a track. [look around] NO! Shannon, re-focus on this line. Rememeber, you are running a fast workout around the track.


Part 2:

Although the pace was set at a steady 6:25 min/mile pace, the gradient increased by 1% every 1 min. Objective: stay on the treadmill for as long as you can.

The scientist: “You’re doing great, Shannon. Ready to begin part 2?”

Me: I wonder if the scientist is required to say I am doing a great or if he really thinks I am doing great? I think I will go with the latter. [give the scientist a thumbs up]

The scientist: “I am going to start the treadmill. Jump on when you are ready..”

Me: Maybe I won’t jump on. [jump on] Don’t fall… pump your arms… don’t fall… pump your arms…”


TIPS On How to Run for Sustained Periods of Time (from an 800 meter runner’s perspective):

Tip 1:

Breathing is not only vital for your existence, but it also helps you sustain an uncomfortable pace for a long period of time. I used a 2-count, but use a method that works for you. Breathing can often help you avoid hyperventilating, and calm down your emotions and thoughts so that you can solve any problem.

Tip 2:

Visualization is an important technique that many athletes use to improve their performance.  I use various visualization techniques to teach myself mindfulness, how to be present in the moment as well as how to increase my confidence during a workout or race.  Try it!  Set a goal and then create a mental image of you achieving that goal. This way when you are working towards that goal you know what it feels like to succeed.

Tip 3:

Sometime not thinking at all is a helpful strategy.  The second part of the test lasted a total of 9 minutes; however, time seemed to disappear.  I credit this phenomenon to that fact that I forgot to think.  Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined this experience as “flow”.  Flow occurs when you are completely absorbed in an activity that you momentarily forget about everything except that activity.  You can achieve flow by choosing a task that is challenging, yet, realistic.


Testing my VO2 max allowed me to practice all three tips. Following the test I felt a sense of exhilaration and enjoyment from the act of stretching my mind and body to their limits.  These strategies – breath, visualize, and flow – are key to sustaining not only a run but solving any challenge at hand.  I challenge you to practice these strategies during your next easy run, routine business meeting, or easy activity, so that way when a true problem is present you are well prepared. Practice makes perfect!

Remember, you do not need to have your VO2 max tested to practice.  Please reply with your experiences.

Thanks for Reading


Cite: Flow: Csikszentmihalyi, Harper, & Row (1990). The psychology of optimal experience. Global Learning Communities.