training

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.

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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!

5 things to help get it done and beat the odds

About 50% of people who start a Ph.D. program never finish. I’ve seen some of the brightest Ph.D. students struggle to finish their dissertations because they’re too busy doing something else important.

 

I had a unique graduate school experience in that I was simultaneously training for the Olympic trials. I joined the doctoral program for two reasons:

1)   I wanted to further my professional career in special education

2)   I thought it would be a good compliment to professional running

 

My first year was challenging because of the intensity needed to do well in both.  More often than not I felt like quitting one to focus on the other. One day I wanted to quit track the next day I wanted to quit school. But I didn’t want to become a part of the all-but-dissertation statistic. I needed to figure out a way to beat the odds.

 

Incoming Ph.D. students often ask me “how did you balance a Ph.D. with training for the Olympic trials?” I don’t think there’s one right formula that works for everyone, but I did find five things that helped me. This blog is for anyone who is looking to get it done by beating the odds.

 

1)   Find a cheerleader

On the track my coaches have always challenged me to push my body beyond my expectations. In my Ph.D. program I was greeted with a similar stimulus, but instead of physical it was intellectual. I would spend hours preparing for meetings as my professors pushed my mind beyond my expectation. Every team needs two types of people — ones who will challenge you and ones who will cheer for you. I knew I needed a professor on my team that I didn’t have to prepare for and one who could support me emotionally. Having a cheerleader is such an important part of building confidence. On the track my cheerleaders have always been my family and friends. Why should a Ph.D. program be any different? Make sure your support network has the right people who will push you and who will sit on the sidelines cheering for you.

 

2)   Compete with yourself

On the track I had seen some previous success, but I often questioned whether I was fast enough to be a professional runner.  Similarly, like many students who start a graduate school program, I had seen some academic success, but I was often unsure about whether I belonged in the Ph.D. program.  It’s common for successful people to compare themselves to other successful people, especially as they move up to more competitive fields. Sometimes successful people, especially women, say they feel like a fraud in their new job. One of the best ways to combat this feeling is by setting self-improvement goals. Tell yourself you belong even if you don’t believe it, yet, because one day you will feel like you belong. Stop comparing yourself to the people around you. Focus on you being better today than you were yesterday. Become your biggest competitor.

 

3)   Quality over Quantity

On the track I would watch my teammates sneak in extra miles just to end up hurt in the long run. Similarly, in my Ph.D. program I saw my peers take on every publication and conference opportunity available to soon become overwhelmed and drop out. Sometimes it’s more important to spend your time engaged in one or two projects rather than worrying about the number of papers you can publish or the number of miles you can run. Too many projects without a clear purpose can jeopardize your ability to get things done. Sometimes is the quality over the quantity that matters most.

 

4)   Don’t save the world

On the track I would wish for today to be the day I shocked the world with a break-through race. When I started my Ph.D. program I wished for the same thing. I remember wanting to write this all-encompassing break-through dissertation. I wanted my research to have a lasting impact on the field. But few achieve fame through their dissertation. Just as few can predict the day they have a break-through race. The dissertation is a learning process. Each step has a specific purpose. Focus on executing each step and not on “saving the world.”

 

5)   Enjoy the Process

This one may seem like a cliché but it is by far the hardest cliché for me to remember. On the track I experience just as many successes as failures. Although I always try to learn something positive from each failure, the unsuccessful races always leave a lingering hurt. My coaches tell me to “enjoy the process”. But what exactly does this mean? So I broke it down. The process is the natural ups and downs in life. Sometimes after a bad race I want to say the heck with the process. I want to experience only ups from here on out. No more downs. In my Ph.D. program I had similar days when I wanted to throw my computer against the wall and days when I couldn’t stop writing. I learned that life will always have it’s ups and downs no matter how hard we wish for only ups. Might as well enjoy. It’s more fun.

 

I hope you make room for these 5 things in your life as they could help you get it done and beat the odds. Please send me your comments. I would love to hear from you.

The Good: 3 Things I Learned While Training On My Own

 

This 3-part blog series is happily titled: The Good… The Bad… and The Ugly… of Running

 

Part 1: The Good of Running shares 3 things I learned while training on my own.

 

In 2010 I finished my college eligibility and was left wondering (like the other 3% of athletes who turn pro Source: Business Insider) Do I want to keep training? If so, where will I train? Who will I train with? And will I have a coach?

 

If you are reading this blog then you already know that answer to the first question was YES!  The next series of questions were a bit more challenging to answer.

 

The first year as a pro was rough.  My college coach gave me a few workouts, but for the most part, I was making things up on the fly.  I was running but not hard. I was eating but not well. I was sleeping but not enough.  I ran 2 races — 2:12 and 2:20 something for 800m.  I’ll let you in on a little secret: if I ever run over 2:20 I NEVER look up the results, so I always run 2:20 something.

 

After a disappointing first year out of college, I knew I needed to change my approach to training, especially if I wanted to call myself a professional runner and not a recreational runner.  So I found a coach, Ben Rosario.  Although he lived in a different state he told me exactly what to run everyday, and he held me accountable.  I found a training partner.   Although he only trained with me for 3 months it was the best three months of my life.  But he left me to get his master’s in mechanical engineering at Stanford.  WHAT THE HECK?  I guess I can’t blame him for moving on.  That left me training on my own.

 

Here are the top 3 things I learned while training on my own.

 

1. Run one day at a time

I went into professional running with one goal in mind – to be the best runner in the world – but I failed to focus on the steps that get you there.  Like any other day I arrived at the track to do a workout. But on this particular morning when I got there I started crying.  I waited 30 minutes to calm myself down, but when I went to warm up I started crying again.  The other thing on my mind was school and trying to be the best student in the world.  I thought there was no way I could do both at a high level. I thought I had to quit one, so I could focus on the other.

These “best in the world” goals had to change and inevitably evolved into – be the best runner and student I can be, today.  My new live-in-the-moment mindset served as my framework for setting intermediate goals.  When I arrived at the track I would close the door to the classroom; and vice versa, when I arrived at school I would close the gate to the track.  I focused on one task at a time… eat a good breakfast, read a journal article, or go for a run.  This allowed me to maximize my happiness and enjoy the journey.

 

2. Say “I think I can” when running up a hill

I think it is safe to say that most athletes are competitive people by nature. I am no exception.  There is always someone who will run faster than you and there is always someone who will run slower than you.  Comparing yourself to others can lead to negative self-talk, bitterness, and can be detrimental to your self-esteem.  Running on my own helped me learn the importance of strengthening my mind and “filling my basket” with self-confidence and self-efficacy.  It gave me the opportunity to practice positive self-talk during a hard workout or running up a hill.  Just like the Little Engine That Could who said ““I think I can” when he was traveling across treacherous mountains to his destination.

 

3. Run through the finish line

Courage is hard to find and everyone is searching for it.  I have yet to meet a person who does not want the quality of bravery.  I would argue that courage is the most in-demand quality a person can have.  I committed to running professionally right after college when the decision was easy, there were no hardships, and everything was looking up.  Over the next year running on my own became increasingly hard.  I often thought about giving up.

 

Then I looked up the definition of courage

 

cour·age

noun \ˈkər-ij, ˈkə-rij\

the ability to do something that you know is difficult or dangerous

 

And the definition of commitment

 

com·mit·ment

noun \kə-ˈmit-mənt\

a promise to do or give something

a promise to be loyal to someone or something

the attitude of someone who works very hard to do or support something

 

Commitment IS NOT the act of making a decision when the decision is easy. It is the courage to make a decision when the decision is tough.  I became inspired by these definitions and courageously committed to professional running.

 

Thank you 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.

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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.

 

 

Training update: Growing at your own pace

 

Week one… just trying to keep up. Week 2… just trying to keep up. Fast forward to week 8… still just trying to keep up.

 

I am in the middle of my eighth week of training with the OTCE.  Pinch me because I am still in shock that I am training with the OTCE. I feel blessed to be a part of the fastest, most driven, and hard working group of women I have EVER met.  My teammates include Olympians, US Olympic trails qualifiers, and NCAA champions.

 

In college I ran about 30 miles per week.  Last year I bumped that up to 40 miles a week and was introduced to tempo running.  To long distance runners tempo running is when you zone out at a fast pace and finish at an even faster pace.  To everyone else (including 800m runners) tempo running is not a part of our vocabulary and zoning out is unheralded.  So every time I attempt to run this foreign pace it looks something like this:

 

Going out way too fast (what? I felt good).  Reaching half way and taking a harmless 30-second break to catch my breath because I went out too fast  (side note: my coach usually did not know about these breaks… so let’s try to keep that secret between you and me).  Attempting to “zone out at a fast pace” which is obviously not working, so finally, finishing at a slower pace than I started.

 

I think it is safe to say I have a tiny aversion to tempo runs. Do other runners have similar problems with tempos? When I describe my problem to my long distance teammates they promise me that it will get better. SO YOU ARE TELLING ME THERE IS A CHANCE

 

Currently, I am starting my second year of tempo running. However, this time when I start to hyperventilate I remember to count to two when I breathe in and again when I breathe out.  PROGRESS! Despite my incremental growth in tempo running, I have been introduced to a new training outside of my repertoire… repeats that are longer than 800m.

 

One of the benefits to training on your own is the opportunity to learn how to grow both mentally and physically at your own pace.  However, when I was thrown into the mix, with a group of women who were much stronger than me, I was a little discouraged.  My grow at your own pace mindset became scrambled.  Fortunately, I have trained on my own, I have won a few races, and now, I know how to pace myself.  My new challenge isn’t repeats longer than 800m, tempo running, or even, trying to keep up. Instead, my new challenge is utilizing my previously acquired skills and focusing on growing at my own pace.

Thanks for Reading

 

How to Maximize your Love for Learning

 

I am getting ready to open the outdoor season this weekend at the Missouri Relays. I am racing the 1500/800 double. The 1500 is definitely a distance that is out of my comfort zone. It requires great concentration. On my training run, today, I calculated every possible split to accomplish a personal best (under 4:27).  I am anticipating this opportunity to practice and develop my concentration skills but to fully prepare I need to make sure I maximize my growth mindset.

A growth mindset is the belief that practice, determination, and hard work can improve skills. Choosing to have a growth mindset rather than a static mindset can help you create a love for learning and maximize your creativity and productivity.

Q: What tools can I incorporate to have a growth mindset?

A: Schedule mental breaks throughout your day.

This past week my goal has been to get into a routine. When I listening to my mind and body, I know it is telling me that I am out of sync.  Every workout has become a “blue-collar day.” As I check off my workout from today’s list, I go to the next thing on the list… writing my dissertation.  Every individual has to learn how to balance his or her passions with other passions. To do this I schedule mental breaks.

Training is more that merely running. It includes running, recovering, nutrition, and MENTAL REST.  Metal rest is necessary for maximizing learning, creativity, and productivity.  A part of getting back into a routine means I need to build mental rest into my training.  Here is my typical schedule:

–       Morning run

–       Savor breakfast and make it a time for mental rest

–       Go to work at a coffee shop and when I start to feel my creativity and productivity diminish, go to a different place to work

–       Go to work at my office

–       Take 30 minutes to an hour to eat lunch with a friend and talk about everything and anything not related to work and training

–       Afternoon run

–       Read a book that is not Once a Runner by John Parker or Learning Theories by Dale Schuck. Leave the running books for before a big race and the textbooks for work.

Now, it is your turn to foster your passion for learning and to maximize your creativity and productivity. Remember a crucial part of this process is to schedule in mental rest. Please reply with ways you take a mental break.

Thanks for reading, Shannon

 

A wise woman recognizes when her life is out of balance and summons the courage to act to correct it, she knows the meaning of true generosity, happiness is the reward for a life lived in harmony, with a courage and grace. – Suze Orman