There is an old saying: ‘Two Steps Forward, One Step Back’, which is a reference to the difficult nature of moving towards a goal. Sport provides many opportunities for arduous paths filled with setback as we climb towards goals. This lesson also plays out in the arena of life with many stumbles on the way to greater personal achievement and growth. The step back may be a mistake, but the mistake often unravels the solution to greater progress, so the net gain is still one step forward. I look at my best performances in racing and training as the times where I took a third step forward in very intense and uncomfortable situations
Racing provides many opportunities for personal success, particularly in helping create individual positive habits. Whether it's developing the ability to be resilient through tough days or creating moments of sheer fun, there is something powerful about turning hard effort into a season best or lifetime best performance.
Training well is about forward momentum: physically and emotionally being both focussed on what you can do well right now, while keeping your path in a straight line to your goal. Do that well and both the journey and the finish line become joyful events.
If you call yourself an athlete and are training towards any goal, you have already conquered the first of the two steps forward by showing commitment to your goal and by having the right attitude to continue to be motivated through weeks and months of training.
Having goals, a training plan and a time management schedule for putting it all together shows commitment. Showing up ready to train or race, being prepared and willing to work hard is about attitude. For some the attitude is pure joy and loving being outside training, and at the other end of the spectrum are those who are motivated by success and being great: often athletes are a subtle blend of each of these processes. There will be hard days and obstacles and you will take a step back - and that experience will create some kind of learning if you can see it.
Sometimes there is an opportunity to take a third daring step forward. It is taking the often daunting third step that provides true satisfaction. The first two steps forward - training and commitment - create opportunities: opportunities to move beyond our comfort zones and to do something truly great with our lives. A small window for success will appear before us one day and whether we jump through that window or not is what makes the difference. Do you take that small step forward at the unplanned moment? Do you embrace moving out of your comfort zone without a second thought, without the 'what if'? Taking the third step requires us to overcome a fear or a doubt about our ability to reach our goal. The third step is saying ‘Yes’ and not ‘No’, leaping at a challenge and not shutting down. Do this and the chances are that when the big opportunities present themselves, you will be ready and able to head into the unknown with all your power.
Run For Joy
Instead of letting the fear of the unknown run a frantic race through your brain, putting the brakes on your wild desire for excellence, you engage fearlessness. Most of us know these fears: the fear of goals unmet at the finish line, of not being good enough, of slowing down, the fatigue and cramps that take your breath away, and overtake your confidence.
you simply stepped aside and observed the fear without trying to compete with it. Fear takes a futile course, and one that takes us way off the mark. Instead – trust that you are as ready as you will be, right now. Trust your ability, your preparation and your strength. Make that perfect. Feel the sheer magnitude of the good fortune of being where you are: it is not about doing or getting anywhere. Be alive and bright and moving and learning. There will always be room for improvement, that is a given. Before you let fear shatter dreams that haven’t even been reached focus on this one wonderful moment. It is yours to own, and that excellence is present right now.
Lucy Smith, July 2018
The truth being that I turned 51 this year. That’s five decades on the planet, four of them spent running and a good three of those spent running hard with purpose, direction and fire in my heart. This is going to sound cheesy, but I don’t feel old. In fact I feel younger and stronger than I did fifteen years ago. I am not running as fast, but as an elite athlete I never expected to run faster than I did at my prime. Those days of running are behind me, and that’s ok. When that door closed, a whole other world of doors opened. I am exploring them one by one. I will share those stories in the days ahead, but first, I need to share this one. This is my Truth about getting older as a female runner.
First, I believe it’s important for people, as they age, to understand the cultural context in which their experience is unfolding. Our feelings about an event are also based on our perceptions that we have gained along the way. Youth and beauty have story attached to them, and the how many stories about the multifaceted and connected paths of menstruation, pregnancy, birthing, perimenopause and menopause have run alongside our reality? (If you are struggling here, look no further than the glossy magazine covers at the grocery store check out.) If we lived in a society that fully embraced female aging (or any aging for that matter) and all the associated changes, I truly believe women wouldn’t ‘fight’ it so hard nor find it as stressful. If we lived in a society with less petty comparison and shallow judgement and with allowance for natural beauty to unfold without bias, it certainly would be emotionally easier to get older, although Photoshop might go out of business. Everywhere I turn I see this fight: of women mindlessly pushing back against aging gracefully with cosmetic surgery, ridiculous diets, non-surgical body treatments, and a whole host of anti-wrinkle beauty products pushed on us by emotional marketing campaigns that convince us we aren’t enough just as we are. We can’t control what products and advertising campaigns are out there, but we can control our own responses, so I truly believe that the perimenopause years (anywhere starting after 35) should be approached soulfully, with a deep respect and commitment to our own self-care and self-awareness. I also believe that mindfulness practice in exercise, strength training and following a nutritious diet help throughout this time immensely. Most of us are also at the most stressful periods of our lives with busy family, teenagers (more hormones!), and career, and mindfulness and compassion can be our grounding.
I could never have dreamed up saying these words at 35, as I was recovering from having my first baby and heading into another Olympic Campaign in 2002, for Athens ’04. It is only because I have lived and learned and experimented and failed and succeeded and searched and researched and asked a lot of questions of both myself and many other women over the age of 40 that I can even write this.
Yes, You are Getting Older and Entering a New Phase of Life
At 40, twenty two years into a life as a competitive athlete, I was still running like a 39 year old, winning races outright and sleeping well at night. I won the Masters at Freihoffer’s 5k for Women that year, raced as an elite at Ironman Canada and ran 2:48 in the Elite Masters category at the New York City Marathon. I was tapering off the life as a full time professional and elite athlete—my last Worlds was at 39- and after that I focussed on my now busy family of two small children and a growing coaching business. It was impossible to put the mindset of the athletic lifestyle behind me however, and the desire to work out and be fast was still strong, as was the desire to race. At this point however, the laser focus on National Team goals and winning prize money was waning and I found myself looking for an intention to release the high performance mindset while still focussing on personal excellence. And then, at 42, I suffered a huge injury because that intention wasn’t yet strong enough in practice - I wasn’t paying attention to my body and it was a wakeup call that my tendons, joints and connective tissue weren’t as resilient as they used to be and my training couldn’t be supported by the severely insufficient amount of sleep and recovery I was now getting as a busy mum of two, and coach.
Warning: this next bit details the Very Real Aspects of AGING: your reading vision may start to fail, among other symptoms of physical decay.
That year, I was out of run training for over 6 months, and also noticed that, as I lay in bed at night with son reading, my life long clear vision was starting to get blurry. I got my first pair of readers, and it turns out that was only the beginning of the physical and emotional changes to come! From then on I started to notice that things I had taken for granted most of my life were in flux. PMS changes, moodiness, hot flashes, night sweats, sleeplessness and insomnia crept in and most noticeably, was the fact that I was taking longer to recover from workouts and definitely from races. There were times when exhaustion from lack of sleep threw me into intense feelings of hopelessness from an inability to cope. My high performance mindset that yelled: “Giving up is not an option!" "wasn’t being entirely helpful during this time. More positive thinking can not make up for the inner work that needs to be done.
Somewhere during this time, with the support of several empathic and insightful individuals in my life - and the works of Pema Chodron, Brene Brown, Elizabeth Gilbert and Thich Nhat Hanh – I phased out resisting and phased in acceptance and ‘knowing’. I began to see the changes as teachers, and as events to be embraced. I began to understand the way we can be hostile, instead of loving, to ourselves, and how that is manifest in the world around us, and especially in media. I started to track my periods and tailor my training, using the 7 day phase before periods as my recovery weeks. It was pretty obvious that I was tired, sluggish and unable to hit usual effort during those weeks, and the gentleness and honesty it took to make that change set in motion a new kindness to myself, and I gave myself permission to be whatever I was at the moment. How often do we keep making the same mistakes, berating ourselves and suffering repeatedly, when all we need to do is STOP what is causing the suffering?
This planning ahead and accepting, really helped me craft my training into something that worked for me instead of something that I was trying to make work. I rarely trained with groups during this phase, fully became self-coached and then I put my workout and race goals onto the back seat behind motherhood and coaching from ages 46-49. This really took the pressure off from ‘trying’ so hard to make my body do something that it couldn’t or wouldn’t do, and it allowed me to experiment with other ways to train around a much looser schedule. In some ways, I was experimenting with letting myself off the hook for ‘high performing’ all the time. It took a lot of growth to move from running to prove, to running for joy. (Actually, this was Phase 2 of ‘Running for Joy’, as I had already implemented a new Joy mindset during the height of my professional career, when the pressure to perform and achieve was out of balance with my innate desire to move).
I was getting older, and wiser, and instead of turning up the volume of the “Positive Self Talk” channel when I was feeling down, (which was highly necessary as a career tactic during the middle miles of the Ironman marathon), I started to ask myself where these inner voices were coming from, why they were coming, and what did it mean about me and my journey. This self-awareness began to seep into a new kind of gentleness with myself, a new kind of gratitude about what I had accomplished, and more permission to leave the high performance persona behind and transcend once more.
Like a lot of athletes, I simply love training, so it was difficult and different to stop running every day, but after 4 years of trial and error and pretty intuitive winging it (I think after 30 years of training and being a coach my winging it is powerfully intelligent) it became obvious to me that I had years of stamina and endurance, very strong motivation and emotional resilience and I needed mindfulness and physical strength, not endless endurance and more time on my feet.
While I had done yoga intensively from 2002-2004 during my Olympic campaign, I started mobility and strength training again at 46, which I continue still. Both have enormous benefits outside the obvious one of preserving muscle mass, mobility and strength for basic life tasks. I actually ‘feel’ better when I do strength, and it is documented that lifting helps perimenopause and menopausal women, as it supports hormonal changes and a sense of well-being. I will write another article on my adventures with strength – from basic core, to learning to swing the kettlebell, heavy deadlifts, practicing movements has been an enriching challenge and education – as that was one of the doors that opened up when I shelved the racing flats.
Because I am no longer going for PR efforts, my performance expectations are difference, yet my intrinsic joy and desire are the same if not higher. I am more interested in the quality of my run and ride days, and the wonderful soul filling benefits acquired by the actual practice of training well, than I am with getting as many workouts in as possible as physiological markers and confidence for future performance. While this was a necessary way to train while I was in my 20’s and I love that I did it that way, as I know the brilliant honesty is that to develop as a young athlete you just need to work hard. The hard work shapes who you are as an athlete—both physically and mentally.
I will never again run 32:46 for 10k, and while I love occasionally chasing age group goals, and love running fast even more, I am not hooked into times and pace like I used to be. That is a book that is complete. This has allowed me to stop a lot of the practices that have the potential to cause injuries—mainly overtraining, under resting, not being mindful and the plain stress of performance. Strength training has made me a stronger more injury free runner. It helps my posture, my form, my speed, and my mind. I can run less mileage but run stronger longer. The physical strength has also given me confidence; I am learning a new skill, it is a commitment and intrinsically motivating.
For all you schedule lovers out there, this is a “Coles Notes” of what my training looked like at 35 and again at age 51. These days, it is basically a non-schedule, anchored by 3 weekly strength sessions. It is highly subject to change at any time:
Age 35 In Season Training
Run 7 x a week (including 2 brick workouts, one track session, one long run over 90 minutes, a hard tempo)
Ride 4-5 x a week (including 2 speed and one ride up to 4 hours for 70.3 training)
Swim 3 x a week (including one open water session)
Strength minimal with basic core and mobility
Total = 20+ hours a week, not including visits to chiro/physio and massage)
Age 51 Summer Training
Strength 3 x a week (about 45-60 min/session)
Run 2-3 x a week (1 session where I run faster tempo for range of motion)
Ride road bike 2 x a week (usually 75 minutes)
Total = 7 hours, give or take a couple depending on my energy , and not including stops at the coffee shop and the 10+ hours I spend walking Cruz, the Mini Aussie every week.
The # 1 thing that is completely different than my high performance training days:
I can miss any workout at any time, for any reason or no reason at all, because I have earned the right for that too.
I feel so grateful for all my earlier days of competition: the intensity, the anxiety, and the discomfort, both physical and mental. I have had both incredible success and incredible disappointment in my life, and both have taught me the calm that comes with choosing the middle ground. I learned not only to cope with the sharpness of competition, but to embrace it and move through it with joy, and that I was tough enough to cope with whatever happened. It is because of those heavy days and all the days that came after through my transition away from high performance that I can now train with the freedom I have now, and turn to supporting others along their own path. I turned 51 this year and respect my body and what it can do, but age really is only a number, and no predictor for how you want to take on the adventure of life. Attitude is age less.
We can always choose to perceive things differently. You can focus on what's wrong in your life, or you can focus on what's right. – Marianne Williamson
My body, my racing, and many things in my life have changed over the last decade. I retired organically, letting my age and my family commitments create my priorities, and while it is still far from complete, it is actually perfect.
Run For Joy!
Resources that have supported my path:
Pema Chodron: “Taking the Leap”; “Start where you Are”; “The Places that Scare You”
Thich Nhat Hanh: “The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation”
Elizabeth Gilbert: “Big Magic”
Brene Brown: “The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to be and Embrace Who you are”
And my favourite mental training book of all time, and one that I think all athletes should read at least once:
Terry Orlick: “In Pursuit of Excellence”
Lucy Smith is a 19 Time Canadian Champion in distance running, triathlon and duathlon, and won 2 Silver World Championship medals. Now a coach, speaker, mentor and writer, Lucy has two children, a Run Club for girls, and is passionate about educating others to find their own power through sport.
125 Yard Cheddar Beer Bread
I cook a lot. I cook because I like to eat well, and this seems to be the best way to achieve that. I also cook because I like to make other people happy and most people like to eat. The third reason I cook, is that cooking is hands on, mindful and creative. I love the act of chopping veggies, smashing a garlic clove, and creating a meal. While I have a lot of recipe books left over from my pre internet world, I try not to follow recipes because cooking is one area of my life where I don’t have to follow the rules. Generally I follow rules - things like wearing a seatbelt, a bike helmet and not breaking the speed limit. I also attempt to be civilized, most of the time, which is following a sort of social rule. So unless I am baking cakes- where switching baking soda for baking powder leads to an awful cake - I go with the flow and follow my heart.
A couple of weeks ago I went to Highland Pacific Golf Course for a Lululemon Ambassador get together. It was a chance to catch up with other lemons, and for for those of us who don’t play golf, Warren Reeves, (AKA Golf Pro) taught us how to grip, chip, and drive a ball. The goal of the evening was three fold in my view: rookies were invited to try to ping the power tower 125 yards across the driving range because the lake was too far away, to laugh a lot, and to eat.
I brought home made beer bread. It was warm and fresh and it was a hit so here is the recipe. I made it up, but because I wasn’t sure if I should add all beer or beer and water. I googled and found inspiration for the bread on the BBC Food page, in a recipe by the Hairy Bikers, “two northern blokes with a passion for cooking and food.” Their recipe had too many ingredients for me, so here’s my super simple:
125 Yard Cheddar Beer Bread Recipe
1 packet instant yeast
A can Phillips Blue Buck beer, at room temperature (please note, Phillips has paid me no money for the writing of this article, I just happened to have Blue Buck in the fridge that day. In the future I may try a Driftwood Fat Tug IPA. The stronger the beer the stronger the flavour, but I don’t recommend using a lager.)
2 cups plain flour + more for kneading and adding
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 Tablespoon salt
1 cup grated strong cheddar
Put the flours, salt, and instant yeast into a large bowl and mix together. Add the beer and the cheese and with a large wooden spoon, mix it all together until it is a good mass. Dump the dough onto a floured surface and knead it for a few moments, adding more flour if it’s sticky, until it’s a smooth lump of dough. Clean out the dough bowl, oil it with a bit of olive oil, and put the dough back in the bowl, rolling it around to cover with a light coat of oil. Cover it with a cloth, put it somewhere warm and out of reach of the dog, and go for a run, a ride or vacuum the house for an hour or 2.
Come back and punch down the dough, which should have doubled in size by now. Knead it again and shape it into a big loaf, or 2 smaller loaves or you can even braid it! Dough is fun; unlike cake batter you can’t really wreck it. Put the loaves on a baking sheet and let sit while the oven heats up to 350F.
Bake the bread for 30 minutes, or until golden brown on top. You can also tap on the bottom of the loaf, and it if sounds hollow, it’s probably done.
Slice the bread and serve it to your friends.
Writing the Running Life
For 30 years I pursued a high performance career and traveled the world. This blog melds this experience with my coaching and passion to support excellence in others.