‘Follow your Passion!’ ‘Dare to Dream!’
There is a whole 'inspiration' industry out there and nowhere is it more apparent than on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and other social media. I have had many discussions with athletes and clients over the years and ‘inspiration’ can be a sticky topic. My opinion is that real inspiration for your own health comes from the hard feedback you get after actually doing some positive action. Running makes you feel good, so you do it again. The action inspires you on many levels, much more than looking at a photo on your phone ever can.
I have been asked a few times where or who I got my inspiration from in my career. The first time this happened I actually looked blankly at the interviewer for a moment, and then my mind started racing through a possible list of people - Lynn Kanuka, Lynn Jennings, Joan Benoit, Ed Viesturs. We are all supposed to have a hero that inspired us. Truth be told, while I admired these individuals, I didn't idolize them. I liked their story.
It's not that I haven't been impressed and in awe of other athletes or other brave and daring people, or that I did not have role models and great coaches, but the only thing that really inspired me to get out there, was simply that I loved being out there and I would remember that every time I felt awesome after and how much I like to race (racing felt better when I was prepared).
However, to the interviewer I responded: I am inspired by anyone who has done what they love to do, found a way to do what they love to do despite the naysayers, the odds, the doubts and the handicaps (which we all have).
It could be a writer, a gardener, a coffee roaster, a singer, a nurse, an athlete, or a scientist. People who want to find a way to live a life with purpose inspire me. In my post high performance life, I now see it everywhere.
As a coach, I am pretty simple in my approach to sport as far as inspiration goes. Give me your true goal, define your purpose, align your priorities and follow the schedule. My task as a coach is guide the first 3 and deliver on the last.
Dream goals are the very strong visions you have for yourself. Dream goals set the emotional stage for your passion. Dream goals may never come true, but by acknowledging your dreams you are opening yourself up to vast possibilities that would not exist if you could not let yourself see your true potential.
Dreams are often private and personal, but also very strong. We can only share them with the people we feel safe. Even in our ‘everything is possible’ culture of ‘follow your passion!’ our dreams are also what makes us most vulnerable. Dreams are the huge positive hopes we hold in our hearts that help us create the sort of life we want to live. The pursuit of dreams is the real path for many people, yet often we ignore our strongest voice out of fears that others will think us ridiculous or that it may never come true.
Many athletes spend their lives only seeing the goals not met, obsessing about what they want, and pinning their hopes on extrinsic desires. Our goals can cause our path to become narrow and, ends in themselves. We are led to believe in our society, that the gains of these extrinsic rewards validate our existence, our path, or at the very least, the vast amounts of time and effort we put into our training. Whatever outside rewards we have heaped our hopes upon, we get stuck there, in the messy frustrating, anxiety of it all—the fear of not achieving this thing we so want to strongly we can taste it-- which leads us to the endless questioning of our abilities and every aspect of our environment. Focussing too much on the ‘wish’ kills the passion for the now.
For years, I have mulled over the closely related cousins of the athlete mentality of passion and flow, as often, the passion goals can become so egocentric as to stop flow in its tracks. To buid personal excellence, you have to get expert at being both audaciously goal oriented and intrinsically motivated to train with commitment because you love it. Even on a deeper level, using running as an example (since I know that one the best) how to strive while continuing to love and build your passion for the act of running, that one thing you do that started with a love for a base action (running) and a raw feeling (love of feeling fast, of your heart beating and lung burning: whatever it was that made you feel so amazingly alive!). I have felt flow many times as a runner. Sometimes in a race, but most often I experience it in random moments in training. In fact, I actually practice the skills that lead to flow on a regular basis, and the more I practice, the happier running becomes for me.
Flow is really about what ‘I can do’ right now and less about ‘what I want to have happen in the future’.
The next time you go run you can practice this:
A few things will make your practice easier at first. Run in trails where it is quiet and you don’t have to stop for cars and crossings. Run flatter so you don’t have to focus on hills and changing pace or gait. Run without music so you can only have this one thing going on. If anything distracts you—dogs, cars, people—pretend they are the fish. Notice them (stay safe) but don’t throw out your hook. Eventually you will be able to turn on the flow whenever you run and wherever you are, even in races, on hilly courses, and while running in crowded areas.
The point of the exercise is to allow you to focus on what is happening right now.
Sometimes when I run, I think:
Clear roads behind, open road ahead, FLOW right now.
I was chatting to a friend today – over text, since texting, facetime, shouting across the street, and phoning are the only ways I communicate with my friends at this interesting juncture of social distancing and still needing each other – and we exchanged the usual things we all say right now: how are you making out? Are you working from home? Are you healthy? Are you doing ok?
And then he said “I miss coaching.”
Yup. I miss coaching too. My girls trail running group is on hold, and I had half a dozen coaching talks dropped from the schedule. I find public speaking to active people very motivating and it is a whole lot of fun to interact with an audience, and well, the hour I spend with my run group, in the forest running trails, climbing trees, playing games, and laughing, is simply priceless.
So, in the spirit of the positive energy of great coaches everywhere: we are missing you too. And here’s why:
Coaches coach because they love coaching others. I genuinely love to see people find success.
I coach because after two hours of talking very loudly, giving, supporting, encouraging, teaching and listening, I feel more energized and alive than before I started.
Your coach misses you, the athletes, because you make us raise our game: we have to be switched on emotionally and intellectually to be both empathic and objective, and coaching at its best, is about a very cool interplay of leadership and trust.
Coaching is a lot like training. We have to show up day after day, and there are times it’s routine, but there are also times when a session gels and for imperceptible reasons, it is just magic: some combination of group human energy and being 100% committed and the group is 100% committed to being there. In these moments, everything is in flow: people are mindful – they are smiling and laughing, or focussed with concentration on the task at hand, and we are witness to them becoming an improved version of their already perfect selves.
Coaches care and now they can’t check in and see you. We can talk to you, and skype you and write to you, but when you coach a group, you really start to care about all the people. You want to see them at the next practice, hear about their lives, listen to their week, and most of all, be there for them, supporting them in their athletic goals, in the way you said you would be.
We will all get through this!
Keep training alone, keep smiling, and keep thriving.
Training through interruptions, uncertainty, closures and other things that happen in life…oh, and how to train (happily) alone.
Runners, like many athletes and people, like routine and stability. They like to know when they are going to train, who is going to be there, what their heart rate is going to be, and what they are going to eat after their run. Training can often provide an illusion of certainty for people who live in a world that is uncertain by nature. We really never know what is around the corner, but we can control our workouts, our heart rate and our caloric intake.
Well, life happens, and every now and then the rug is pulled out from underneath our feet and we are left with 2 choices: get up and run as fast as we can to pretend it didn’t happen, which is denial, or we can allow ourselves to stay in the moment, as uncomfortable as it is, and then practice kindness to ourselves and others to come up with reasonable solutions.
We are in the thick of a pandemic, with COVID-19. The rug has been pulled out from under our feet; in fact it feels as if the whole foundation has been moved off kilter. This is frightening for some, and every day is changing. We can choose to be angry, or to deny what’s happening around us, or we can choose to be awake, and to act in the best possible way for the good of all.
The impact of this virus on the community created a cascade of effects for everybody. For active people, including runners, clinics have been cancelled, gyms, yoga studios, and pools have been closed. Not just restricted, but closed indefinitely.
All events are cancelled. Schools are closed, as are day cares, so people with young children are now dealing with working from home, and caring for children, and trying to care for themselves. For many people, training daily is part of their emotional well-being, and is a physical and emotional regulator, so at a personal level, I understand how challenging this can be.
Here are a few tips about how to train right now with some advice about time management, but also some suggestions on how you can train your brain to relax as well, and perhaps how taking a good look at your expectations will allow you to feel more grounded at this time.
When things go drastically sideways in our lives, I feel we have two options, we can turn to kindness, or we can turn to aggression. How do you want to work with this? You had a wonderful plan, you had it all worked out and now it’s all up in the air. Well, here’s the thing folks. This right now is the beautiful plan in this uncertain world. You can wish it was different (aggression) or you can work with it (kindness).
This includes, and starts with kindness or aggression to ourselves, by the way. When we choose kindness, we are essentially letting ourselves accept whatever has happened, that it is difficult, and we can handle it. We don’t make it more difficult by resisting it and wishing it would go away or making it someone else’s fault.
If you choose the first option, kindness, you have 2 choices with respect to your training:
Choice A: Move to Plan B. Be flexible, and come up with some solutions to continue training.
Choice B: Decide you are on a break (active recovery) for 2 weeks to buy yourself some time to grieve the loss of your well-oiled routine and adjust to change: you may train or you may not, but either way is OK.
If you take Choice B: Take Active Recovery
Run a little, or walk every day, for some fresh air. Switch to hiking and biking with your children if you can do little else. Join a free online yoga class, meditation practice or start one of the many online home fitness classes. Take your foot off the gas and glide for a while.
If you choose A: also known at Plan B, C or D:
Gather support by Communicating
Go social if this works for you. Create groups and accountability and online sharing. Get an online coach or an online fitness program.
Have kids? Train early
Get it in before the day starts; more than likely, everybody will still be sleeping when you return, so you haven’t missed anything and you’ve gained a Zen like start to your day.
Take advantage of free ME time when it comes your way
If you are a parent of young ones who relies on childminding or pre-schools for time to fit in your training, training will be a challenge right now, but if you suddenly find yourself with 30 minutes of free time, because someone is with the kids, that might be your window of opportunity for the day. Lace up the shoes and get out the door.
Be flexible and adventurous and have an attitude of curiosity
You might have to get up earlier, train at odd hours, or drop a training session. Chances are, if you are an active parent, you have already mastered the skills of “creative time management, training and childcare”: here’s the chance to test out what you have learned. Drop your expectations of the perfect training - just enjoy wherever you are and whatever you can do.
How to Train Alone
For many runners, especially the introverts of the world, training alone is already the norm, so running, becomes once again, the Easiest Fitness Activity on Earth. For those of you social types, already in withdrawal without your clinic or run group to motivate and keep you going, please know that this won’t be forever and there is only one way to train alone:
Just go train alone
You are doing your bit for the health of everybody by doing so. Running is messy. We sweat, we snot, we spit and we breathe A LOT. I personally would rather do all that alone right now. I wrote an article about training alone here.
You can fight it every step of the way and wish it wasn’t so, or you can simply go train alone. Who knows, maybe you will even enjoy the solitude after a few times. Set your schedule, just as if you have your gym, or your group, and stick to it. Get it done. Be proud of yourself.
I was having a discussion with my daughter (also a runner) recently, about runners and seriousness. We are a serious bunch, us runners. Serious about mileage, diet and racing plans and personal bests. If we can learn anything right now, maybe it will be to simply lighten up a bit, find some humour in ourselves for being human. Let ourselves relax and be kind to ourselves and others in these difficult circumstances.
Run For Joy
Fuel Your Soul
Note: I get a lot of my ideas for writing about running, from both my experiences as a runner and a coach, and from my life experience outside of running. I have gained a lot of insight into the way we habitually act and react to uncertainty, and create our own suffering, from the words of Buddhist teachers, Pema Chodron and Jack Kornfield. For me, their teaching just makes sense. I got the inspiration for this article after reading chapter 19 in Chodron’s popular book: “When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times”. The Chapter is aptly called “Three Methods for Working with Chaos”, and starts with the quote:
The main point of these methods is to dissolve the dualistic struggle, or our habitual tendency to struggle against what’s happening to us or in us. These methods instruct us to move towards difficulties rather than backing away. We don’t get this encouragement very often.
No athlete – regardless of performance level - will fully excel without a strong sense of desire and inner self confidence in their ability. Your belief in your ability to compete well, to excel on a given course, or to simply pull off a series of good intervals in training will drive your success. One of the reasons that people get so much out of sport is that it builds confidence and knowing of their true power. It is also plastic: you have the ability to shape it. Even if you come to sport with a deficit of confidence, it can be built.
Even the most intense physical training will not sustain an athlete with no sense of their own ability and how well they deserve to do. It’s interesting, that a good coach, a good parent, a good teacher can be the first line of this teaching: they can often see this inner strength, when the athlete themselves is feeling doubt or anxiety, and their encouragement can be a key ingredient to building confidence. But even the coach has to eventually step aside and allow the athlete to know this for themselves.
The early season, and the hard sessions of the year are always a good time to practice tapping into your inner strength, to build confidence in your abilities and really remind yourself of what it means to know that you deserve to do well.
The concept or image of an inner Warrior is often used in sport. Your inner warrior works from a sense of peace, not fight. It works from a feeling of abundance not deprivation. It is expansive, not shrinking. The inner warrior is strong in and of itself and only ‘wants’ success, feels it deserves to succeed and is not driven by a ‘need’ to succeed and prove oneself. The inner warrior is independent of external approval. Understanding the difference between knowing you can succeed and needing to prove yourself to others is a huge step in building the sort of confidence in your ability that makes sport a joyful thing.
Your warrior wants to connect and belong, is full of courage and calm, as opposed to a sense of anxiety and impending doom that the ego wants to bring into the mix.
To increase your ability to tap into the strong sense of self confidence that will build into the sort of intense desire you will need during your season’s biggest challenges, you can think about several things in your training sessions and early season races:
Take stock honestly and don’t talk yourself out of success
Don’t let any nagging voices let you down. Too often our thoughts will lead to ‘untruths’: I can’t do it today, this pace is too fast, I can’t do it because –“enter your own self defeating excuse for a failure to perform here”. The brain is a marvelous tool; use it to reinforce what you know is true, not what may be false. Learn to tune into your thoughts early in the season and recognize when the thoughts are simply not helpful. What would your best coach say? When it comes from the power within you, and you really start to believe it, you are on your way.
Don’t peg yourself behind anybody or anything if you don’t really know
This is a continuation of knowing the truth and being honest. Often the difference between performances of similar abilities is that one athlete believed they should be in front, and one felt that it wasn’t possible. There will be times when you see yourself in front and you still lose in a sprint finish, but you will never know if you don’t believe you can. Tell yourself with conviction what you are capable of, and what you know you can achieve. Keep it simple, truthful and realistic.
Don’t lower your expectations in order to feel less nervous
It takes grit to tough it out in the arena. It takes courage to go after something new, and just beyond your reach, but it also makes us feel alive! To feel nervous, is to be excited, to be excited is to care about outcome.
The repetition of small acts of personal bravery and courage build resilience and self-esteem. Every time you show up to a training session even though you are a little scared, this is what builds confidence.
Run For Joy
Fuel Your Soul
Common sense and a sense of humour.