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Thursday, February 24, 2011

How to Overcome Adversity: My Triumphant Return To Running

This past weekend I had the pleasure of addressing some of my teammates (London Runner Distance Club) at the Morrissey House for our Monthly team lunch.  Brent Smith and I, yes THE Brent Smith, had the opportunity to discuss 'Overcoming Adversity' as distance athletes.

If you're interested in reading what I spoke of, be sure to follow the link below. I've included my entire talk which includes a bit of my background, when I 'fell off the horse' and I cover some key points to make sure you are prepared for adversity when it rears it's ugly head.  I wasn't prepared, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be. Enjoy!

My crushing defeat and my (hopefully) triumphant return to running
How to Overcome Adversity

I was both flattered and shocked when Leslie approached me to do a talk at this lunch. When she told me the topic was ‘Overcoming Adversity’ I immediately thought, she must have me confused. I never once thought I had to overcome adversity in any of my life’s pursuits, but then I realized that overcoming adversity isn’t something we’re aware we’ve done until we’re forced to reflect on what we’ve accomplished and how we’ve done it. So then I started reflecting on my running career and it became clear that I could share some stories and wisdom I gained along the way.

In the mid 90s I switched from playing recreational soccer in the summer to competing in XC and track at the high school level as of 1996. It wasn’t until 1998 that I got serious about running and after joining the local track club in Sudbury (Track North), I started to see results.

In 2001, after winning the 1500m handily at my Regionals I opted not to race at OFSAA (a decision I still regret to this day) and began my post-secondary career at the University of Western Ontario. I did however place 25th at OFSAA XC in 2000, definitely the best xc race of my young career.

I entered the 2001 cross country season at UWO as a healthy walk on, with no idea I was expected to run upwards of 80km/week.  In all my history as a runner I don’t think I had ever managed consecutive weeks of 40km/week....I had literally made my way through high school on talent and quality miles instead of volume.

Well, it all started to go downhill from there. I got injured a few weeks in and fought hard just to stay afloat, eventually finishing the season as Western’s fifth scorer at the OUA championship. Then I let it all fall apart, I guess you could call this my defining moment as an athelete. The moment when I let adversity take over at the helm.

As I mentioned earlier, I had no idea adversity was staring me in the face. But it was. And good grief was it ever intimidating. So intimidating that after spraining my ankle quite severely after XC season, I shelved running for 7 years.  You’re probably thinking, geez, c’ had no reason to do that, and that may be true, but in the end it wasn’t whether or not I was entitled to act in that way or not...the fact remained, I did it.  So, in my infinite wisdom (must I remind you that I am close to twice the average age of LRDC’s active athletes?) I’d like to provide you with sound advice so that when you are threatened by adversity, you will know what to do.

Get Engaged

When I switched from soccer to running I instantly thought I could manage by being a ‘lone warrior’. No longer did I have to depend on my teammates and no longer would they be able to affect my performances. This mentality continued through my years at Western and it isn’t until many years later that I realized I could gain so much more from embracing a team atmosphere. When I joined LRDC last summer I resolved myself to make sure I didn’t just passively sit by, and if any of things rings true to you, I urge you to reflect. The team atmosphere in running is what brought me back out of ‘retirement’ and has been the most rewarding aspect of training and competing.

Have Fun

This is the staple bit of advice given to just about everyone in just about any scenario, but it’s an important one and should be re-iterated for posterity sake.  Have fun while you run, have fun while you travel to and from meets, have fun while you’re injured, have fun setting goals, have fun with your teammates.

If you’re able to bring fun into the mix while toiling away day in and day out you’ll be rewarded time and time again, and best of all, you’ll be able to overcome obstacles with a new perspective

Set Goals

We don’t always know where we’re going, but often times when adversity wins the battle it’s because we’ve simply lost sight of our goals, if we even had some in the first place. Setting goals keeps us both accountable and motivated, and sometimes that is more than enough for most people to get us through our darkest times.  A word of caution however: Make sure your goals and manageable, realistic and can be revised as needed. If your goals are so unrealistic that you are destined to fail, you’ll cause yourself more grief than good.

Surround Yourself

Much like getting engaged with the running community, surrounding yourself with a strong support network of friends, coaches, family members will do wonders for your goal setting, and when things get tough, you can rely on them to help you through. When I let the sport in ‘03 I had nearly no support group to help me make a better decision...who knows where I would be today if I had surrounded myself with friends, runners and family that could have helped steer me in the right direction.

In the end, if you want to be amazing, surround yourself with amazing people. It doesn’t get any easier than that.

Be Healthy

Health isn’t simply logging 100km weeks staying injury free.  Proper Nutrition, Adequate Rest, Mental Health, Cross-Training, Core Strength and so much more create a complex web of ‘health’ that we shouldn’t ignore.  In the end, we want to be injury free and what I’ve learned as I age is that you can’t just keep running and expect to be as good as can be.  When I was young it seemed I could get away with it, but after years of very sedentary life before my return, I’ve learned that I need to fuel my body properly (food, sleep) while strengthening it (flexibility, strength work) in order to continue running. Be aware that running is a multi faceted sport, that behind all the miles we love to log are countless other hours spent doing mundane crap in order to enable the magic we lay down in road races, track meets and cross-country courses.

Reflect & Learn

We make mistakes, they are inevitable. But what good are those experiences if we never learn from them?  Reflect on what went wrong, a journal is great for this. Once you’ve mapped out what went wrong, pick a single item and actively work on rectifying it.  We often times attempt to fix too many aspects at once, but I feel that if you want to succeed with your ‘reflect & learn’ phase you need to be very selective and concrete. Otherwise, if you’re like me, you’ll drown in a sea of possibilities and get absolutely nothing done.

So now that I’ve lived through many ups and downs as an athlete, and matured to the ripe old age of 28 I can see that it isn’t easy to balance it all, but when it comes to overcoming adversity, the formula is pretty simple:

Get engaged, have fun, set goals, surround yourself with amazing people, be truly healthy and above all, learn and reflect.

However, though effective, this formula has to be put into place starting today. Simply waiting until you’re faced with adversity won’t cut it. Be proactive about this, and if you cherish your talent and hard earned abilities you’ll take it upon yourself to start embracing this formula for success. I wish I had valued my abilities as I cast the sport aside, but I can now find comfort in the fact that I employ the formula above, and thanks to it (and my commitment to it) I am confident I’ll continue to have a rewarding and enjoyable running career.

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