Since graduation of high school, and more recently from the University of Regina, a common curiosity lies in the question, “What are you doing now?”
As a U. Regina Alumni, the go-to answer has been, “I’m running track full-time, but now as an 800m runner.” Although this is accurate, I find most people are too polite to ask what this really means. This reaction is evident in silence, loss of words, or inquiries on my marathon time*, which usually continue to end the conversation. To everyone I gave this answer to, below is the explanation I meant for our conversation to evolve into.
The truth is, I didn’t know what life as a middle distance runner entailed. After a year and half with my new training group Vic City Elite, I finally feel able to share some insight. Looking back, there are three distinctive phases I went through to reach the following conclusions; first: autonomous decision making, second: struggle, and finally: acceptance.
Phase one: Autonomous Decision Making
In my final year as a Cougar athlete for the University of Regina, I made the decision to run track for myself. Coming out of high school, I had received the University recruiting package; however, I was by no means training for it nor aware of what being on this team entailed. Within my first four years I had experienced both success and failure on the track, but knew I was ultimately attending University for academic purposes, as an attempt to figure out what I was going to be or do as an adult. Track was only a bonus, a social scene, an athletic niche I was invited to. By the time I arrived at my final year, I had the realization that graduation was only four classes away. Realistically I could be done my degree in one semester, which meant competing another year in track required an additional two classes. Did I really want to pay for more classes just to do track?
Initially, the answer was no. I spent September merely as a student, without track.
After a month into my final fall semester as a student without the hyphenated athlete attachment, I was amazed at how easy it was to get ahead of school readings and assignments with the additional time on my hands. I went for coffee with my former coach Alger Seon with the intention to thank him for the previous four years of coaching me. I ended up leaving from coffee with my mind changed, hooked on the idea of reaching my potential. For the first time, I was not asked, or expected to compete in track; for the first time I made a decision that I wanted to do track whole heartedly, to appease myself– to be better. This led to my greatest season: two University records, hitting national standard in 3 events, a CanWest gold, silver, bronze, (3 PB’s), Track MVP, and U Regina’s prestigious Female Athlete of the Year.
After a full season of being authentically committed to being better, I was hooked. When I had the opportunity to continue with the Athletics Canada West Hub in Victoria, I had a few meetings, came down for a visit, and took the leap of faith in the potential Heather Hennigar saw in me. For the second time, I was able to choose track, and 100% for myself, not because of an external influence. This autonomous decision making process has proved to be invaluable to me, and in my opinion necessary to continued growth.
Phase Two: The Struggle
After recognizing the opportunity I had, the next step was making the move to Victoria. To say I struggled is an understatement. New city, new coach, new job, new event, new facility, new team, new home, new car, new workouts, new friends, new life. Have I mentioned everything was new to me?
While working two part-time jobs + a completely new training program + a city I was lost 90% of the time = I cried at home… A lot. Then came learning how to decide between affording rent or groceries. December rolled around and I ended up with plantar fasciitus and faced my first injury that kept me from running. Hello introduction to water-running. My plans of opportunity, success, growth, transition, and improvement seemed to have fallen through. The reason I left home was to run in a professional environment and somewhere when I was trying to figure it out, it seemed the only thing I wasn’t doing was running.
In hindsight, I didn’t struggle because everything was new, financially I was a student, nor because I was injured. These are all just problems, that most people encounter at some point; therefore, to have a pity-party for myself would be nothing less than selfish. The nice thought about problems, is that most are fixable, if willing to put in the time to invent a fitting and realistic solution. One of the first steps to gaining this perspective on my situation was to recognize what I did have and be authentically grateful. So when I chose rent > groceries, I was happy I had somewhere to sleep, shower, go home to. When I memorized my address and didn’t get lost trying to find home after every run= success! When I paid a training camp expense solely with credit I remembered how lucky I was to be selected to attend the camp. When I did “cold tubs” in the ocean with Olympic Mountain ranges in the background, I knew there was nothing I could complain about.
Instead, the real reason I struggled was through my own uncertainty, hesitation, loneliness, and fear of myself, both on and off the track. Typing this up right now, it seems so simple to put these words down on a page. But each word has a lesson, an aha! moment, if you will. Uncomfortable, failing, broken, helpless, embarrassed, shameful, were all feelings I associated with my time in “the struggle.” My feeling of inadequacy were genuine, and recognizing this was key. I came to understand these four words and realizing my negative connotation of “the struggle” was a choice, and that was changeable. By consciously choosing to embrace and enjoy the struggle has become very empowering. Free samples at the grocery store? Hitting a split to an hundredth of a second? Jogging to an ocean view sunset? Team potluck/ BBQ in the park? Yes, please. In recognizing that most athletes are also in the struggle erases some of the loneliness, and has taught me to appreciate I can’t have success without the struggle first.
Phase Three: Acceptance
As much as I would like to say I have accepted the struggle and moved on, realistically, I know I am still there. The difference is now I am not entirely afraid of it anymore. There are still days where I catch myself with doubt or nerves, but I know for myself, that I am on the right path. Living in a place as beautiful as Victoria, and having the luxury to train outdoors year round makes appreciating the scenery undeniable. An underlying comfort I have is knowing when (and hopefully only if) I hit rock bottom, my family will still be accepting and provide me somewhere to go- despite my pride being at an all time low. If I was a bird getting kicked out of the nest, it’s nice to know I’ll have a pond to land in instead of whatever is at the bottom of the cliff of a mountain. Sometimes there is comfort in knowing the worst case scenario really isn’t that bad.
The biggest idea I was able to fully believe in was: I can do this. After a tactical race at 2016 Nationals for the Olympic Trials I didn’t make it out of the semi-finals, however; after crossing the finish line amongst some the best in Canada, I had a conscious moment of seeing my ranking and realizing, it is possible. I knew that day I didn’t make the Olympic team, nor the national final, but a fire was lit, and I knew what I needed to do. The sense of purpose had finally revealed itself to me, and I was secretly beaming from the inside with my internal discovery.
In conclusion, although I may live in Struggle-ville part-time, I am pleased to say I lead a life where I travel a lot, including trips to: the Land of West Coast Work-outs, the town of Train-a-Lot, Lactic-City, Island of mileage, and the most recent development of Character. Looking forward to future stops at Personal Best Complex, National Team Headquarters, and Being-a-Boss Building in the district of Getting-It-Together. Hopefully see you there soon!
*Disclaimer- I have not yet ran a marathon, therefore I do not have a marathon time or race to discuss