“Patience, Young Grasshopper”

“Patience, young grasshopper!” is a phrase that I have become rather accustomed to hearing over my 22 years of life.

I’m not a very patient person. At all.

I am the person that honks at the car in front of me if they don’t immediately press the accelerator after the light turns green. I am the person that tells someone the gift that I got them for Christmas on December 20th because I just can’t wait any longer to give it to them. I am the person that drives in the left lane to pass all of the slow cars. I am the person that DREADS boarding airplanes because the process takes SO LONG and is SO INEFFICIENT.

I am the person that everyone constantly reminds, “Patience, young grasshopper.”

The problem with my high-expectations-purely-results-based-impatient living style is that racing does not jive well with that mentality.

Quite frankly, most things in life that are difficult to achieve do not jive well with that mentality.

In racing, and most other difficult to attain situations in life, there are walls. And in order accomplish any goal you set out to accomplish, you have to break those walls down. And to break them down, it takes time. You have to hit the walls over and over and over and over and over and over and over again before they even start to budge.

To break the walls, it takes patience.

Right now, I’m learning patience. I’m hitting the same wall. Over and over and over and over and over again. On one hand, I’ve won all three of my past 800’s leading wire to wire without any rabbit. For anyone that runs track, you know that’s a really freaking hard way to race. And for anyone that doesn’t run, racing that way is basically like playing tag but having the person who is “it” chase you the entire time.

On the other hand, the times I’ve thrown down are nowhere close to the level that I’ve been training at. It’s incredibly frustrating to look at the clock and know its not reflective of my current fitness level. It feels like the wall is just refusing to fall.

But the Wall’s failure to fall does not equate to my failure to succeed.

It simply means that I must continue to be patient. I must continue trusting, having faith, and swinging for the wall. My favorite author, Bob Goff, says it best.

“Failure is just a part of the process, and it’s not just okay; its better than okay. God doesn’t want failure to shut us down. God didn’t make it a three-strikes-and-you’re-out sort of thing. It’s more about how God helps us dust ourselves off so we can swing for the fences again. And all of this without keeping a meticulous record of our screw-ups.” -Bob Goff

This weekend after my race, my coach reminded me that my faith and my patience are equally as important as my training and my racing. He candidly told me, “You don’t need a coach to write your training. You’re old enough and experienced enough now to do that for yourself. You need a coach to remind you to have faith. You need a coach to encourage you to be patient. Take a deep breath. Exhale. And trust the process.”

Sometimes, I get so sucked up into the here and the now, that I forget that running and life is a process. Trusting the process requires an incredible amount of patience, and an even larger amount of faith.

I put my faith in the gospel of Jesus.

I define myself not by the time on the clock, but rather who I am through Christ. This allows me to swing for the fences and make dents in the wall over and over and over again because at the end of the day, I am loved regardless.

This allows me to be patient and trust the process because I know The One who holds the future. I know The One who loves endlessly. I know The One who knows no failure. I know The One who whispers, “patience, young grasshopper,” when I am at my breaking point.

For now, I will keep lacing up my spikes and toe the line again. It’s time for this young grasshopper to make some more dents in that wall… because I know that it’s bound to fall with patience.

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“Patience, young grasshopper.”

 

Imperfections Refine. They Do Not Define.

I used to define success as the ability to have a perfect workout or race– in my mind that that meant hitting under pace or running a PR. I used to think that being dropped by training partners meant for an unsuccessful day, even if I was working at my max. I used to think that being physically and mentally exhausted by weeks and months of hard training meant that I was weak, especially if others were not feeling the same. I used to think that if I could conquer every workout, then I was destined for a good race. I used to think that every performance was indicative of my value and ability as an athlete and a person. And I used to think that what was on paper from workouts and races should dictate the level of confidence that I had in my athletic abilities.

I used to think that these weaknesses and imperfections Defined Me.

Recently, I have had a lot of conversations with other athletes that have centered around the definition of success relating to athletics. As a volunteer high school coach, former NCAA athlete, and current post-collegiate athlete, I interact with a lot of competitive people in my day to day. And throughout these interactions, I have found that most people define success as a top level athlete in the same way that I used to define it: Strong. Fast. Winning. Accomplished. Hard Working. Defined. Speed. Power. Endurance. These definitions are (mostly) all metrics to which a number and value can be associated. Squat max, quarter speed, winning record, ability to finish workouts, number of points, VO2 max… the list of “measurables” that one can tag on an athlete goes on and on.

Today, I got curious. I googled, “Definition of an elite athlete.” I generated a word cloud by visiting the pages of the top 5 results returned on my google search. This is the word cloud that was produced:

Inkedphysical elite_LI (2)

Now, OBVIOUSLY an elite athlete is fast (DUH) and strong (DUH) and powerful (DUH) and fit (DUH). But in my experience, the issue with using these physical dimensions as the only means to define elite athletes is that it puts a cap on the way that I train, race, and compete. It causes me to be hyper aware of my own insecurities, imperfections, and non-successes. As a result of this, I am inclined to train at a lower level so as to mask my athletic weaknesses rather than face them head on and improve. I am inclined to race more conservatively so that I don’t make mistakes rather than confidently so that I put myself in contention to win races. I am inclined to compete fearful that I am going to fail rather than fearless of the end result. I strip myself of the freedom to race without mental barriers and the ability to forgive myself and move on when I don’t perform.

Intrigued with the results from the first search, I generated another word cloud, this time searching, “Qualities of an elite athlete.” I changed out the word definition for the word qualities. This was the result:

Inkedathlete define_LI (2)

Simply swapping one word in my search created an entirely different Word Cloud. My favorite word returns were positive, adventure, focus, mindset, time, mental, and able. All of these words had to do with immeasurable characteristics. They had to do with effort, trust, patience, joy, passion, attitude, and mentality. These are words that represent qualities. Not definitions. 

Too often, I have been tempted to focus on the words associated with the definition of an elite athlete. These words are flashy. I love being able to rattle off my PR’s, or my latest workout where I completely kicked asphalt. It’s a lot less attractive to focus on a risk I took in a race or in practice that completely backfired. Its a lot less exciting to return to a workout that completely kicked my butt the first time around. But focusing on maintaining the qualities of an elite athlete rather than the definition of an elite athlete has allowed me to be refined and become a better runner.

Weaknesses are a necessary prerequisite to climb to the next level. Putting myself in new and challenging situations is an opportunity to be refined by my weaknesses, not defined.  Developing this mentality has shown me that just because something is challenging does not mean that I am weak or that I am a failure. It has shown me that achieving perfection over time of something difficult is much more rewarding than achieving perfection instantaneously of something mediocre.

This mentality  has shown me that the way I frame my mindset really does make a difference in the way that I carry out my day to day work, and that positivity really does go a long way in sustaining this mentality. It has shown me that setting a standard sometimes puts a cap on my ability to push myself to my maximum because I am far too easily satisfied once that standard has been met. It has shown me that I can press on beyond my preset limits for myself, and set far reaching goals beyond where I would have dared set a few years ago.

Ultimately, I believe that living my life both on and off the track with the perspective of being refined rather than defined by my weaknesses and trials aligns with what Jesus says about all of us. Jesus died on the cross, so I am viewed as perfect and blameless regardless of my accomplishments (or lack thereof) here on this earth. I am cared for and valued no matter what my progressive cut-down splits were today. Jesus isn’t concerned with my numbers– He is concerned with my heart. This gives me the courage that is necessary to take chances in this sport. And because of this, I am free to be imperfect because I am loved by a perfect God.

God desires to refine me through my weaknesses. He does not define me through them. 

I now define success as my ability to walk away from a workout or race a better athlete physically and mentally than I was at the start– often this means taking time for reflection and simply turning one page to the next. I now know that being dropped by training partners (or beeped at by my GPS) means it just wasn’t my day, after all– I am a human not a robot. I now know that being physically and mentally exhausted by weeks and months of hard training means that I am getting stronger, especially when I buy in to my own training and stop comparing my training to that of others. I now know that I am not going to be able to conquer every workout first try, and that being challenged paves the way for better racing. I now know that situational performance is only a small part of who I am as an athlete and a person, and I am loved by The Lord all the same. And I know that my performances in workouts and races do not have to dictate the level of confidence that I have in my athletic abilities.

I now know that my weaknesses and imperfections Refine Me. 

Stop Playing It Small & Start Kicking Doors Down

There’s this door that I have to walk through every day. It sits in between our locker rooms and our athletic training room. This door is no ordinary door. It is this giant grey steel door. It connects two buildings underground: French Field House (where our locker rooms are located) and St. John’s (where our athletic training room is located). I have no idea how much it actually weighs, but it feels like it weighs 500 pounds. The reason it feels this way is because French Field House has these ridiculous air circulation patterns that make every door in the building resistant when you try and open them. This door, in particular, far surpasses any other door I’ve ever encountered in terms of difficulty of opening. Everyone that uses French Field House knows which door I’m talking about– it’s a monster! I mean sometimes I have to actually body slam the door three of four times before it even budges.

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This is the door that I am talking about.

I remember my freshman year, when I couldn’t get the door open on the first try, I would just assume it was locked. I wouldn’t even try to mess with the door. I would walk back to the locker room, get my stuff, and go home without going to the training room (freshman me didn’t understand how important the training room actually was to the health and rehabilitation of my body). My sophomore year, I would try a few times. Sometimes after messing with the door a bit I could get it to work. But some days, honestly, I was just too tired to fight another battle in my day, and the door would win. My Junior year, I started getting sick of loosing to the door. Surely the door wasn’t actually locked all of those times I couldn’t get it open. I started banging on the door whenever I couldn’t get it open, hoping that somebody was on the other side and could help me. Many times, this worked out really well. But even then, sometimes I was the only one in that part of the building, and I would take another “L” to the door. I am now a senior, and I am sick and freaking tired of taking “L’s” to that door. I throw my weight against that door seven or eight times sometimes, but I refuse to ever tell myself that the door is locked. Because I’ve been here for four years now, and that door has never actually been locked. Sometimes, I am just too weak to get it open. I simply need to try harder.

Every track season, I choose a book to read while we are traveling. We have lots of free time on busses, in airports, on planes, and sitting at the continental breakfast in hotels. This past indoor season, I chose Love Does by Bob Goff. My sister got me the book for Christmas and she was so giddy when she gave it to me. “Rach, you are going to LOVE it!!!” She was actually jumping up and down when I opened it. And she was right. The book was amazing. And in one of my favorite chapters of the book, Bob tells a story about his life that reminds me a little bit of this giant door that I have to open every day. Bob is talking about the way that he got into law school (which was pretty incredible), and he says, “I used to think that God guided us by opening and closing doors, but now I know that God wants us to kick some doors down,” (2012, Goff, p. 38). Kick some doors down.

One day, I was on my usual trip from the locker room to the athletic training room, and I noticed that the door was wide open. Upon further observation, I had noticed that someone had taken (I don’t even want to know how much) athletic tape and taped the steel arm at the top of this industrial door so that it remained straight and wouldn’t bend. By taping that bar straight and preventing it from bending, the door was not able to shut. They then had shoved a bunch of tape in the hinge of the door so that the door wouldn’t rotate and close even if the arm somehow had become loose. And they did all of this just with athletic tape. Pretty impressive that simple athletic tape was doing something that I had difficulty with for four straight years.

Somebody saw that door in a way that I haven’t been able to see it before. Rather than complaining that it was “locked” all the time, rather than wasting energy and running themselves into the door day in and day out, they simply got rid of the door. They had kicked the door down in their own way.

Unfortunately, the door is actually shut again. I’m pretty sure that the university 1. Didn’t approve of the way that athletic training materials were being used not for athletic training and 2. Didn’t love the janky look of a nice industrial door all taped up. However, I am forever thankful to whoever saw the door in a different way and actually taped it open for a week. For starters, it saved me a ton of energy every day. But it also got me thinking about the way I approach other doors in my life.

Sometimes, I think that I am so afraid of what might happen if I kick a door down, so afraid of what someone might say or think if I take athletic tape and tape open a steel door, that I just turn around and walk on home, telling myself the lie that the door was probably locked anyways. Or sometimes, I think I tell myself that if I go to kick the door down, I might not be strong enough or smart enough to get to get the job done. And sometimes I think I’m just waiting on someone else altogether to come kick the door down for me.

And honestly, some of those things might be true at times. I can barely bench 100 pounds. I got a D+ in Organic Chemistry my sophomore year of college (It’s two years later and my type A personality still can’t let that one go). And sometimes, I get so stressed out and feel like a million things are slipping through the cracks that I go sit at the top of St. John’s Arena (and cry and call my mom) because I feel like I’m not doing a good enough job at life.

But here’s the thing: I believe that I am loved by Jesus. And I believe that being a Child of God gives me the power and ability to kick down doors despite my imperfections. I have a quote that has hung by my mirror every day since fourth grade. I first heard this quote in Akeelah and the Bee (my favorite movie when I was younger), and have read it every day ever since.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

-Marrianne Williamson

My favorite line in this is, “Your playing small does not serve the world.” I think when Marriane talks about playing it small, she is talking about the doors that we walk away from because we are too afraid to kick them down. But walking away from a door and just accepting the fact that “it feels like its locked” doesn’t really do the world any good. Playing it small is really easy. It’s safe. It’s secure. And it doesn’t expose failure. But playing it safe is also settling for mediocrity.

I have this friend, Jess, and she constantly is reminding me NOT to play it small. She tells me to dream big all the time, and believe in my abilities as well as the abilities of other people. She has this coffee mug that is one of the best coffee mugs that I’ve ever seen. It is an amazing blue, and all it says on the side is, “make it happen.” Jess is a make it happen kind of person. A couple years ago, we were having a conversation in a running store, and she was talking about her decision to compete at Michigan State while she completed her masters. She said something to me that I will never forget.

“To go for something, to really go for something, is a risk– for sure. But it would be so much worse to settle for mediocrity.”

-Jessica Hoover

I remember because I wrote it down right after she left the store. But she is so right. Going for something, refusing to play it small is risky. But why settle for mediocrity? Why not play it big? And why not kick down some doors along the way?

Right now, there are a bunch of doors that my teammates and I are trying to kick down. We are all trying to be All-Americans. Be Big Ten Champions. Be Students. Be young professionals. Be good sisters. Be good daughters. Be good friends. Eventually we want to be good wives. Be good parents. Be good grandparents.

And in our attempt to be all of those things, there are so many doors that we have been faced with and will continue to be faced with. It’s scary. It’s challenging. It’s an adventure.  But I’ve found the more I do things that are scary or challenging or test my limits in life, the more I see how Jesus is faithful, and the more this adventure actually becomes adventurous and isn’t stale. Because at the end of the day, when I am standing at the door completely afraid to start kicking it down, God reminds me that He has given me the power and the strength that I need. He just wants me to trust Him, stop playing it small, and start kicking it down.

 

Jess’s amazing coffee mug.