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. 

What Would You Attempt to do If You Knew You Could Not Fail?

My Junior year of high school, inspired by Pinterest, I took an orange piece of chalk and scripted a short message in large letters onto the right wall of my closet.

“What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?”

– Robert H. Schuller

Seriously– what would you attempt?

Climb Mount Everest? Learn how to fly airplanes? How about space shuttles? Finally start training for that marathon, triathlon, iron-man? Tackle that home improvement project that’s needed completed for years?

Throughout my junior and senior year, I stared at that orange quote every single time I opened my closet door (which was actually a lot since most of the time my closet was so messy the door wouldn’t shut, so I just left it open). Convicted by the quote I found on Pinterest that was now etched into my closet wall, I decided that if I knew I couldn’t fail, I would attempt to run Track and Cross Country at The Ohio State University. I wanted to be a Buckeye. The only problem was that, at the time, I was a 2:15 800 meter athlete and 19:06 (at my best) Cross Country athlete… not exactly close to the 2:05 800 women and 16:50 5k women that were currently on OSU’s team. I had a pretty lofty goal for someone in my position. I emailed the coach anyways and basically begged him to take a chance on me… and by the grace of God– he did. I worked my tail off my senior year of high school and eventually ran 18:21 in the 5k and 2:11 in the 800. One official visit later and I had my spot on the team.

That experience my senior year of high school with taking chances, setting my sights high, and dreaming of really big extravagant goals was my first experience with chasing dreams at a different level than most are willing to chase. And through that process, I learned that being willing to set really big goals and take some pretty huge risks was a pre-requisite to actually chasing dreams.

Since my senior year of high school, my list of dreams– things that I would attempt to do if I knew I would not fail, has grown tremendously. Some are silly, some are more serious, but they all are dreams– dreams that I am willing to take the time and take the risks to make happen. If I knew I would not fail, I would build my own house from the ground up. Obviously I would want to complete the perfect cartwheel. I would start my own company. Much to my Mom’s delight, I would completely organize all of my personal spaces (car, room, closet, etc.) in a way that actually works for me. I would “Jill Kanney” it (Jill was one of my awesome college teammates– and yes, Jill, your name has been used in the context of a verb) and actually learn how to play the guitar and not just pluck the strings. I would put myself in a position where I would get to race against the best middle distance athletes– not just from the United States– but from all over the world. And in doing so, I would put myself in contention to make the 2020 Olympic Team and represent the USA in Tokyo. Through all of this, my desire would be to live every day as if it were an important part in a very very large adventure.

I’ve been working on those last three on my list this entire summer. Running. Racing. Adventuring. After finishing up my college career at the NCAA championships out in Eugene, I decided to stay in Oregon and race a couple races in Portland. My Portland Adventures, as I have been referring to them, were my first experience of traveling, racing, and competing as a post collegiate. It was different. Scary. Weird. I didn’t have a coach. Or teammates. I didn’t even have a place to sleep the first night that I decided to stay out there. I cried to my Uber driver, Teri (I still remember that kind woman’s name) because I felt completely, utterly, and totally alone– 2,438.9 miles away from the place I called home.

PTF

Racing Some 800 meter races in Portland back in June. PC: @tafphoto & @highperformancewest

I felt as if I had made a huge mistake. I heard the voices in my head whispering, “you’re not good enough. You won’t make it at this level. Everybody else knows what they are doing. If you can’t even pull yourself together in Portland, what happens when you travel outside of the United States?” 

But then I remembered something that I wrote on my goal sheet at team camp about a year ago. Its something that the entire year, I had been working on in the context of racing. But at that particular moment while crying in my Uber in Portland, it really needed to be applied in the context of life.  I wrote on a section of my 2016-2017 goal sheet,

"I have to mentally stay within myself and tell that voice in my head to shut up."
Capture

This was what was written on the bottom of my 2016-2017 goal sheet. Yes, I am a hoarder and still have copies of my goal sheets dating back to 2013.

Jesus gives us the ability to silence those voices and replace them with His truth. His truth that we are loved, cared for, valued, and important. His truth that the adventures that He takes us on are opportunities for us to chase and pursue our dreams if we only allow Him to take us to places out of our comfort zone. This risky place of being out of our comfort zone is the same place where our actions start to intersect what we would attempt to do if we knew we could not fail. I lived in that place that week I spent in Portland. In fact, I lived in that place for most of the summer. Taking risks. Taking chances. Chasing a dream.

For years I had always watched the US Championships from my couch in Columbus. I would secretly pull for Brenda Martinez, an athlete I have looked up to since I started my running career. This year during the US Championships, I was no longer on my couch– I was stepping up to the line with Brenda.

USATF

Racing at the USATF Championships in Sacramento, CA.

This year during my free time, I was no longer looking up results on Flotrack to see what the results of summer races were– I was actually racing them. This year during the summer, I was no longer comforted with the safety and security of being in Columbus, Ohio all of the time– I had the opportunity to travel around the country. So that’s how I spent my summer. Chasing dreams and living an adventure as if I didn’t know what the word failure (Or the word, “No,” S/O to all the awesome elite race and meet directors out there for giving me a spot on the line:) ) meant. And that is what I plan to continue to do. My favorite author, Bob Goff, writes it best.

“What’s your next step? I don’t know for sure, because for everyone it’s different, but I bet it involves choosing something that already lights you up. Something you already think is beautiful or lasting and meaningful. Pick something you aren’t just able to do; instead, pick something you feel like you were made to do and then do lots of that. You weren’t just an incredible idea that God never got around to making. The next step happened for the world when God dropped you on the planet. You’re here and I’m here. God decided to have us intersect history, not just at any time, but at this time. He made us to be good at a few things and bad at a couple others. He made us to love some things and not like others. Most of all, He made us to dream. We were meant to dream a lot. We’re not just a cosmic biology experiment that ended up working. We’re part of God’s much bigger plan for the whole world. Just like God’s Son arrived here, so did you. And after Jesus arrived, God whispered to all of humanity…”It’s your move.”” – Bob Goff, Love Does

My move this summer has been to dream it, chase it, and believe it. Just as Bob talks about. And I believe that in doing so, God has shown me that every day truly is an important part in a very very large adventure. He has reminded me that He is the author

LibertyMile

Racing my first road mile at the GNC Live Well Liberty Mile mile in Pittsburgh, PA

of my adventure. He has reminded me that He has already planned out the future. God knows who is going to Tokyo (and Paris and L.A. … and every Olympics here on out until forever). God knows the races set out ahead. And He has reminded me that I am loved and cared for regardless of whether or not I become a sub 2:00 800-er next season or I hang up my spikes tomorrow (although that hanging up the spikes part isn’t gonna happen for a while… but still– he will love me then as well). Regardless of outcomes, I am loved.

The really cool part about resting in that truth is that it gives us the freedom to really and truly live our adventures. To take risks. To throw caution to the wind, step up to the line, and say, “I’m all in. I’m gonna do this.” Because with Jesus, we are never viewed as a failure. We are viewed as strong and important people that bring value to whatever place we are in.

Through God’s eyes, we will never fail.  This gives us the ability to attempt to do things and dream things that require a lot of effort and a lot of laying our pride and insecurities down and taking chances. It’s telling that voice in our heads to “SHUT UP!” because we ARE worth it. We DO matter. And we were created CAPABLE. So here’s to dreaming big taking chances, and enjoying the entire adventure. Because I want to live my life attempting to do the things that I would do if I knew I could not fail, and I intend on chasing the dreams that God has put on my heart…

… My hope is that you will choose the same:)

End Note: I am dedicating this post to my college teammate Jill Kanney who has taught me how to dream it boldly, chase it fiercely, and believe that The Lord will take care of the rest. #dreamChaseBelieve

I Wish You Could See. I Wish You Could Feel. I Wish You Could Know.

 

I wish you could see my training log from freshman year- all the workouts that went unfinished because I wasn’t strong enough. I wish you could feel the burdens of the family stuff, and divorce stuff, and alcoholic parent stuff (see earlier posts) that I’ve dealt with all of college just like so many other students have. I wish you could know the pain of dealing with inconsistencies in racing. I wish you could feel the heartbreaks of all of the “almost but not quite” moments that come along with this sport. I wish you could see me hiding in a bush sobbing into the dirt after a race, feeling like I had failed miserably. I wish you could know what it’s like to be standing on the top of the hill at Wisconsin and have your coach tell your team through her tears that you were the first team NOT to make XC nationals. I wish you could see all the tears on my face after the coach I’ve had all of college told me she was leaving before I was going to graduate- that she was staying for cross country but would be gone for track. And then I wish you could have seen the 20 bravest women that I know crying right along with me upon that announcement. I wish you could see all of the hours and hours of conversations I’ve had with so many people when I’m in the need of encouragement- because let’s be honest- stay in the sport long enough and we all get to that point of being completely and totally broken.

But I also wish you could see the women around me, who believed in me even when I couldn’t finish workouts. I wish you could feel the love I felt when my teammates would make me coffee and cook me breakfast during one of the hardest years of my life. I wish you could know the joy of finally having a breakthrough after many many many moments of not having one. I wish you could see that I wasn’t crying in that bush alone, there was a teammate there patting my back and reminding me that failing doesn’t make you a failure. I wish you could feel the part that is opposite of the heartbreaks that come with this sport, when it’s no longer “almost but not quite-” when it finally happens. I wish you could know the overwhelmingly positive and highly motivating reaction the 7 women on that hill at Wisconsin had when we learned we wouldn’t be going to XC Nationals. I wish you could have seen the support given to us through teamates, coaches, and support staff after coach left. And then I wish you could have seen the 20 bravest women I know pressing on and fighting and refusing to make excuses. I wish you could have seen the hours and hours of conversations I’ve had with people when they’re in need of encouragement – because let’s be honest, this all comes full circle. We all are brought to tears. We all are heartbroken. And we all need to be built back up.

It’s really easy when super exciting awesome fun things happen to look at the person that they are happening to and think that super exciting awesome fun things have always happened to that person.

But that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m sure that every single person on my team has their version of, “I wish you could see, I wish you could feel, I wish you could know…” and that’s what makes the sweet days so much sweeter. It’s knowing that there’s been a fight, but you’ve found a way. It’s knowing that you have been through the highest of highs and lowest of lows yet you still keep coming back for more. It’s being passionate about what you do and why you do it. It’s running.

What happened at French Field House last night will forever bring a smile to my face.

For anyone that’s reading this that has no idea what I’m talking about, let me fill you in:

In collegiate track and field, making the NCAA Championship and winning Conference Championships are two of the most highly sought after goals in the sport. The NCAA meet highlights individual successes, and the Conference Championship meet is a chance to put it all out there on the line for your team.

In Indoor track and Field, there is only one way to qualify to the NCAA Championships, and it’s pretty non-trivial, but it’s pretty tough: You must clock one of the fastest 16 times in the nation in your respective event (mine is the 800) between the start of December and the end of February.

So, with this being my senior year, one of the goals I have been chasing after, and am going to continue to chase after, is earning myself a spot on that NCAA starting line come the second week in March. And I knew that in order to achieve that goal, it meant that I would have to take advantage of every opportunity I was met with.

Last weekend at Arkansas, I took advantage of an opportunity. I had a great race, but it wasn’t quite enough- it put me just outside of the top 16, just outside of one of those coveted spots.

But this presented me with another opportunity- one that I had never thought about: The opportunity to race at home the following weekend. Usually at this Buckeye Tune-Up home meet, I rabbbit (pace) my teammates part of the way through their races and use it as a training day. But this year, I knew I needed every opportunity if I was going to secure one of those 16 positions. The coaches all got on board, and one of my training partners (Olivia Smith you literally are the bomb dot com) agreed to give up her races that night and instead pace me through the first 500 meters of the 800.

We got all of the details ironed out this past Monday, and coach sent me a very descriptive email detailing exactly what was happening and what had to happen in order to do what needed done (2:04ish). The email is included below, because it’s honestly really helpful information for understanding the process of qualifying to NCAAs, flat track conversions, and everything in between. The email is also awesome because my coach understands that my brain thinks in numbered lists, and I definitely appreciated the structuring of this email!


So, based on history, we knew that running a 2:05.5 would put me in a really good position to make the NCAA meet. We had a plan. We had a goal. We had a rabbit (Olivia Smith).

The warm up was really fun (it was 65 degrees today in FEBRUARY!). The sunset was beautiful. We ran along the Olentangy trail, just like every other normal day. We did drills in the parking lot of French Field house. We walked inside and the meet was running 30 minutes behind, which was actually a relief because I was SO HUNGRY so that gave me time to eat a blueberry bagel (the best kind) during our warm up!

And then we got to race!

Olivia was perfect on pace. My teammates were SO LOUD. Everyone knew what I was trying to do, and they were doing their best to make sure that it happened. It truly takes a village. Thanks Bucks- you all are amazing! I think more exciting than actually finishing the race was getting to be excited with you guys after crossing the line. I felt so cared for and loved by every single person last night, and that is something really unique and special. I am truly blessed to be surrounded by the people I am surrounded by, because what happened last night was a product of the people that were in that building.

I wound up running a 2:04:82, which converts to a 2:03.40- and if everything holds, will make that NCAA meet. And if at the end of the day 17 women wind up running faster than 2:03.40 and push me out of the top 16, then WOWZERS speedy ladies, you all deserve it, I respect you a ton, and good luck at College Station!

… but I’m hoping it holds… and I think it will:)

So yes, it would have been awesome to run faster at Arkansas, secure a top 16 spot there, and go with the original plan of not racing this weekend. I believe that everything happens for a reason, and I believe that God had a different plan. He truly knows my heart and love for this team, this school, and my family. He delayed everything by just one week. All so that my last meet in French Field house as a Buckeye would forever leave me smiling. Jesus sings a sweeter song.

The season is not even close to over yet (thank goodness for that, I love this sport and never want it to end), and I am so pumped to head into B1G’s next weekend with the toughest people that I know… let’s go get em’ Bucks!

I wish you could see that the ups and down of this sport are real. And I wish you could feel the emotional roller coaster that the highs and lows of running leave you riding. But I wish you could know the encouragement of the people on this team, because they make every single heartbreak worth it.

Go Bucks Forever!!