My first realization was that I tend to look at what's immediately ahead of me, operating in a chasm between living in the moment and seeing the big picture. I'm often too caught up in what's next to appreciate the moment I am in or how I got there. Despite how far I've come in sport, living in this chasm has often resulted in dissatisfaction where, the highs from my biggest achievements are short lived and the lessons from my past do little to shape my future.
While reflecting on my journey I've happened across memories I'd long since forgotten. My hope is to use this post for a frank and honest analysis of these memories to better understand and appreciate the person I've become today and what I can do better to shape the person I want to be in the future.
Since I was a kid my 2 strongest characteristics have been an abundance of energy and a fiery competitiveness. While being a wiry ball of competitive energy has its advantages, particularly when it comes to sport, uncontained it can also cause problems. Growing up I had my fair share of issues. I struggled to communicate effectively, didn't do great in school and had troubles making genuine connections with people.
Focusing my energy was always an issue, this is what led to the poor grades, but from the social context, looking back I can see that I've always been an introvert in denial. I love being around people and love the genuine friendships I have but I get utterly exhausted in social situations very quickly. To me this now makes sense with the competitiveness, I try so hard in those situations that it drains me emotionally. Growing up I thought I was wrong, or at least different because of that, and tried to ignore the fact that I need alone time and solitude to hit the reset button and recharge, and that that is perfectly normal and common. Instead I would try to fight through which would often lead to me exploding in some sort of fantastical display of emotion (i.e. I cried a lot as a kid!)
It's really been the last few months that I've come to these realizations and would have never gotten here on my own. Only through working closely with my coach and sports psych to unlock what my perfect training environment would look like have we* discovered these strong underlying personality traits. (*I suspect they always knew, but also knew they needed to lead me into figuring it out for myself for it to be effective). With this knowledge in hand I set out to discover how these traits unconsciously paved the path to who I am today and just where athletics sat in all of it.
Despite these self-revelations being rather recent, for a number of years things have looked a lot better than they did through elementary and high school. Without explicitly knowing it I had already begun shifting my thought patterns to play off my personality strengths rather than battle against them. Today I can confidently identify a few milestones that marked serious and permanent changes to the person I've become. My hope is that writing about them, combined with what I now know about myself, can help unlock a roadmap for my future.
For the love of the game
The first one, which I desperately and unknowingly needed, kind of just fell into my lap. My elementary school, Kingswood, began doing a lunch time popsicle stick run when I was in gr4 (~500m lap, get a popsicle stick after each lap for the 40min or so of lunch, record each day and work towards prizes for 100, 200km etc…).
I can't remember what sparked the first few runs. I feel like my brother was doing it and I probably just followed him as I've done so often before and since. But it didn't take long before I realized I had found my sport. My tiny stature and poor motor skills didn't matter here, all that mattered is that piece of me that tried to go a little bit further every day I was out there. I'd be lying if I said it had nothing to do with being pretty good at it, it didn't take long before Adam and I had racked up all the badges they had planned for and had to start making new awards for us, and I was definitely (and still am) driven partially by those external rewards. But running was the first time I could really compete against myself, it really was the perfect outlet for everything I didn't know I needed: I could focus my competitiveness while expending all of my energy, and at the same time unconsciously hit that reset in the solitude of my own head. I joined the Richmond Kajaks Track Club and became a runner and just like that my life was changed.
For the rest of elementary school running was for the pure joy (and the awards!) Running nearly every day and never realizing that I was "training". Before finishing elementary school I started playing hockey and all of a sudden had a new competitive outlet. I also started race walking and was finding a lot of success, picking up medals and breaking records.
By the time I got to high school though I was definitely having more fun playing hockey and track sort of became more about hanging out with friends than it did working hard. While I was still improving and finding lots of success with the walking, I wasn't really training. Doing workouts on my own felt like a chore and so I found myself only running or walking a few times a week at practices. The parts of running that had initially appealed to me no longer gave me the same satisfaction.
By the end of grade 12 I had become so focused on the external rewards in track (breaking records, winning, making teams) that I was never really happy with it because there was always more that I could have done, I no longer revelled in the intrinsic joy of running/ walking (i.e. training). Unknowingly, track had stopped fulfilling the needs of my personality and quitting would have been the easy thing to do. In all honesty the only reason I didn't quit is because I had no idea what else I would do. While training had stopped satisfying my intrinsic needs, my extrinsic being was so intimately linked to "being an athlete" that I would have been lost without it. But luckily, a change was brewing.
Enter milestone number 2. Getting into University in and of itself was a bit of a miracle for me. My grades weren't nearly good enough (still hadn't figured out how to direct that energy and competition into learning) but thankfully coach Marek at UBC believed in me and helped get me in. Wanting to be in Kinesiology but not having the entry standards I had to spend the first year in arts. Needing a 75% average to transfer into Kin for second year my competitive instincts kicked in and I went about learning how to learn (a revelation for an entirely different blog post). I still remember being in El Salvador in May 2009 when my grades came in and showed a 75% average and an offer to enter first year Kin!
But the relevant milestone here came during that 2nd year at UBC. Being in Kin and learning about human physiology and how to train the body sparked something in me. Training in and of itself still didn't intrinsically motivate me like it did when I started but I developed a passion for the pursuit of greatness and training was simply a prerequisite to getting as much as possible out of myself. Individual training sessions weren't enjoyable, but looking back at a good day, week, or month of training and seeing what I had accomplished was. I was now able to understand the changes that happened to my body when I pushed it hard and that allowed me a window into enjoying the journey.
This is how things remained for quite some time. I began taking ownership over my own training plan and for years the best part about training was looking back at my training log (I keep a very detailed log) at the end of a week and reflecting on the hard work I did. There were other aspects of training that I enjoyed, I loved going to competitions and making teams so I could see my friends, I loved going to and watching big meets and more than anything I loved improving. The one flaw with that last point is that it still meant that my enjoyment was rather short lived, happy with a personal best but quickly changed to wishing I had done better. However these enjoyments were all merely outcomes of training.
This is where I had initially intended to wrap up this post. Without this reflection I would have summed up my current mindset by saying that in university I had found a way to enjoy the process while still fulfilling those subconscious needs and that I was way happier with life now because of it and that would be that. But through writing I have come to realize that slowly and unbeknownst to me consciously I have come to enjoy the training itself. Looking back through my training logs I read things like, "couldn't study… went out for easy session" and "was supposed to do 10km, wanted to finish the chapter, did 15". Thinking back now I realize that days I didn't train I wouldn't be able to think and that I was using the training as that reset button. I should clarify that second quote. Over about 2 years I used my training to get through all 7 Harry Potter audiobooks, narrated by the great Stephen Fry, and I loved it. I could just turn my brain off and the rest of the world would melt away (I did almost get hit by a few cars though…). Training, even without a purpose, was clearing my mind and I just wasn’t really aware of it.
With the advantage of hindsight I can now see that over many years I've become completely hooked on training. But because I never took the time to reflect on what parts of my personality track was fulfilling I was stuck thinking my enjoyment came from the outcomes, unaware that the training was actually making me happier. Whenever I've been down, training has been my ecstasy. And with that I have realized there is actually a third milestone!
Earlier this year I had some unfortunate and depressing (for lack of a better word) sh*t happen and it compounded. No different then what anyone else has to deal with, I'm just not good at dealing with it, never have been. But suffice it to say, without going into too much detail, I was sad. Training became my escape and for the first time I consciously realized that training made me feel mentally and physically better. In the months that have passed I have found that it has become so much harder for me to update my training log. When I used to religiously update it immediately after every session, as I write this I haven't updated it in over 2 weeks. It just doesn't seem to matter as much anymore. I'm finally enjoying the training, or more aptly, conscious of the fact that I'm enjoying the training. I've taken that crucial step of enjoying the outcomes of the process to simply enjoying the process.
While I became aware that it was making me feel better, I still didn't really know why. Having now looked back and reflected on everything, discovering and coming to understand the pillars of my personality, I have a much clearer vision for how sport fulfills me. I now believe I can learn to take this vision with me and find it in other parts of life, when this chapter should come to an end. I'm no longer afraid to walk away (bad pun, I'm sorry, there always has to be 1) from sport like I was in high school. At the same time I have no intention to close this chapter anytime soon because that fiery competitor in me knows there is much more to be achieved in this realm.
Everything feels like it has come full circle. I'm back to enjoying the sport the same way I did when I originally fell in love with it but now I have a much better sense of why that is. And unsurprisingly training is going great. I'm probably in the best shape of my life. Simply knowing that training makes me happy has made me happier while training and that positive feedback loop has allowed me to train more, recover faster and find a better balance in my life. I find myself thinking less about the outcome goal for Rio and more about embracing and enjoying this opportunity that I have, which makes the process so much easier. Don't get me wrong though, I still dream daily of standing on that podium, the culmination of a lifetimes work, and I know that it's possible, but it is way less of a fixation than it once was, which to me makes it more achievable than ever.