How To Be a Running Ninja

On November 12th Marathon Dynamics asked me to come out to be the keynote speaker at their year-end celebration. Marathon Dynamics is a coached group of athletes led by Kevin Smith who are all pursuing running excellence, from the 5k to the marathon, in the midst of their very busy lives.

When Kevin contacted me I thought he was going to ask me to speak about my Pan Am journey, and sure that was a bit of it. But Kevin asked me to speak about how I balance it all.

Balance what? Right, then he reminded me I still work as a part-time engineering road safety consultant. I am a full-time PhD engineering education student. I am the safety and advocacy director for the Morning Glory Cycling Club. I was a board member for the Ontario Cycling Association up until the summer, where I stepped down. But I still advice them on how to stay relevant in the advocacy and safety sphere. I am an ambassador for three organizations that empower girls to stay in sport, Fast and Female, Prissy Tomboy, and SisuGirls. And I am captain for the Varsity Blues Track and Field Team. So I guess my plate is a little bit full.

Ok, truthfully I am trying to say no to somethings to clear my plate to make training a priority. I heard a great line the other day, unless it’s a ‘Fawk Yes,’ then it’s a ‘Hell No.’ I’ll have to use that comparison technique the next time someone asks me to do something!

running ninjaHere is a summary of what I got up and spoke about back in November. As I was putting together the presentation the notion of a ninja entered my mind. I cannot quite explain why. But they are nimble, they are fierce and they get stuff done!

My Top 5 Ninja Moves For Managing It All

1. Make a yearly training plan for your entire life – Treat your life like it’s an an elite sport
I started with a slide that said, ‘a goal without a plan is just a wish.’ And it’s true, if you do not actually plan something it makes it really challenging to accomplish that, running, work, anything in life.

My advice is to plan out your year. Write down your big races, work events, prioritizationfamily events, and anything else that is important to you. And then plan around those events; and be kind to yourself when you cannot make your running work.

Make running a priority when it counts, and let the other things in life take priority other times.

2. Make deliberate play a part of your daily routine

We’v e all heard of deliberate practice, the notion of practicing something with intention until you become an expert at it. Deliberate practice was borne out of performance (i.e. music and chess) and education, and has since been directly applied to sport. What we have learned is that the 10,000 hour rule does not necessarily correlate with sport, sometimes it’s more and sometimes it’s less depending on the activity.

But more importantly when I came back to be an elite runner I promised myself I would always make sure I was having fun. Sure there are workouts and times when it’s tough and the fun factor drops but for the most part I remind myself I love what I do.

I’ve heard too many stories of elites quitting because there not having any fun, and I don’t want to become a statistic. I’ve changed deliberate practice to be deliberate play to remind myself to embrace the fun factor. I challenge the science and suggest that for sport it is very important that there are aspects of fun.

3. Stick with the positive bias
A long time ago I decided I was going to be more optimistic, try to see things in a positive way, and not let negativity rule my life. To me it just seemed like a lot of energy to carry around the negative bias compared to the positive bias.

Over and over again I’ve been asked by people about the ‘sacrifices’ I have to make as an athlete. I tell them that I have not made any sacrifices but that I’ve made choices; I have chosen a path and I’m excited to see what I can accomplish. I usually remind these people that I choose to see things more positively because it makes what you’re trying to do seem so much enjoyable, interesting, and it doesn’t feel like you’re carrying the weight of the world on  your shoulders.

My brother has this great tattoo. It says, ‘GRIND.’ We all refer to the daily grind. Get up. Maybe eat breakfast. Go to work. Hopefully workout (or maybe you did that before work). Dinner. Hang out with the kids. Go to bed. Repeat. My brother’s tattoo, GRIND, stands for ‘Get Ready It’s A New Day,’ which really when you step back and think about it takes something we all see as negative and makes it so positive.

4. R.E.S.T. (Recover, Eat, Sleep, Time)
Rest is not just about sleep. It’s about eating, at the right time and the right foods. It’s about taking care of your body and recovering; seeing a massage therapist, having a contrast bath (don’t forget you have to finish with the cold), embracing passive rest as well as, and sometimes instead of, active rest. And allowing your body the time it needs to heal.

5. Make Fear Your Friend
I again have to give credit to Dan Jacobs (founder of TEDx Toronto) for this one. He so eloquently stated that when you embrace your fears they no longer seem insurmountable.

I think what many of us actually fear is uncertainty. Uncertainty when you toe the line of a race. Uncertainty part way through. Uncertainty around the times you want to run. But when you really sit down and think about it, it’s not so scary. And remember if you’re having fun and plan to have fun then fear really can take a back seat.

Whatever you’re racing and endeavouring this year and next year, venture with all your heart. Go with gratitude and presence. Love what you do. And make sure to smile every day.