Happy Brains

by lucy ~ May 31st, 2013

Last
night I was at my daughter’s middle school band concert. Not only was the music
entertaining and fun, but it was great to see kids proud to perform numbers
that they have been rehearsing all year long. Playing the trumpet, the sax or
the flute is not an easy task. Like sport skills, it takes hours and hours of repetition
and practice to become proficient. The more I observed these young performers
the more I became interested in watching their body language as much as
listening to the notes they were producing. Every kid there was intently
focussed on the task at hand. They had to be: playing together required them to
watch the band leader, read their music, listen to the percussion and execute
their part. In this age of technological multitasking, there was something
wonderful, and powerful, about their ability to focus on exactly what they were
doing. As I watched the total concentration on the face of the girl who was
playing the xylophone, I really got the music /brain power connection. These
kids were in the zone.

And because
I am a coach and an athlete, this got my own brain wheels turning.

The
band performance I watched last night was the music equivalent of racing. When
an athlete gets to the race, the hours and hours of practicing are done and all
that is necessary is to execute the skills that they have been polishing.  It seems like it should be an easy task, but
it isn’t. Many things can get in the way of executing a perfect performance
including mechanical failure, sickness, weather and other random occurrences
that are out of your control. And our own brains. Orchestrating the perfect
race takes skill and some good luck, but every athlete who starts a race has
one opportunity to make it the best day ever. And one way to ensure this is to:
pay attention, be focussed, and concentrate fully on what matters for the time
you are on the course.

Athletes
who stay in the moment and who are task focussed have a greater chance of
success than those who allow their mind to wander to future or past events or
feelings around potential success or failure. One of the greatest gifts of racing
is that athletes are given a chance to really be in the zone with a task. The single
minded act of focussing is great for the brain and super stimulating. An
athlete will maximize their physical effort and potential by staying in the
moment with the race. Notice when you are thinking ahead too much (about the
season, future races and life plans). It is very common to start to create
stories about what is happening or what is going to happen in the race, with
you. Notice this and pull yourself into the moment again. One of the things I
find most fascinating about kids is that they do have the ability of being in the
moment and can tune out everything else around them. When my daughter is
reading she literally can’t hear anyone talking to her. As we get older we lose
this habit or this ability to concentrate and tune in too much to all else that
is cluttering up our brains. When we relearn the skill of focus it’s the most
clear and beautiful feeling. To be in the zone is what athletes live for.

So the
next time you race do yourself a favour and make a pact with yourself to ‘Be
with The Race’.



New Year Inspiration from the Books

by lucy ~ January 5th, 2013

Despite the fact that I am a lifelong runner and a voracious
reader—I often have one novel and at least two other books on the go at the
same time—I admit that I don’t actually read a lot of running books for
inspiration. Perhaps the impact of watching ’Chariots of Fire’ ten times as a
teen eclipsed any direct running inspiration I would be able to digest from
books in future years or maybe it was simply that I was so intensely immersed
in the path of being a runner for so
many years, that I needed to look outside of my sport for role models to fire
me up.

I am a big fan of physical adventure that tests the limits
of human psychology and endurance: mountaineering, rock climbing, and ocean
sailing for instance. Running, is, by all accounts, relatively quiet, and
certainly almost risk free compared to the dangers associated with sailing a
fibreglass cork around Cape Horn, or plodding up ice cliffs using an axe and
crampons, sucking thin air and hoping an avalanche doesn’t sweep down and wipe
you off the face of the mountain.

As a runner I am fixed safely to the land by the force of
gravity and have only to watch out for roots and rocks and the occasional car
or dog, while rock climbers and sailors seem to defy being land bound, either
shunning it altogether or at least getting up as high as they can and away from
the rest of us mortals.

Ironically I grew up hiking, rock climbing and sailing, and
though I loved them all, it was running that I chose. The professional running
life was tough at times, and running has presented me with many challenges and
obstacles (almost all of which I eventually overcame with much satisfaction)
but I remain to this day, very curious, and very much inspired by the people
who want to climb Everest or K2.  Whether
I am missing the essential ‘risk’ gene, or simply too scared of extreme danger,
running and triathlon have provided me with just the right level of daring and
risk combined with fun and joy.

So, I turn to mountaineering books often for inspiration,
devouring the accounts of failed and successful trips and the people and events
that make them so. It is the climbing of the really big peaks that interests
me—the 8000m giants of the world, whose summits soar above the clouds and where
the air is so thin that a human can’t survive for very long, and that’s before
you take into account the cold and the fact that you are camping on a ledge as
wide as your body. Getting anywhere near even base camp takes incredible
resources: months of planning, mountains of gear, organization, travelling and
logistics, team work, not to mention money. While there are no Everest
Olympics, getting to the top of Everest’s 8, 848m summit, is the mountaineering
Gold medal.

In fact, mountaineering seems to embody everything that I
love about sport: endurance, persistence, strategy, intelligence, team work,
leadership, toughness and goal setting. With the extreme nature of mountains
thrown into the mix, each of these qualities is magnified.  The next time you are feeling a lack of
motivation to get out there and get your run in, it might be helpful to
remember these few lessons learned from the superlative sport of all times: the
race to the top of the world.

1.      
Being cold is only an issue if you are at 8000m,
in a blizzard and it’s minus 30, your PowerBars are frozen and it takes 2 hours
to melt enough snow for one cup of coffee. Runners can set the coffee maker,
and get a run in before work any morning of the week. And remember it only
takes one minute to increase the perception of the outside air temperature
about 10 degrees.

2.      
Being organized ensures it happens. Or, not
planning makes sure it never happens. To climb Annapurna (8, 091m) in Nepal you
would need at least a year to arrange all your permits, gear, team and personal
skill. Planning to get your running training in takes as little as 5 minutes.
That’s how long it took me to type in ‘Run’ in my Outlook Calendar 4 times next
week. It takes slightly longer to buy running shoes, but apart from that, at
least you don’t have to apply for a permit from your local municipality in
order to run the trails.

3.      
Speaking of permits, register for races early. Signing
up early for a race gets the motivation wheels turning. It gives you a tangible
goal to shoot for, kick starts your planning and acts as a hook when the going
gets tough.

4.      
Choose your team mates wisely. The psychology of
climbing is fascinating. People get edgy when they are in danger and bonds are
made stronger or broken forever on the slopes of high mountains as people find
out just who they signed up to climb with. You are not putting your life in the
hands of your running partner but it does help to run with someone who makes
you feel good about running and yourself and it’s a bonus is if they also make
you laugh.

5.      
Choose a well respected and experienced expedition
leader.  If you’ve decided that you need
someone to guide you, get a coach. A good coach will point you to the top, show
you the way up, teach you what you need to know to achieve your goals and stick
with you through it all.

6.      
When the going gets tough, keep a clear and calm
mind and listen to your gut. The climbers who survive the big mountains have an
ability to think clearly at altitude, take calculated risks, and know when to
turn around. This is when having a goal is useful. If you have a tough week
(work or family issues, illness or a sore Achilles) think about your goals and
be calm. Develop the habit of not getting carried away with drama and fears,
but acting both with your gut instincts and what you know is right.

7.      
Be patient and persistent and keep your eye on
your ‘Everest’. Ed Viesturs, the first American to climb all fourteen of the
world’s 8000m peaks without supplemental oxygen, took 18 years to complete his
quest. His patience was born from a desire to manage his risk on the mountains,
and his persistence was born from his desire to ultimately succeed in his goal
and mission. As long as you know where you are going, you will be able to
weather the ups and downs of training and racing. In fact, the longer you
commit to staying with your training and your goals you more you realize that
it’s the journey that really counts.

8.      
Stay true to what you love and don’t get
distracted by the politics or the cynics. Mountaineering is a world fraught
with politics, drama and criticism. Garbage on the mountain, the ethics of
summiting, death up high, and the opinions of armchair critics have all become
a part of modern mountaineering. Every sport has its dark side and it’s easy to
get caught up in the hype and negativity. But there is still purity and thrill
in sport if you look in the right direction. 
Run with a purpose and train with a mission. Whether it’s simply because
you love it, or just believe it’s the right thing for you, hang on this because
it’s yours and yours alone. Only you can get out the door and run. Nobody can run
those twenty miles for you, or make them any easier. You are doing it on your
own volition and power and commitment and passion. It’s yours to love.

 

Mountaineering is extreme. Nothing in running or triathlon
even comes remotely close, though Ironman day does produce some good story
telling and I can only imagine some of the ultra running tales about incidents
that happen in the dead of night while running through the Colorado forests.
Successful mountaineering is partly dependent on the competency of the climber
and completely dependent upon the weather. Climbers sit around for weeks in a
small cramped tent, waiting for the weather to clear enough to leave at
midnight in order make an 18 hour round trip to the summit and back to
camp.  And I thought that getting up at
4AM for Ironman was early.

PS: One of my favourite climbing books is ‘No Shortcuts to
the Top’, by Ed Viesturs.  Aside from the
excellent title, Viesturs’ account of his 18 year mission to climb all 8000m peaks
without supplemental oxygen is fascinating and he sort of blows apart the
theory that all mountaineers are suicidal egomaniacs.

 

LifeSport coach Lucy Smith is a Canadian Champion runner and
triathlete and armchair mountaineer. Despite running for 35 years and racing
hundreds of times, she continues to find new challenges each and every year on
the road and in the trails and recently won the XTerra Trail Run World
Championships in Oahu, Hawaii.

What Are You Afraid Of?

by lucy ~ October 19th, 2012

I was driving three kids to a cross country meet recently.
Each was in different state of mind about their upcoming race. One girl was
just chatting away about random stuff that happened at school that day, about
her teachers and her marks. Her mind wasn’t really on the race at all, as if it
was just another after school activity she was doing. One boy was talking about
the race in a tone of anticipation, wondering if he would do as well as the
previous week, whether the same boys would be there and how he would run the
course to be able to get to the line before them. He was confident about his
ability to race and was thinking about how he was going to perform in a very
calm way. The third kid, a boy in grade six, was almost hyperventilating in the
back seat. I kept hearing him sighing, and almost moaning as he thought about
the race he was about to run. He was extremely nervous, almost dreading the race.
I had three kids in the car, and it was a text book example of mental
preparation state. I had one kid who wasn’t thinking about the race, one who
was so nervous he was in a very anxious state, and I had one who the sport psychologists
would say was in the ‘optimal zone of arousal’.

Where are you?

I am fascinated by anxiety in humans, and especially anxiety
in sport, and by how to help nervous athletes develop the skills they need in
order to both perform at their best, but also…to just enjoy what they are
doing. For really, sport is fundamentally about having fun, about movement and
personal power and agency. Getting nervous to the point where you are having no
fun, being anxious and scared—well, these to me are just not optimal
attitudes for enjoying sport and life.

What are you afraid? Ask yourself this honestly. Fear is an
interesting thing. In our modern world, particularly in a running race or a
triathlon, there is nothing to fear. Neither bears, avalanches nor other
vicious predators. You risk of physical harm is minimal. Are you scared of the
pain or the discomfort (see my previous blog post if you are), are you afraid
of your competition? Of not being good enough? Of not living up to your
expectations?

Ask most athletes what scares them and most won’t be able to
give you a straight answer. Their fear is nebulous and random and often
paralyzing to performance. They are scared because they are used to being
scared and getting nervous is the default before races. Not too much fun.

5 easy ways to kick start your happiness and have positive
nerves!

1.      
Be Prepared. Do your homework, show up at
school, and hand it in. This is your first line of defence. Because then, when
the fears come up, you have concrete evidence that you are in fact, both
prepared to race and ready to be on the start line.

2.      
Be relaxed on the outside. Fear and anxiety
bring tension and tension prevents optimal physical performance. Make it a
habit to consciously relax before a competition, by warming up slowly and
gently and focussing on deep breathing, shaking out arms and shoulders,
breathing some more. The mind may stay alert and active, but you aren’t letting
anxiety tension rule your body.

3.      
Be spiritual. Be thankful. Have a purpose. Enjoy
the camaraderie of the other athletes. Remind yourself often of what you love
about sport, and simply be in the moment with yourself.

4.      
Have a plan for race day. If you were going on a
big trip and left preparations and packing until the morning you were leaving,
you would be pretty agitated, disorganized and most likely, anxious. If you
didn’t know anything about your destination, there would be a good chance you
would forget something important. Mentally rehearsing your race beforehand,
including the relaxed, calm and focussed state you want to be in is a sure fire
to calm your nerves.

5.      
Put a face to your fear and do something about
it. Fear of descending? Learn to ride better. Fear of swimming open water? Get
practice. Fear of failure? Set a goal you can achieve and do it! Most people
are afraid of what they don’t know or aren’t good at ‘yet’. Take charge, learn
a new skill, challenge yourself to improve, and enlist the support you need to
succeed.

Remember, fear and anxiety are by and large emotional
responses that we are programmed to feel, because we are human. Fear and
anxiety are mechanisms meant to ensure our survival as a species and the physical
responses (shaking, sweating, high heart rate) are meant to propel us to run
away from the massive predator stalking us. Is your race a huge hairy carnivore
that you want to run away from? I think not. Racing is fun, exciting and a
chance for you to challenge yourself to be greater than you think you are. Save
your fear for the dentist*.

Run for Joy!

Lucy Smith

*(My apologies to all dentists out there.)

Sweet pain, Friendly Discomfort or the ‘Deep dark place’: Coach Lucy Asks You Ponder What Pushes You.

by lucy ~ August 7th, 2012

I am a 45 year old woman. I am a mother of two. I raced full

time professionally for 25 years. Apart from perhaps, manual labour, I don’t think

I could have chosen two less physically demanding of careers: motherhood and

sport, doubling up on both for the last 12 years.

I have had my share of exhausting days, and sleepless

nights. I have gutted out repeat after repeat of leg burning, lung searing 400’s

at the track and ridden so hard up hills that I thought I might just puke and keel

over on my bike. You’d think I might take a break, put my feet up when the kids

are at summer camp.

This occurred to me the other day, as I ran all alone, in a

state of bliss, under the hot summer sun. I was running 1k repeats off a really

hard bike workout.  Half way through the

penultimate interval, finding my stride at 700m in, I had one of those moments,

where you look at yourself from the outside. As I ran though the fatigue and

discomfort, willing myself to quicken my pace, run even a little harder as the discomfort

increased, I realized I was completely enjoying myself, and my moment was this:

am I a total oddball? Here I am, running my guts out at the track, when I could

be relaxing with a coffee and a book or even getting my nails done. I am not twenty

years old and training for an Olympics, or a world Championships, or anything

remotely glorious as all that. I wasn’t suffering for the sake of hitting a

pace time or besting an opponent or anything so tangible. I was out there

running fast for the sake of it. Because I actually—and this is the truth—love

that feeling of running hard and fast and pushing myself when I am fit. It is

not an obsession or a love hate relationship. It is all love.

Truthfully, I didn’t actually think all that while I was

running. I was much too immersed in the act of running as fast as I could, as

effortlessly as I could, to think all that. I got about as far as “Why do I

love something that is so darn hard?”  After

the last incredibly satisfying interval, I ran slowly on the grass around the infield.

 I drank in the peace and quiet of the

track and forest that surrounds it, padded out some easy laps and mulled over the

shiny fragments of my existential thoughts.

This is what I came up with: I don’t push myself in training

because I know it’s good for me or my health (for all I know it could be just

the opposite, except that I figure my emotional happiness makes up for any

physical damage that is occurring.) I don’t do it to burn calories. On some

practical level, as an athlete and a coach, I know that training with a

progression and hitting energy systems (especially my threshold) is really good

for my fitness and any races that are coming up, but those spin off effects are

just secondary goals. I train hard because I love it. I love the feeling of

working hard and here’s the other honest truth:

When I am at the track, or in the trails, or on the road

working mindfully and gracefully through discomfort and intensity, I am so

totally in my element that I am completely happy. It’s what I know and it’s who

I am. It’s like being intensely uncomfortable in my comfort zone, if such a

thing exists.

When I run fast, although I might 15-20 seconds per mile

slower than I was at 30, I feel just as youthful, empowered and strong. I have

a freedom and a sense of peace with running that I couldn’t even imagine at 30.

At 30 I had to be intense, selfish, focussed and afraid of getting beaten. The

irony is that I couldn’t have the freedom to be what I am now if I hadn’t been

there first. This has nothing to do with age though. It has everything to do

with accepting what I love and not fighting it.

The satisfaction at the end of workouts like this is almost

indescribable. A lot of athletes get this.

As a coach, I am always trying to get to the nitty gritty of

this question with my athletes. When the moment comes, do they embrace the pain

or run away from it. Do they fight it or willingly let it in. Do they call it ‘interesting

feeling’ or ‘deep dark place’.  In every

hard workout and in every race, there is the moment where you cross the line

from comfort to discomfort. How well are you prepared for that moment and when

it happens how you respond? I welcome it like an old friend, I give it a great

big hug and I use it to get the best of myself. It’s not pain, it’s joy. It’s

just a sensation; it transcends fear and calms the unquiet mind.

It’s my happy place. My home.

Run for Joy!

Lucy

*Note: Lucy would like to thank age group athlete Jay, for the use of the phrase ‘Deep, Dark Place.’

Courage, Struggles, and Passion

by lucy ~ July 27th, 2012

August Journal: The Olympic Dream

 

I tie my white track spikes carefully, pulling the laces
tight. I am warmed up and ready to race. Six months of preparation for this one
event, and here it is, ten minutes away on a warm and windless Victoria
evening. At a signal a marshal directs us to move onto the track for the 5000m
of the 2004 Olympic Track and Field Trials. Walking through the tunnel, I am
suddenly moved to tears and my vision blurs. How many times in my life have I
walked onto a track, feeling fit, strong, ready to perform, and nervous? The
poignancy of the moment is suddenly very clear. This may be my last Olympic
Track and Field Trials. I have achieved a lot in sport but I have never run for
my country at the Olympic Games. Nothing short of magic is going to make me run
a Canadian record, the time I need for a spot to Athens, a minute faster than I
have ever run. In front of a thousand hometown fans, I am going to run a race
that proves I cannot meet the stringent Canadian Olympic Committee standards.
What I have to prove personally goes beyond the Olympic Team, to a path that
started twenty years ago.

 

I have run in three previous Olympic Trials. For the 1992
Barcelona Olympics I was too inexperienced, in 1996 in Atlanta I missed the
5000m Olympic Standard by a mere 4 seconds. Sydney 2000 would have been my year
I believe except for a little blip called pregnancy. That year I watched Simon
Whitfield win the unexpected Gold in triathlon from my living room, holding
three month old Maia in mothering bliss and jumping up and down with joy as he
sprinted across that blue carpet.

 

This year, the standard for making the 5000 is 40 seconds
faster than what it was in 1996, but it didn’t stop me from trying. Since 2000,
I have lived in Victoria and trained at Pacific Sport, where World Champions
and Olympians surround me. High performance sport has been our household life,
and I have watched and observed and learned from elite athletes and coaches in
triathlon, rowing, cycling, swimming as well as running. I had to put all my
knowledge and experience to test one more time.

 

I was both philosophical and realistic about my chances of
making the Olympic Team and it took a lot of courage for me to follow through
in what my heart was telling me to do. The Canadian Olympic Committee decided
after the last Olympics that our Olympic programs have to be more elite and
high performance—we need more medals–and they introduced new standards to
facilitate raising the bar. Many of the standards introduced represented times
better than the current Canadian record, and some of those records have stood
for over ten years. I knew going in that I had a huge goal in front of me but I
persevered. This is why I have always run.

 

 

Courage and determination came in when I felt like the
oldest one still going for it when my peers quit in frustration this year. When
other athletes were making high performance decisions by going to training
camps in Hawaii, or living at altitude, I decided that I wanted to be home to
take Maia to pre-school, or spend afternoons at the playground.  It took courage to follow my heart, that I
was going to do the best that I could and I had to do it in accordance with my
life priorities.  I took bone chilling
ice baths for recovery, eliminated alcohol and improved my training and racing
nutrition, but I didn’t get anywhere near 8 hours of sleep a night, and I when
I should have been napping I was usually playing at the pool with Maia.

 

I now understand something about myself as an athlete and
as a person that I may not have found out if I didn’t embark on this one last
bid to make the Olympics. I am a process-oriented person. How I do something is
more important to me than the outcome, but Elite sport these days is very much
about the outcome. The Canadian government wants podium finishes and medals and
with their policies they have turned towards an end vision of success that is
defined by glory and winning the Gold. How often have I heard the expression:
winning gold is worth a million dollars? Early on in my training this spring, I
was faced with this rift between what I want to get out of sport, and what the
Canadian Olympic Committee and a changed world of professional sports says the
Olympic should be.

 

I am not devastated that I am not going to the Olympics. I
am disappointed that I won’t ever experience the Olympics as an athlete after
devoting my life so far to athletic excellence. I would get a lot out of
participating in the Olympics and I had strong visions of myself as an Olympian
and ambassador for sport, health and fair play.

 

Running is my passion. Through running I find a sense of
peace and understanding, satisfaction and health. It has opened doors for me
and I have learned a great deal about life and sport and myself by dedicating
myself to becoming the fastest, most efficient runner that I can be. I have
committed myself to success but have measured that success by the efforts I
have put in, and the experience I have gained, not the outcome.

 

Judging by the responses I received from friends and fans
after my brave 5000m attempt at the Olympic Trials, I would say that many of
the people here in Victoria still see the courage, the struggle and the passion
in the Olympics and that is what moves them.

 

Many friends cheered me on this Olympic build up, and
offered constant encouragement to my seemingly crazy life of running,
travelling and racing. My husband, who coaches Olympians, World Champions and
lives in the world of professional sports, gave me the space to do this on my
own terms, offering his expertise when necessary and his unequivocal emotional
support. My sister, pursuing her Ph.D in the States, wrote often,
congratulating me for my efforts, knowing well the need to follow a dream.  I
felt honoured that so many people cared enough to come out and watch me run,
some who hadn’t watched a track race since they were in school themselves.
Before and after my race, I wanted to embrace every one of them, people who may
be inspired by me, and, who like me, know what really matters.

 

 

It has always been about the process for me. I can
deal with not going to the Olympics, but something in me told me last fall that
I had to try one more time. The only failure was in not trying. The path with
heart wasn’t even all that easy, but I am glad that I did it. I was happy to
get out there and run fast, and I realized after, that the courage I so talked
about was the courage that I had to draw on knowing that I wanted to do this,
and that I might not go to the Olympics, might not be fast enough for somebody
else. I had to step on that track anyway, and see for myself. It took courage
for me to pursue this dream despite my age, my family commitments, and my
lack of sleep.
I am happy with my efforts over the last
six months. I have no regrets about the last 20 years. I have done the best I
can.

 

 

A friend told me today that watching me race the
5000m on Friday night moved her deeply. She cried tears of joy after my race,
cried for the courage that she hopes to find in herself to fulfill her own
dreams. That profound statement alone is worth more than any Gold medal.

The Magic of Early Season Races

by lucy ~ April 24th, 2012

Unplugged but Switched On…
I have talked and written about the magic in running before, about how participation in sport can often act as a spontaneous and joyful catalyst to challenge all we think we believe about our abilities and limitations. These are special moments, when we are engaged in the doing, the moment when our minds stop their ceaseless chattering about whether we are good enough, fast enough, fit enough—WORTHY enough—of being there. The action-engaged mind becomes still for a moment, we stop analyzing and things just click. That is what the sport scientist calls ‘flow’ and what I call joy. It is no secret. There is a reason that millions of people run races every year.
Another kind of magic occurs when you race, and sometimes it is only once you are at the finish line, in those moments right past the final step of effort, when the energy of the race both washes over you, and through you, like a freight train that has been bearing down on you for the last 10k, and now you have stopped it can finally catch up. I am often bowled over by this freight train and suddenly, in its impact, aware of how much I love it. The train represents the whole intensity of what I just did, how it comes and envelopes me with that profound feeling of satisfaction, and elation. That state the sports scientists also have a name for: ‘runner’s high’– the result of all those exercise induced endorphins as they surge through your brain.
I love the first big race of the year, like the way I welcome the change of seasons: so wrapped up in summer, it isn’t until the very first crisp day of autumn that I realize how much I love the cooler air, the change. In the first big race-as I put it all on the line again—the love of the commitment becomes more real and the training feels extra meaningful.
Racing isn’t just there to let you test out your fitness and strength and see where your speed is at. To look at racing as only a way to get a time—or to the finish line– is to fail to see the many dimensions that racing really is. For me, the first big race of the year gives me a chance to revisit and refine how I want to exist in this environment. Personally I love racing. I love the gradually building excitement to race day, the environment of celebration, community and being part of something larger than my every day training and life—breaking out of the comfort of the 45 minute run through my favourite trail. While I frequently feel nervous before races, the sense of anticipation reminds me of how much I love just being alive!
The first big road race is fun, a chance to step back into the higher stakes world, where we expect more of ourselves and use the runners around us to push ourselves greater than in practice. After my first big race of the year I am reminded of why I love running and racing and coaching. An early race is like a kick starter for your season: all it takes is one starting line—those moments waiting for the countdown, the lifting of the bar, running more intensely than you have yet this year, and you are up and running.
Your first race switches you on, or makes you hungry, some people say. Hungry for more of that, faster times, and better results. For me it draws me in and makes me want to give more, and the more I give the more I feel in touch with that magic, with a world that is full of it. And so I want to do it again, and do it better, with more focus. Physically, the first race boosts fitness…lubricates the system so to speak, so that the following week, my training runs feel smooth and efficient—it is apparent that the race has lifted me to a new level.
Because of the momentum and energy of this first race, there should always be another race planned, something concrete to look forward to, a point in the not too distant future in which to lift yourself again.
I believe strongly in the personal power of running. Races are a chance to be strong, empowered, to take charge and to be engaged. Open your heart and lungs, and let the magic happen.

Lucy Smith, April 19th, 2012

The Runners

by lucy ~ April 11th, 2012

Some people love to run, some people don’t,
And some people just don’t run.

Some run towards a point in their future, and some run away from a ghost in their past,
And some people look back while running forward.

Some people run to eat, some eat to run,
Some hardly eat at all.

Some runners choose to run barefoot, some choose to wear shoes,
And some have no choice.

Some people run for a cause, some run for themselves,
Some run…because they can.

Some people run to music, some people don’t,
And some people just sing when they run.

Some people see the view when they run and some people see only the path ahead,
And some runners can’t even see the forest for the trees.

Some run fast, some run slowly,
And some run on the spot.

Some people run to win, some run to achieve their dreams,
And for some, running is the win.

Some run solo, some run with friends,
And some runners simply draw a crowd.

Some runners lead, some follow,
And some run by your side.

Some run on the road, some run on the track,
And some will only run in the mountains.

Some runners embrace the discomfort, some hate the pain,
And some feel nothing at all.

Some days you feel like a runner, some days you don’t.
Every day there is a runner out there in all of us.

Lucy Smith, April 2012

My Ad Hoc life: A Shout Out to Busy People Everywhere!

by lucy ~ March 28th, 2012


Oh, how I love those words, ‘ad hoc’, a Latin phrase meaning ‘for this’. Ad hoc refers to the ability to think on your feet, to create a solution that works perfectly for something right now. It might be temporary and make shift but do not confuse it with haphazard. Quite the opposite of chaos, ad hoc is a temporary solution to avoid a meaningless mess. My life is a series of one woman ad hoc committees arranged to deal with something right now.
A few weeks ago, at the International Women’s Day Conference I was asked a few questions, questions I have been asked before and answered many times. How did you start in sport, how important were your coaches, what obstacles did you face, and what has changed for women in sport since you started? The older I get, and the longer I stay in sport, the more I keep noticing that the questions and my answers are changing over time. For a while, when I was younger, the interviews come mainly on the heels of some success and there was always the ‘spotlight’ factor. I was singled out because of a win, a championship event or qualifying for a national team. I gave the best answer I could, trying not to sound too formula about it, (like a hockey player does): usually along the lines of: ‘I trained hard, the work is paying off, I prepared perfectly for this event and I would like to thank my sponsors and coach. This was a great surprise and shows I am on the right path to my goals’. These are all true, important and necessary things to say. My audience wanted to hear that I had to work very hard for my success, that there was some sacrifice and some really deep internal digging to achieve what I did. It’s all true, what I said. If I didn’t perform that well, there were no excuses: nobody wanted to hear that I had a cold, that I had jet lag, or that my training was abysmal leading up to the race. If I underperformed, it’s because the person who won, just executed better that day. They were the better athlete and I graciously (outwardly) accepted this.
So, when I get asked the question: Why, at 44, are you still competing in sports at such a high level? I need to think for a moment. There are several ways I can go with this. I can respond with the angle of ‘what is retirement anyway?’, I can go for the passion angle and talk about how much joy I get from sport still, what a charge I get from being on a start line, and from gutting out races as fast I can go.
I think the correct answer lies pretty deep, and can be found in the fact that I have always been a front line person, maybe. I am most comfortable being a mover, in action and ‘on the ground’, reacting minute by minute to the nuances and curveballs of life. Running is great, but with racing, I am still engaged in the fray, there is always the expectation that something both thrilling and unexpected is around the next corner and I will have to be on my toes when it comes. I am a dreamer, and a doer, but not a planner by nature. I want to be the one in action, meeting the people who come through the door, guiding them to the right hallway and helping them figure out their turns along the way. I want to be on the start line, performing the actions, more than I want to be behind the scences making it all happen. In motherhood, I want to be at the epicentre of domestic and parenting events, managing the homework and meal times and soccer games, being there for all the crazy practicalities that are the growth of kids. I just don’t want to miss anything—the first lost tooth, the first step, the perfectly run kilometer—I prefer to just be responding to the here and now. I have perfected the art of doing things on the fly, of getting the most of an hour of silence, and I thrive in coping, being resilient and finding solutions.

This style of coping was honed in my days of European triathlon and duathlon racing, and the countless times I showed up at a foreign airport or train station, hulking bike box in hand and had to find a way to a hotel, and subsequently, a way to win.
I am a worker, committed to the plan of attack, and willing to bend and adapt to whatever situation arises: give me a wet day, and I will perform; give me a hot day, and I will perform there too. Give me a delayed 12 hour flight to another country, and I will cope with that and perform. Maybe not always the best performance, but a ‘try’ at any rate. Starting 12 years ago, I added 2 kids into the mix, and I just started shuffling things around and adapted to that too. A growing business? Throw that in and I’ll handle that as well. I am the ad hoc machine. I will create what’s necessary for every situation, as long as I can be part of the action.
So maybe that’s the real reason I keep on doing what I do. I don’t want to miss any of the magic. I want to be involved by doing. I want my actions to speak louder than my words (though I do love words!). I can’t think of a better way to show my kids about passion and purpose than to live it myself. I am inspired by everybody out there living their passion–whatever it is–and I need to fuel my own inspiration or I might fall asleep. We are all born inspired, I believe, but finding it and nurturing it takes some creative thinking and a whole lot of determination and courage.
When I was on the stage on International Women’s Day, in the company of amazing women: a 27 year old CEO, a successful entrepreneur, an Oncologist, a nurse who has worked in Africa and war torn countries, a world renowned artist, I had to perform a strong reality check. What does running fast really have to do with anything anyway?
Sitting in the wings waiting for my turn to speak, I prepared for yet another of my ad hoc life. What could I say that was relevant to International Women’s Day? That at 26, when I was living in Paris I was insulted, and outraged by the obsession Parisian culture had with objectifying women? Instead I spoke personally about what sport has given to me, to prevent me from flying off down some long and convoluted tangent about equality, sport and the confusion of messages about femininity that I had to deal with growing up. There simply was not time enough for that.
Why did I switch to triathlon at 26? Well, to be perfectly honest I saw it as an opportunity for adventure. I could see there was a challenge out there, and opportunity to embrace something that I had only been watching from the outside. It was an opportunity to include amazing people into my life, and to branch outside my comfort zone. I knew I had greater potential and I needed to find this. Isn’t this was being a woman is all about? It’s about giving ourselves the opportunity to reach our potential when no clear path is given. (The only `clear path` I saw was to shackle myself to a life of dieting, makeup and obsession with fashion and relationships. I rejected this outright).
I have moved from one opportunity to another, from running to duathlon, to triathlon, into motherhood, coaching and writing a book, creating my own ad hoc life committee with each event, with the only mandate being that I remain active in my own destiny and on the front line.

What you Need to Know about Lucy (otherwise known as AL 288-1) and The Perfect Runner

by lucy ~ February 24th, 2012

I was only 7 years old when the several hundred shards of an early Australopithecus afarensis skeleton was discovered and carefully brushed out of an Ethiopian valley. Later, sometime in middle school or high school, we studied this early human, named Lucy, and I thought what a funny name to choose for a skeleton. First I had ‘Lucille Ball’, then ‘Lucy in the Sky’, and now an ancient partial skeleton as namesakes. By this point in my life, I was already well on my way to becoming the runner I would eventually be, but I was too early in my training to understand the significance of this early Lucy and the modern early Lucy I was. That she was found in Ethiopia—whose athletes I would soon be learning to admire, emulate and observe closely– was also beyond my consciousness at that point. Having run since I was a little kid, I was already efficient and sort of a natural. The 3 million year old version of myself that had been found in 1974, had only just evolved to walking upright, so she wasn’t all that gainly, graceful or even adapted yet for running, let alone walking.

In the 3 million years since ‘Lucy’ that separate me and my community of runners today, a lot has happened. The one I find most interesting, because when I am not running or coaching, I am an avid digester of anthropology, social psychology and culture, is how our ancient necessity to evolve into superior endurance runners in order to survive the mammals that we both wanted to eat and who were chasing us, is all but gone. These days we run because we can. (Or have to, for our declining health).

For most of us lifelong runners, we run purely because it feels good. I am not running away from anything anymore. We all have used running to run away from our lives at times, to squash our fears ands struggles as humans. We use running to overcome obstacles and self doubts and bad days at the office. But this is only the metaphoric tiger lurking in the forest beside the trail.

So, if I’m not running away from anything, and I am not even running to something, why do I run? Sometimes I run towards a finish line, sometimes I run to catch my kid in a game of tag, but you know what I mean. It is not a matter of life or death, but for my current running ability I owe my ancestors of several million years ago: all those early humans who ran for several days just so they could eat some meat and survive to produce another generation of…well…runners. I would say that running today is very much an emotionally driven activity.

Running efficiency, bare foot running, minimalist footwear, and biomechanics are the current issues facing the multitudes of new runners. But history is also so important and so fascinating. It seems that 500 years of civilization, industrialization and leather shoes, have all but undone the millions of years of evolution that created the great runners out of humans.

While I didn’t have the good fortune to be born in the highlands of Ethiopia, I was lucky in that I born into the generation before Wal-Mart, cheap goods and really really cheap stiff as boards shoes. As a kid I was either in bare feet, tennis sneakers, or soft rubber soled Clarks. I really owe it my parents, for always putting me in flexible soled shoes when I was a kid and for letting me wander around the neighbourhood barefoot. Sure, I used to cut my feet on glass, step on nails and scrape them on barnacles, but I seemed to survive all this (with a few tetanus shots and a lot of wild smelling Dettol) and what’s more, I got the North American version of growing up barefoot.

As I grew older and my passion for running developed into a career, I had a program where I did a lot of barefoot running after run practices, doing drills, plyometrics and strides on the infield, and running in spikes a lot, which meant that I was essentially barefoot, but with more grip ability! Obviously there are few more factors I can be thankful for, like my mum’s interest in growing her own vegetables, feeding us whole food, and the budget that generally kept us out of fast food restaurants. But as far as developing into a good runner, the current research on barefoot running, human endurance, and efficiency I can’t help but think that all this barefoot running I did as a kid was a huge help, even if I didn’t have to run 10 miles to and from school every day, like those kids in Ethiopia did.

And now, providing us with the link between skeleton Lucy and her descendants, to our current obsession with running, is a new documentary coming out on CBC very soon called The Perfect Runner. If I needed any more fuel and inspiration for my obsession, it looks like I will soon receive it from award winning documentary director Dr. Niobe Thompson. On March 15th, this Anthropologist and film maker is going to give us a film to inspire, educate and awe. I have watched the trailers and the behind the scenes footage of running and runners and it’s amazing! Some of the slow motion footage of runners in action is the best I have ever seen.

Right on the eve of the Summer Olympics, in which we will be able to gawk for hours at the world’s best runners, not only in track and field events, but on the playing field, courts and in triathlon, The Perfect Runner draws upon current research in running evolution and applies it to both the high performance and age group running movement for all us runners who are passionate about the potential for running and human movement (and doing it injury free).

If there’s anything that gives me as much comfort as running, it’s CBC. I have been watching CBC and listening to CBC radio for as long as I can remember. I grew up with CBC television (The Muppets on Wednesdays/I love Lucy on Thursday), and every Saturday morning my mum listened to CBC radio, which got louder and louder as ‘Saturday Afternoon at the Opera’ competed with the sound of the Hoover, at which point I am sure I went outside to run around in the yard (barefoot). So, it gives me a warm feeling that The Perfect Runner is going to be aired on The Nature of Things, one of the longest running shows on Canadian television. I always feel proud of Canadian projects and love watching great films around running.

From the Website for the film:

The Perfect Runner celebrates the modern passion for running by exploring our evolution as a distance-running species. This is a big, ambitious documentary, with locations from Ethiopia to Arctic Russia to the Canadian Rockies, featuring some of Canada’s fastest athletes in extreme slow motion, one of the world’s most gruelling ultramarathons, and a slew of fascinating science from cutting-edge researchers. Dr. Daniel Lieberman, the father of the barefoot running movement, plays a major role, explaining his research on running biomechanics and the importance of the “natural running” technique.

You can see the trailer here: http://vimeo.com/36338816

The website, with behind-the-scenes clips, is here: www.theperfectrunner.com
A 1GB version of the film can be downloaded here: https://rcpt.yousendit.com/1384548572/1d925b91634b28618d3200c98eb2a65c

I think we Canadians are lucky to get to watch this show on television, and I love it that The Nature of Things has given space to it. So many of these films get limited engagements in small theatres in a few towns, but this will be accessible to a lot of people. People seem to love to run, for no reason other than that it feels good. I am sure that desire to run, is as much a vestigial part of our biology, as the mechanics.

The cornerstone of my running career has always been the 5000 and 10 000m distances. But when I was just starting out, and only had dreams about being the runner I wanted to become-and for some reason that I can’t fathom right now– Comrades Marathon in South Africa was the pinnacle of all running achievement. My Olympic dreams came after this point, when career development pathways started to form. But recently, I have started to become interested in the part of the sport that has always been outside my sphere of understanding: ultra running. I can’t wait to watch The Perfect Runner, and I love how life gives us these unexpected events, providing us with authentic connections that have been lurking just beneath our consciousness.

Run For Joy!

Lucy

Optimism is in your future: Head to 2012 with some Great Ideas.

by lucy ~ December 31st, 2011

Already thinking about some new goals for 2012 even thought you have signed up for six races already? Want to still make resolutions for the New Year, even though your diet is impeccable and your time management is all set for 12 hours a week of training? Looking for some new inspiration to take into a new year of training? There’s nothing like the New Year to set hearts afire and to create excitement about new beginnings and fun achievements. Athletes are a hopeful bunch, full of optimism about what they can accomplish, and sport is pretty much the role model environment for positive thinking. One year in the sport or triathlon will show you that you are in the leagues of positive thinkers: people who are determined to hurdle obstacles, deal with pain and find new ways to excel.
Here are 5 other ways to be optimistically intelligent in 2012:
1. Listen to your inner pessimist. Pessimism, long the foe of athletes, might actually serve a purpose in prevention of long term injuries. Knowing when an injury is real and potentially serious is a strong skill. Pushing through pain because of positive thinking (“I can do this!’) might be what leads to the positive diagnosis on the MRI.
2. Be Positive NOW. Pay attention to what you are doing in the moment you are doing it. Instead of filling your brain with thoughts of future races, people to beat, and performances, focus on the process while you are training. Nothing creates FLOW like being in the moment.
3. Be honest. Optimism isn’t just a routine of ‘positive thinking’ and ‘affirmation’. Optimism is a generally hopeful view that things will be ok. Most of the time things turn out just fine. What clouds the issue is the definition of what ‘fine’ means to different people. Make sure your vision of success is yours, not some fabrication from our happiness obsessed society.
4. This leads us to happiness and optimism. Happiness is a word with very little meaning anymore. Contrary to popular culture, people are not happy all the time. Think instead of purpose and joy, your sense of community and the things about sport that you love. Smile while you do the things you love, and accept all of your moods.
5. Stay in the moment, but move forward. Triathlon is about forward momentum and finesse, efficiency of movement in three sports and being streamlined, strong and focussed all at the same time. Strive to create this forward momentum in your life, choosing things that give you joy, doing them with a sense of purpose: be graceful and grateful and nurture your inner optimist.
Wishing you all the best and much joy for 2012!