Even though winter in Ontario wasn’t too severe, I find that right around this time every year, I enter what can only be called a funk. I’m sure it’s the cumulative wear and tear on my body from the winter running, the diminished hours of sunlight and simply the accumulation of a season’s full of litter blowing around vacant lots and city gutters. In any case, the motivation to head out on another training run is most definitively in short supply. I shared how I was feeling with friends in the running community, and it generated a lot of discussion along with some questions.
As a public figure, you must get a ton of requests to connect with people in real life. How do you decide who to meet and when to say no?
Not a day goes by in which I don’t feel grateful and privileged to be doing my work first as an international advocate for survivors of sexual violence, and second as a sponsored endurance athlete. When I look back at how transformative running has been in my life and consider the incredible ambassadors of our sport who I have been blessed to call friends and ‘mentors’, I can’t help but feel a responsibility to give back to the running community.
I look around me, and I don’t see runners – I see ‘teachers’ – people who continually demonstrate to me the importance of being a proud ambassador of our sport. The numbers are too great to mention, but those who come to mind immediately are people such as Alan Brookes of the Canada Running Series and Bart Yasso of Runners World Magazine – both of whom embrace the importance of nurturing community. Next, there are the elites of our sport, people like Lanni Marchant, Krista DuChene, and Reid Coolsaet, all of whom demonstrate that passion for excellence does not have to come at the expense of individual integrity. And finally, there are the names of which you may not be familiar – individuals such as Rhonda-Marie Avery, who may be the strongest and bravest person I’ve ever met, and Dave Emilio, who passionately gives back to the running community in selflessly and abundantly.
Now, yes, I do get a lot of requests from people wanting me to come out to speak to their group or at their function, and also from people just wanting to run with me. I make no secret of the fact that the running community has done everything for me, so without a doubt, I would do anything for the running community. Lately, I have been devoting a lot more of my time to building connections with individuals who are new to running, and to young families who are trying to incorporate a shared running practice which includes participation from both the children and the parents. The irony in all of this is that when I go out to speak to a group, I’m usually the one who walks away having learned the greatest lesson – ‘in order to keep it, you have to wholeheartedly give it away.’
Do you ever feel under pressure now that so many people count on you to lift them up? Do the expectations ever bring you down?
I live a very public life, and with that comes not only the opportunity to welcome some amazing people into my life but also the real possibility of becoming overwhelmed by the weight of carrying so many people’s expectations and support. I’m somewhat fortunate that I have become known not so much for my accomplishment in the world of endurance running, but for my ability to weather adversity and trauma.
Having said that, in the weeks leading up to my Triple Toronto Waterfront Marathon last fall, I certainly felt the self-imposed pressure of all the people who had contacted me wishing me good luck on race day. The way I managed to cope with that pressure was to make a little space for all of that anxiety, not in the hope that it would dissipate, but rather so that I could become more comfortable in the discomfort.
Even though I had many offers from people willing to run with me on that first of three marathons, I chose to run the first marathon by myself. In that way, I was able to ‘sit with’ the emotions of fear and self-doubt that I, and only I, had imposed on my running practice because I was afraid of failing and letting so many people down. I learned an important lesson that day – I was reminded that running in its purest form is nothing more than putting one foot in front of the other, and more importantly, any time I attempt to complicate that in any way, I’m setting myself up for wave after wave of negative self-talk.
And finally, I make a conscious effort to engage on social media authentically, and that means being open to discussing the highs and lows of not only my running but also my life in general. For me, this is why long distance running is the perfect metaphor for life – if you don’t give it the proper respect, it will humble you in ways you’ve never imagined.
Send your advice and questions to JP firstname.lastname@example.org. Want more tips, tricks and practical advice from JP Bedard? Check out his previous posts with questions from elite and everyday athletes.