My lifestyle is pretty different from many other people my age. I, and the other professional and elite runners I know, usually go to bed early on weekend nights, avoid situations where injury is a moderate possibility, and live a largely transient life, spending a couple months altitude training, a month in Europe, and seemingly every other weekend away from home to race. While a few professional runners make the big bucks through large contracts and winning prize money, many of us struggle financially. I’m anxious about earning enough money to support kids while I’m young enough to have them, and I question whether I’ll ever have enough money to make a down payment on a house.
The sacrifices we make to chase our running dreams usually seem worth giving up stability and financial security. Most of the time I don’t see the things I forgo in a non-traditional career as sacrifices. However, this is an Olympic year, and I decided to give up some things that are particularly difficult in order to give myself the best chance of making the Olympic team. These include:
- Part-time Work: Throughout my professional running career, I have supplemented my income through part-time jobs in order to make ends meet. I decided to stop any outside jobs this year so I could focus entirely on running and be able to travel easily, including a fall and spring training stint with my coaches in Fayetteville. This means living on a tighter budget and finding other avenues of support (thank you Oiselle, Inhealth, West Seattle Health Club, Garden of Life, Club Northwest, parents, boyfriend, and gofundme contributors!).
- Sweets and Alcohol: I was twenty pounds heavier than my race weight when I came back from surgery last year. I wanted to be careful about how fast and what method I used to get back to race weight. In the first year I gradually lost fifteen pounds, but it had been a long time since my body had been at my ideal race weight, and it didn’t seem to want to return. I believe the body has incredible knowledge about what it needs, and I am going to continue to listen to mine, but I decided to take a couple things I have a hard time using in moderation (sweets and alcohol) out of the equation.
I wondered what special steps my running friends were taking to prepare for the Olympic Trials (and we are all hoping the Olympics). Phoebe Wright (Nike, Seattle) and Shalya Kipp (Oiselle, Boulder) both took this year off of graduate school in order to focus on training. Shayla wrote, “I love being in the lab (it’s a sort of second family to me). But this year is all about those small details, so somethings are just going to have to go.” Others gave up jobs. Heather Kampf (Asics, Team USA Minnesota, Minneapolis), gave up coaching her high school team this spring. “Because I told them they have to be the best they can be, I knew I had to give up coaching this spring to put everything I could into running.”
Everyone I talked to mentioned less socializing. Eric Finan (Saucony, Team Run Eugene) says he is giving up late night hanging out because,“sleep is one of the greatest things a runner can do for expedited recovery, and lots of it. Getting to bed earlier can be difficult, but necessary for optimal performance.” Kate Grace (Oiselle, Sacramento) said, “[Socializing is] an added energy drain that I have to be careful with.” She had to miss a good friend’s wedding this fall and she this year she is skiping out on traveling to see her best friends. Collier Lawrence (Oiselle, Bend) likes to be with people and usually “hands out “yes” like Halloween candy. I figure out a way to make it all work as I go, but it gets me into trouble. So lots of “Thank you, but I can’t” will be coming from my mouth this year.”
Some people talked about having a shift in perception. Joanna Murphy (Brooks, Boulder) hasn’t given anything up, but she has shifted her focus to “prioritizing the little things like sleep, nutrition and stress relief.” Heather described her sharpened attitude in training as “not being safe and wanting it more. The people who will make it at Trials are the ones who want it more. I’m practicing that more at workouts. I’m practicing wanting it more than feeling my arms when I’m done with a workout.”
Stephanie Brown says ther is a heightened focus going into the track season, but the sacrifices she’s making now aren’t any different than the rest of her career:
The sacrifices that are the largest for me is what my career and future outside of athletics could be. What I mean by this is, as an endurance based athlete there is a lot of focus, passion, and will to succeed that is put into every day. I imagine myself in the business world putting out this effort, and can’t help but think of how successful I would become. I know for a fact that it would yield a much higher paycheck at the end of the day. There is obviously frustration in that aspect. Also, being able to even think of starting a family is out of the question. As a female athlete, I have been trained since college that babies are out of the question (which I am not ready for) but being allowed to have the thought of a family would be nice. Dating as an adult athlete is hard because, athletically our schedules are skewed and it’s strange to explain why I couldn’t work a regular job then go run and still be successful. The non-runners can understand but not at the deep awareness and understanding that the elite runners do. It is difficult to put this stuff into words, especially since when it’s written down, it almost doesn’t seem ‘worth it’. But, there is something inside of me that knows it’s too late, that knows if I don’t try to do this running thing, I will regret it forever, unable to be at peace knowing I didn’t put myself out there. Living with regret is a hard way to live. With all that being said, I will have to continue to sacrifice; Not for the #roadtorio, just for the #roadtomybest.
I’ll leave you with Phoebe’s list, which sums up what most of us are feeling:
Things I sacrifice:
- School–I put it on hold this year.
- A social life– I hibernate after 7pm nowadays.
- A Guilt free beer
- Those hiking boots I bought will come in handy in September!
- Hip hop Zumba
- Donuts. Mostly for vanity reasons. I want to look intimidating.
- I’ve ordered tea at a bar at least 6 times this year– so I guess I also sacrifice social norms.
- Rita (my dog) no longer can run with me because I can’t get distracted at practice.
- Trails are kept to a minimum–even the slightest misstep can be a sprained ankle. And a sprained ankle can mean a missed season.