My senior year of high school I visualized winning the Colorado state cross-country meet thousands of times. All summer, I got up at 6 a.m. to meet my teammates for practice and it paid off – I stood on the starting line of the state meet undefeated and with the fastest time. I had never felt more confident as I rounded the final curb with 400m to go, I was with the leaders just as I dreamed, but as I dug down deep for the final kick I started to feel light headed and see stars. I don’t remember how many times I lost my balance, fell to my knees and got back up, but when I finally finished I was in 174th place. I had failed in meeting my biggest goal. I was never a state champion. Looking back now, even though I felt heartbroken and it seemed like a disaster that was one of the most important moments of my career, I learned more from that single experience than all the races I had won combined.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought, “I wish I could go back and talk with myself in high school!” This is why one of my favorite parts of being a Brooks Beast is our involvement with local kids programs, and also the reason my first annual “Kickin’ with Katie” camp was born. My main focus with the camp was to create a fun weekend where local high schools girls from different schools could meet each other and spend time getting to know professional athletes. We toured the Brooks Headquarters, had a Q&A and ran with the Brooks Beasts athletes, stayed together at an AirBNB, and had a tie-dye party (no high school camp is complete without it in my opinion). But my favorite part of the weekend was a workshop on the power of a positive mental attitude, perspective and resiliency. In my mind, these are the most important lessons I have continually fallen back on in my 18+ years of competing.
There were two main lessons that I wanted to share. The first is that a healthy perspective is not only about taking a step back for a “big picture” view of the situation, it is also believing that you have the power to make personal improvements and maximizing that ability. The reason losing the state meet was more valuable than winning was because it gave me an opportunity to ask myself, what are the specific things I can change? A growth mindset looks at failure as an opportunity to come back stronger and smarter. I have found that not meeting my goals the first time around is an integral part of the process and not something to be afraid or ashamed of. Because when you’re less distracted by fear, you become free to relentlessly pursue goals over and over again and become the most resilient version of yourself.
The second lesson that I wanted to share with the girls was that repetition forms habits, good or bad. A positive mental approach doesn’t just happen, because life is full of distractions and moments of negative self talk and doubt. It takes practice to become aware of where your energy, a limited resource, is going and channel it back into the moment where you can do something constructive to solve the problem at hand. In a race, sometimes all I have is a split second to re-direct my mind. When the high-pressure moment comes, if you are prepared then how you handle it will be second nature.
I may have gone into the weekend with the idea of giving back, but I also came away with a renewed sense of purpose and vision. High school cross country was where I fell in love with running, and looking back on where it all started with these girls helped me to pause and remember how all the highs and lows have brought me mile by mile to where I am standing now. So thank you Isabel, Hana, Lydia, Anna, Emma, Suzanna, Veronica and both Lucys- bring on 2017!