Imagine that you have a toolbox, and you need to hang a picture on the wall. You’d need to grab a hammer, some nails and maybe a leveler- but when you look into the tool box you realize you are missing the leveler. You hang the picture anyways and it just sits there crooked until whenever you decide to fix it. Well, that’s how I felt about approaching racing when I was in high school. I had enormous performance anxiety from self-imposed pressure and from poor races at the state cross-country meet where I was struggling with anemia but didn’t know why I couldn’t finish the race strong when it really mattered. I wished I could go back in time and tell myself, “Don’t worry! Your toolbox is just missing some critical pieces, pieces that you will learn to put in there later on and will help you to enjoy and even love the craziness of racing.”
Since it’s impossible to go back in time and give advice to myself (anyone have leads on a time machine?), I figured the next best thing is to help some local high school girls so they can learn from the numerous mistakes that I’ve made! That’s how “Kickin’ with Katie” was born. I wanted a way to combine my two favorite parts of being a professional athlete: the quest to become the best runner I can be and the fun of visiting and talking with schools and programs about all that I’ve learned. Through running, I’ve come in contact with so many knowledgeable professionals in every field. Not only has it made me a better runner, but it’s made me a better person as well. My vision is to give younger athletes a couple new tools to add to their toolbox, even if they never end up using the tools for running. I want the girls to come away feeling empowered, and knowing that these “tools” are not something you have or don’t have; they take time to develop, patience and practice, practice, practice!
The camp takes place the weekend after the Washington state cross country meet, because I want the girls to be able to talk about and reflect on their seasons. I know from personal experience that not reaching a goal at the state meet can be a heart-breaking experience! We all stay in an Airbnb down the road from the Brooks Headquarters in Fremont, and I take the girls to do anything that I think would have been cool and fun to see when I was in high school. We tour the Brooks Headquarters, have a Q&A and run with the Brooks Beasts, visit InHealth (the chiropractic clinic we partner with) for some preventative and strengthening exercises, cook meals together and have a tie-dye party. But my favorite part of the weekend is the “Mind- Mechanics” workshop where a few of the Beasts TC ladies and I all sit down to talk to the girls about what tools they might need to work on putting in their toolbox. There are a few basic tools that I focus on, working towards the ultimate goal of getting in an ideal state of mind to deal with everything from state cross country championships to taking a big test.
1) Have fun: Being invested in goals and a team is a journey, and when things get tough the best way to find motivation is to remember what you love about what you are doing in the first place. As Justine Fredronic told the girls, “if you are the ones out there having the most fun, and striving with intent, how can anyone say that you have failed?” We share stories of what keeps running fun for us, and cues that we have created to remind us. A simple cue can be a really powerful reminder and can take many forms. For me, I love being in the mountains and seeing all types of wildlife when out on the trails. Growing up, my absolute favorite were the pronghorn antelope. They can run up to 65 mph! I now have a tattoo on my side that my dad designed. It helps me remember how much fun I have logging miles on the trails with him, and to not lose sight of why I started running in the first place.
2) Learn to love and take care of your body: Several of our conversations were about food and fueling. What should I eat before a race? Is sugar bad? When it comes to nutrition, it’s easy to overthink things so we focused on the basics and keeping it simple. This means, eating when you are hungry and eating healthy foods, especially fruits and vegetables, which have the micronutrients to keep you healthy and performing your best that processed foods don’t have. Processed foods have been stripped of their nutrients and are hiding lots of added sugar and fat so it’s best to avoid them. Sugar isn’t bad all the time, but timing is important! Taking in simple sugars immediately before, during and after exercise can help with energy in the workout and recovery afterwards. But talking about nutrition leads to other underlying issues as well. We also discussed the importance of focusing on how you feel and letting your body tell you what the right “race weight” is instead of the other way around. Living in a day and age full of comparisons every time you pull out your phone, it’s easy to be self-conscious and fall into the trap of obsessing over what everyone else is doing. This is hard for pro’s too! It is easy to start comparing everything, including weight and body type. It’s easy to focus on one thing (weight) and lose sight of the bigger picture (how strong you feel, if you are healthy and injury resistant). What is an ideal weight for someone might not be for another.
3) Know and maintain a healthy perspective: How do you do this? I take the girls through a simple exercise that I have found to be helpful over and over. It starts with writing down an adversity that you’ve faced. For me, I use the example of my poor performance at the state meet. Next, write down a belief that formed because of that event. For me, because of the poor performance I started to believe that I was not good at racing under pressure. There are can be crippling consequences from forming beliefs that aren’t even true! What are the consequences from that belief? After struggling to finish at the state meet, my opinion of myself as an athlete had changed. I honestly thought that I was one of those athletes that crumbled under pressure. I thought my failure reflected my being, not something I had the power to change. That is where perspective comes in. A healthy perspective helps bridge the gaps between the “have’s” and “have nots”. Instead of focusing on what you don’t currently have, be thankful for what you have, while keeping track of what you are working on obtaining with the belief that you have the power to change and make personal improvements! I was able to look at the belief that I had formed and ask myself, “is this true?” I then wrote down a list of things that I could change: take an iron supplement to heal from the anemia and give 100% no matter what level of competition I was racing in. With those two new beliefs, I was able to change the consequences and have breakthrough performances at big competitions again.
I love that every year, the discussions over the weekend take on a life of their own and the tools we end up focusing on and talking about are different. This camp isn't just for the athletes; it is for myself and my teammates as well. Not only is the weekend a blast, it’s a good way to remember and appreciate all the lessons learned along the way that have brought me step by step to where I am today. A few days after the camp, my teammates and I were jogging an easy recovery run around Greenlake and someone joked “we should take our own advice more often”- I couldn’t agree more:)
*Special thanks to those who supported this years camp, including meals from Metropolitan Market, Brooks Running pitching in gear and Believe Journals by Lauren Fleshman!!