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Friday, July 18, 2014

Distractions

I've been meaning to write a blog for awhile now, but quite honestly I've been a bit distracted. I am the worst when it comes to distractions, whether its Twitter, Facebook, clicking on junk email or just zoning out like Walter Mitty. Distractions can sometimes be a good thing for a runner, especially when you need to block out the pain, however when it comes to a major race like the 1500m I ran at the USA Championships three weeks ago, too many distractions can be detrimental.

When I lined up for USA's three weeks ago I told myself I was ready and focused, yet in reality my head was full of distractions. Instead of just focusing on qualifying to the final round I'd spent the days leading up to that race with a million thoughts buzzing through my head; planning my wedding, packing my apartment to move, preparing for my first trip outside the US, dealing with an injury and more. Despite all of this, I thought I'd be okay if I could let all of those distractions go as I stepped onto the track, but it doesn't exactly work like that. The whole race was a blur and before I knew it I found myself in the back of the pack, my chance at racing in the final round slipping away like quick sand.

When I finished, I was definitely upset but also didn't know exactly how to feel. Yes, I went into that race with a lot on my mind and several of my prior weeks of training had been dampened by injury, but I hated the idea of allowing room for excuses. However, when spoke to Coach Gags he said something that made me see things differently. "You're running with a piano on your back," meaning I had way too much on my mind to expect to race against the best.

As an elite athlete, going into a competition with a distracted mind just doesn't work. Sure, to compete at the highest level you must be able to deal with any kind of circumstances, but when its an injury that's distracting your performance, along with major events like getting married and moving, it becomes difficult to expect to race at 100%. And so, when I ended up sick the whole week following my race I realized being sick, injured, preparing for a wedding and racing against the best in the World don't exactly mix. And so, I decided it was best to go home and end my season.

It was tough at first, missing out on all the fun every other elite runner seemed to be having while racing in Europe and setting big PR's, but every time I saw running-related results,Ttweets and Instagrams I had to keep reminding myself that in hind-site I'm glad I'm able to be home with family, preparing for my marriage, which is more important than some marginal victory on a piece of rubber. I love running, but that love cannot be compared to the love I have for my fiancé, and even more so the love of God.

That's what "Not Running for A-Win" has always been about, the idea that my whole life shouldn't be focused on just running to win, and running for my own glory. There's a big difference between being focused on running and allowing running to be the only focus of my life. Sometimes the only way to realize you are distracted is to give up that thing all together. Despite my will, I had to take some time off running to heal my injury and thus entered the death-like state that all injured runners come to know and despise. However, three weeks later I can honestly say its been good for me to hit the "reset" button and re-evalute priorities.

During my time off running I started thinking a lot about how distractions affect our relationship with God. Just like any relationship, distractions are rarely a good thing, and if we are too preoccupied with other "noise" it becomes more difficult to hear the voice of God. In Luke Chapter 8 the Bible talks about distractions when Jesus tells the Parable of the Sower. In this story, there's a farmer who scatters seeds among the ground. Some of the seeds fall onto a path, some on the rocks, some seeds fall into the weeds, and others into rich soil. It doesn't take a science fair experiment to figure out which seeds will grow well, but this is not a lesson in agriculture. Instead, Jesus warns us of the danger of distractions, specifically when he mentions the seeds that fall among the weeds. "As for what fell among the thorns, these are the ones who hear (the Word of God) but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares, riches and pleasures of life, and they do not mature."-Luke 8:14.
If we aren't careful, the distractions in our lives can choke us off from what's most important, like our relationship with God, and with the people around us. Just like an athlete must be focused on their training, or in the business world one must be focused on meetings, budgets or deadlines, we all need to choose carefully where we put our attention. My fiancé always likes to ask me before my races, "Are you laser-focused?" But more importantly, I need to start asking myself what I'm focused on, and use that direction to take action, not distraction!

*I can't tell you how many times I got distracted just in writing this blog, but what can I say, I'm only human. Anyways, I'd love to hear thoughts/comments/advice from YOU! In the mean time, I'll be NOT running (for A-Win that is) although once I'm married I'll no longer go by the nickname,"A-Win." I will, however, as always, keep running for Christ (I Run For Christ #IR4C) And you can continue to follow along my spiritual journey on this blog!
-Amanda (soon to be Rego) Winslow





Wednesday, June 4, 2014

To Fly or to Float


Summer is finally here, and after a brutal winter all I want to do is be outside soaking up the sun. I love summer, such a wonderful time for relaxing, refreshing and reflecting. Growing up, one of my favorite summer pastimes was floating around on an inner tube in the pool in our backyard. Those lazy summer days the heat would zap me of my energy, but it didn’t matter much because that was before I had obligations such as 6pm high school cross country practice or taking online summer classes. Back then summer consisted mostly of “floating” through life without a worry in the world. It was a seemingly endless cycle of sleeping in, spending hours swimming in the pool, taking breaks only to consume copious amounts of watermelon (something like 15 pieces at a time!) The evenings included epic games of flashlight tag once the sun went down (the most barefoot sprint training I’ve ever done) and eventually my sister and I would fall asleep watching late night television in the basement since it was the only cool place in a house with no A/C.

Ah the life it was! Not a worry in the world, no place to be, and no to-do list to get done. Yet, something about that lifestyle used to bothered me. It was great in the moment, but whenever summer would come to an end I’d look back and think to myself “Where did summer go?” Sure it was a lot of fun, and it flew by fast, but in the end I felt like I hadn’t really accomplished much.

Perhaps this is why running became such a passion for me when it entered my summer routine after seventh grade. It was something that allowed me to see daily progress towards a goal, the same ultimate goal I chase to this very day. It gave me a reason to stop floating from day to day and start flying towards an Olympic dream.

Now over ten years later my summer days look a lot different than they used to. First off, summer is somewhat undefined to a pro-runner. There’s no clear start now that I’m out of school, and no such thing as vacations. Instead of a break or base-building phase this is peak season, the time of the most important championship races. Our NJNYTC practices continue like any other time of the year and the workouts are the hardest yet. Then there are strength and core routines, cross-training, massages, physical therapy and all the other daily obligations of a pro-runner. But outside of all of that there is this confusing void of time that I often look back at and wonder what I did during it.

I call this lost void of time “floating”-doing something that’s really nothing at all. It’s not that I do nothing outside of running, in fact I enjoy coaching part time and working with Girls on the Run, but outside of that I sometimes find myself “floating.” Whether its wasting time on Twitter or just relaxing while sipping on a cup of coffee, most of the time when I’m “floating” I don’t realize it until the day is over and I ask myself what I have done.

Living the life of a professional runner is a lot different than a usual 8-hour workday. There are little pockets of time that will quickly go by if they aren’t salvaged. I’m still learning how to find the balance between running and other things, but one thing I know I can improve on is spending less time “floating” and more time, say, “flying,” or working towards a goal. Sometimes that goal is simply to take a nap between two hard workouts, but other days it might mean doing something totally unrelated to running. I’m not going to lie, deep down I’m still a total running nerd and I have to consciously force myself to spend my time thinking about and doing other things. But that’s the whole reason I started blogging about “Not Running For A Win.” A few years ago I realized my life was focused 100% around running and winning when it really should have been focused on God.

The Bible talks a lot about using your time wisely and not being lazy. Colossians 3:23-24 says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” I like this verse because it reminds me to put heart into what I do and not just float through the day-to-day. It reminds me also that living a life centered around Christ leads to an inheritance with God in Heaven and that’s worth so much more than the silly day to day time-wasting pleasures.

Six months have passed now since I made my New Year’s Resolutions. To be honest, I forget exactly what I said I would do, but I know one of the things I resolved was to grow closer to God in prayer and reading my Bible, and so far I have not done that as much as I would have liked. Living a good Christian life isn’t always about doing everything perfect, but it does boil down to having priorities straight and maintaining a personal relationship with God, and so I must constantly remind myself that this is my focus.

The year may be half way through, but all the more reason it really is the perfect time to reflect and ask myself, “Have I been flying or have I been floating?” Isn’t it funny that when you float lackadaisically from day-to-day life flies by very fast and you look back thinking, “what have I done with my time?” But when you live a focused life, always having a goal in mind, the days actually float by at a more even pace.

And so, starting now I resolve to stop floating and start flying! I’ve got a lot on my plate between back-to-back race weekends, training, and my wedding that is now less than two months away! But no matter how busy life gets, there are always moments in the day where you can choose to float or choose the opposite. I choose to fly!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Always Hay in the Barn


"Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."-Hebrews 11:1

Flipping through my notebook I came across this, and it seemed I couldn't have found a better verse to sum up my thoughts after the Drake Relays, or really my thoughts about racing in general.

When it comes to running, our goals are often black-and-white, "I want to break 4:07 in the 1500m”or, “I want to finish in the top 3.” But the truth is, until we cross the line and get the official results all we have are "things hoped for" without any evidence that they'll ever happen. Then, when we have an off race like I did last Friday night at Drake Relays, we sometimes start worrying where the evidence is that we can do what we hoped we could. "Have I been pushing myself hard enough in training? Am I doing everything I can? Did I mentally give up?" These were a few honest questions I was asking myself after I went from being in perfect position for 3 laps of my race but ended up nearly last by the time I finished. But then I remembered this was only my first 1500m of the outdoor season, a season that I hope to push further into the summer than I ever have. So what did I conclude? I don't need to doubt myself, I just need to continue forward with more faith.
Drake Relays 1500m

Racing takes faith, and right now I'm not talking about faith in a spiritual sense, but the hope you have in your heart, the trust in your training and your coach, and most of all yourself. It seems obvious, yet this is the one thing every runner struggles with; from Sub-Bantam 5-year-old track toddlers to famous Olympians, every runner must deal with the battle between faith and fear when toeing the starting line.

This weekend I travel to Stanford to race the 5000m at the Payton Jordan Invite on Sunday. This will be my first time racing the 5k against a highly competitive field of women from all across the country. Since I’m still fairly new to this event I know I must have faith that I can run with the best, despite having less experience than many of them.

When it comes to doing something for the first time there will always be more fear present than usual. I still remember how nervous I was back in high school for my very first State meet, over thinking every detail the morning of my race and forgetting to focus on my fitness. What I wish I knew back then is that its okay to be a little scared, as long as you hold on tight to faith.

My high school coach used to tell us "the hay is in the barn," meaning that the hard work was done and all we had to do was confidently run the race we were ready to run. Sometimes I try to picture all of the hay in that barn. Imagine, every day of training leading up to your race you were loading up this barn, sometimes one straw at a time, other days by the wagon-load. Some days you ran extra hard, proudly rolling in giant bails of hay, while other days you sulked away discouraged after a "bad" workout and never realized that the haystack still rose higher because of your persistence.


Well its about time we start visiting that good ‘old barn. Hidden down some long forsaken country road we’ll find it if we search hard enough. There it will stand, taller and wider than we remember, and when we open the latch and fling open those big wooden doors we’ll find more hay inside than our heads can fathom. All the hard work is there, you just need faith to see it. The hay is in the barn, and not just when you go to taper, its piling up all season long.

When it comes to racing, faith is essential. Confidence is key, and the only thing that can conquer faith and courage is an overwhelming presence of fear. Notice I didn’t say a little bit of fear, but an overwhelming amount. Nerves are normal, and can be good in fact, but when fear overpowers faith we’re in trouble. Remember that faith is the substance of things hoped for. To have faith is to hold tight to the hope in your heart. If you let it go then fear will take over and spread like fire. Letting fear take control of your race is like lighting a match to the barn full of hay.

Having strong faith isn’t easy, but its something everyone has to deal with. My faith in God isn’t something I can passively accept, it’s a relationship I have to continually work on and try to improve. In the same way, so is the faith in my running. Sometimes a disappointing race is what it takes for me to realize I need to revisit the “barn” and remind myself of the abundance of hard work I have behind me. Faith is “the evidence of things not seen,” but if we look hard enough I believe we can find that evidence deep within ourselves. If we have faith we'll see there's always hay in the barn.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Does Everything Really Happen for a Reason?

I've always believed that everything happens for a reason. After all, there have been many events in my life that I couldn't make sense of at the time, but looking back now I can find reasoning.

A few weeks ago I had a little incident with a basketball, a trip to the ER and a broken bone that reminded me of the reason I became a runner. I was visiting home and my dad wanted to play basketball with my sister and I since we bought him a new hoop for his birthday. Naturally, I was a little reluctant since basketball and I don't have the best record. Back when I was in the seventh grade I broke my wrist during open-gym basketball practice and from then on I've pretty much stayed away from contact sports, especially anything that could cause injury and affect my running. However, that evening I figured I'd be fine if I stood in one place and just took shots at the hoop, but I was wrong. Literally one minute after we started my fiancé took a shot that hit the rim and the ball bounced back right at my face. Me, having the slowest reaction time (I'm a distance runner, not a sprinter) meant I couldn't quite get my hands in the air fast enough, and the ball hit my fingers straight on. My hand was numb, but didn't hurt (being a distance runner, we can take more pain than most athletes ;) It wasn't until I looked down and noticed my finger was completely crooked that I even realized anything was wrong.


Four hours later, waiting in the ER, and I finally got the word that I'd jammed and broken my pinky finger. You'd think having a broken finger reset would hurt pretty bad, but instead of crying or complaining I was actually laughing with the nurse as I told her the story of the only other time I broke a bone, which was also the last time I seriously attempted playing basketball.

Back in middle school, I was devastated when I no longer had a shot at making that basketball team, however, if it weren't for breaking that bone I may not have made the decision to pursue track and field that spring. It was only off my pent up motivation from being forced to sit out basketball season that I decided to give a different sport a try. If that never happened, I probably would have played some really pathetic games of JV basketball and quickly realized I was un-athletic. In that case, I probably would have chosen marching band over cross-country and who knows how different my life could have turned out!

There are other examples, like my sophomore year in high school when I was devastated to learn that my family was moving to Georgia, but of all the places we just so happened to end up moving into the district of the state champion and nationally ranked track and cross country program (and no we didn't plan to move there based on that). Or what about when you meet that special someone who becomes your significant other, or spouse? What if you could look back and see all of the stars that had to align just for you to meet them when and where you did? What if Ted Mosby from How I Met Your Mother never picked up that yellow umbrella?
When looking back at moments like these it certainly seems as though they are all a part of destiny. But when people talk about destiny they usually think of things happening for the better. What about when things happen in life that don't seem to be blessings? What about real and unexplainable pain, suffering and devastation that causes people to cry out, "Why would you let this happen to me, God?" Do these things really happen for a reason?

This is the question I started pondering the other day, or weeks ago when I started writing this blog. It's obviously a deep subject, one that resulted in me re-writing this blog draft after draft, but the more I thought about it the more I began to realize the quote "everything happens for a reason" can actually be very misleading. This simple and seemingly positive phrase can actually steer people away from the truth about God when thinking that bad things always happen for a reason. The biblical truth is, God is the ultimate source of perfect love. God is love, (1 John 4:8) therefore it is hazardous to say that bad things happening is the will of God.

People then ask, "Why would a good God let bad things happen?"Well, the truth is God didn't bring evil into the world, we did. If you've ever read the book of Genesis you're probably familiar with Adam and Eve. Now, a lot of people hear the word "Genesis" and immediately want to start a debate of creationism vs evolution and science vs religion. I get worried when people get hooked on these debates, not that I'm concerned science might disprove the Bible (which it has yet to do) I'm worried people completely miss the point of the story. If there's one thing science can never prove it is the origin of evil. Genesis, however, does explain the reason why suffering and evil exist. That reason is sin.

For every action, there is a reaction, and unfortunately when Adam and Eve sinned the consequence was pain, suffering and death entered the world. At first, that might seem unfair that we all have to suffer because our ancestors messed up. But then, when you think of the whole history of humanity the truth is we all had the same chance to live a perfect life and we've all also screwed up.

In church this morning, the message was about how our own lives are "fractured" in a sense. Just like my pinky finger that seems forever slightly disfigured and swollen, we all have our own imperfections, including our spiritual ones (sins). We can try to find reasons for them whether it be blaming someone or some circumstance, or we can hold onto the pain and suffering we might face due to other's sins, or we can chose a third option. We can focus on the cross.
Thus bringing us to today, Easter Sunday, a day full of egg hunts and gorging on chocolate bunnies, but as we know thats not the reason for this holiday. The real reason to be celebrating is that Jesus, the one man free of sin, took our sins upon himself and died on the cross for us. Because he died and rose from the dead, He conquered death and sin and we can all be forgiven and share eternal life with Him. Now that's a reason to rejoice!

The reason Jesus died wasn't because we deserved to be saved. Instead, the reason He sacrificed his own life was because He loves us even with our fractures, even in our brokenness He offers forgiveness to those who love Him. When people ask why bad things happen, they are usually failing to recognize that the greatest event in history already happened roughly 2000 years ago, and the reason it happened was love for you, and me.

When I fractured my finger I was annoyed spending four hours in the ER, but I will admit I was humbled at the thought that spending time in the ER usually entails something much worse. Even then, nothing can compare to the suffering Christ endured for you and me, so even when life gets hard there is that to be grateful for. And finally, one positive thing to take away from a broken pinky is that I'll be sure to drink a cup of tea in proper style since I can't bend it if I tried! But of course, I won't go as far to say this happened for that reason!

Cheers,
And Happy Easter!


Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Altitude Attitude

Two weeks ago I travelled to Albuquerque, New Mexico for the USA Indoor Track Championships. I was thrilled to compete since a month or two ago this meet was not even on my schedule. Indoor track, after all, is usually just a tune-up for the outdoor season. Not only that, but Albuquerque's altitude is a mile high, so racing a mile is a lot tougher with less oxygen!
But after my season was going so well, Coach Gags and I figured why not give USA's a shot, after all, the top 2 finishers make the world team and anything is possible.
Once I decided to compete I was really excited and full of confidence that I actually had a shot at making a team. But just a few days before I was scheduled to fly I started feeling ill and suddenly the whole trip was in jeopardy. It was frustrating, because these big races only come every year or two, and getting sick between the two biggest races of my season (Millrose and USAs) seemed to be the worst possible timing. Luckily, after sleeping 11+ hours for a few days I started feeling better and hopped on the plane to New Mexico.

During the long flight my stomach churned, but I just kept telling myself to think positive, that it was probably just turbulence and not to worry how I felt since the race was still a few days away. As we prepared for landing and I looked out the window I couldn't help but smile as breathtaking mountains peaked into view. This was my third trip to Albuquerque,  since my Aunt and Uncle live there, but the first time I went there to race. I've always loved the area. People complain that its a boring city of desert and cactus, but its probably one of the coolest places I've been. With the mountains, cliffs, mesas and desert there are actually a lot of awesome things to do and see. This trip, however, was mostly business. Short and sweet, I was here to COMPETE.

My first few runs I definitely felt the altitude, but kept telling myself it didn't matter. Even though I don't train at altitude or sleep in an altitude tent I figured there was nothing I could do. I reminded myself that you can't change the conditions, only your attitude.

You're attitude can have such a profound effect on how you live your life. Just like I talked about the importance of confidence in my last blog, a good attitude is also essential to happiness and success. There are a lot of people in the world who appear to be smart, athletic, or gifted in many ways, but deep down they are lacking one thing: a positive attitude. Without a positive attitude, all of your skills, talents and hard work are going to waste. Imagine an iceberg. The tiny tip of the iceberg that floats above the water represents these talents and skills, but the gigantic chunk of ice that is hidden below sea level represents your attitude. Your attitude is like a secret weapon, unknown and hidden to others, it is actually more powerful than all of the talent or skills you possess.

Going into my race at USA's I decided to focus on my attitude rather than the conditions. By the time race-day came I was feeling good physically and mentally. I was ready to just go out there and have fun on the track. Then as I was headed to the track I became aware that there was a lot more on the line than just a simple race.The day before Gabe Grunewald had won the women's 3000m but after a protest she was disqualified for contact with another runner. In championship races, pushing, shoving, banging elbows and clipping other runners' heels is a normal part of the race. Obviously intentional and overly aggressive behavior can result in a DQ, but it rarely happens. In Gabe's case, nearly everyone who had seen the race or watched video footage agreed that there was no basis for a valid DQ. Instead, there were rumors that corporate pressure caused the USATF to change their initial decision (which was that there was no foul contact) and suddenly she was DQ'd. Its sad, because a sport as simple as running should never be tarnished by the overwhelming power of a certain sponsor, coach or governing body. I can't imagine what it feels like to win a USA Championship only to have it taken away when 90% of the public disagree. Although it must have hurt, and Gabe could have easily given up on the matter, instead she took something positive away tweeting that...

This quote is such a wonderful example of what it means to have positive faith. Instead of asking "Why would you allow this, God?" when something goes wrong, we need to be able to accept challenges knowing that God doesn't give us anything we cannot handle. If he puts us in a difficult place we can be sure that he thinks of us as a strong enough soldier to get through the fight.

As my race, the women's 1500m approached, there was a lot of talk about how we could "fight" this corruption. There was talk about a protest, but Gabe met with those of us racing the 1500m and told us she didn't want any of us jeopardizing our own races for hers. Instead, we all agreed to just go out there and race hard, and that's what we did.

I got out hard and put myself in position to be within reach of the top two spots. I felt surprisingly good given the altitude, and with a lap to go I was in third place trying hard to gain just one more spot. Unfortunately, I didn't have it in me that day, and ended up finishing 4th overall and collapsing after the finish. Normally I never run to the point of lying down and refusing to get up...I guess that's what altitude feels like! I couldn't lay for long, however, because several of us women decided to hold hands as we walked off the track as a sort of silent protest in honor of Gabe and her unfair treatment.


Sometimes the best way to keep sport pure is to just go out there and be a good example. Even when cheating or scandal tarnishes sport there are always athletes out there doing things the right way. It's a shame to see our sport get some negative light lately between this incident, along with recent episodes of athletes getting caught using performance enhancing drugs. However, I think the best way to bring out the positive aspect of our sport is to keep encouraging athletes to compete fair and eventually the good shines through.

After my race, I felt sick to my stomach, but I knew that feeling couldn't have been as bad as the feeling of finding out you're disqualified. Still, it was the first time I've felt so sick I literally couldn't finish my cool down. Although I wish I'd run a second faster (which, now that Mary Cain dropped out of the World Championships, a second was all it would have taken for me to make the World team!) I was still happy with my first pro indoor track season, especially after I puked my guts out on the cooldown. I figured that was a sign I ran "all-out."

The next day I was supposed to leave Albuquerque early in the morning, however when I got to the airport I was informed my flight had been mis-scheduled for the wrong month! Luckily, I'm not the kind of person to freak out in these situations. Instead, I kept a positive attitude and said, "You know what, I have no reason to rush back to New Jersey so why not stay a few more days and get in some more warm weather and altitude training?" It seemed crazy, but I have family in the area, and I was able to visit my college friend Violah, so it worked out perfectly. Getting to run in shorts and a tank top and run on some of the most beautiful, scenic mountain trails made me so glad I decided to take this unplanned "mini vacation." Sometimes things happen for a reason, after all.

Later that day we found out that the protest against Gabe had been dropped and she was restated as the 3000m champion. Although the experience of being crowned champion, having it taken away and then being re-crowned the winner must have been emotionally exhausting, like all things I believe it happened for a reason. Maybe it was to shed light on an issue that needs to be resolved. It's amazing how many people stepped up and decided to take action. Hopefully something positive will come out of this whole event.
Sometimes in life you can't change your conditions (racing at altitude you just have to deal with it). Sometimes you have to fight for change (fighting an unfair disqualification). Sometimes you just have to laugh at poor conditions, considering them unforeseen opportunities (mis-scheduled flights can mean awesome unplanned vacations!) In all of these situations, one thing is for sure, you have to stay positive! Just like the cactus (or cacti?) that fill the desert plains of Albuquerque, there are two parts: the thorns and the flowers. Instead of focusing on the thorns in life, take in the flowers, and think positive :)


"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."   -Philippians 4:8