In April of 2010, I got a voice mail.
"Hi Shannon, this is Keith Hanson, we'd be interested in having you come out for a visit here in Michigan to see if you might be a good fit for the Hanson's Distance Project."
Or something to that degree. I don't really remember now, just that I was really, REALLY excited and I think I squealed and dropped my phone a couple of times and I might've wet my pants. All I could think of was, "Holy crap! The Hansons?! THE Hanson's??!! They have Desi and Brian and Dot and Melissa White! That's where you like, go to get really good! And they're calling me! On the phone! Holy crap!" I even went so far as to save that voice mail and listen to it repeatedly to make sure that it wasn't imagined.
It was ridiculous. I couldn't believe that an actual training group--THE Hanson's--could possibly want me to run for them. It was pretty much my dream to go somewhere and do nothing but live the sport for as long as I could manage. I sent out a bunch of running resume's to all of these groups crossing my fingers that someone would look past the division 2 school and the low-end-of-mediocre PR's that weren't even current and were set the handful of times we weren't racing at altitude, and think, "Uh, welp....maybe this one's got potential." Unsurprisingly, I didn't actually get too many responses and the ones I did get seemed just to be humoring me. But the HANSONS! Boom! And I didn't even contact them, they contacted ME! Teammates, coaches, a job, sponsorship, healthcare, and above all else, a place to live where no one's going to ask when you're going to get a "real life". Everything you could possibly need to get everything out of yourself. Yessir, the sky's gonna be the limit! Here was a chance to really live the dream!
In thinking about it, my vision of that lifestyle likely didn't match up to its reality. What you've got to know is that in the event that you make the cut and you're accepted, this is your job. You are an investment in a coach's time and a brand's product and money, you're perfectly expendable and as good as your last race. In other words, have success or get fired. You will live, work and train with your teammates, and if you don't fit that mold perfectly, if there is even the most remote possibility that you might not flawlessly compliment the synergy of the group that is already established, if you might not adequately produce--and produce well--on the track and roads on a consistent basis for years to come, you may not be such a great investment. Every athlete taken on is a chance taken by the coach and brand associated with any group, and that's reality.
If you don't make the cut, which I didn't and most don't, there are likely perfectly sound reasons, and I completely understood this and would never hold it against them. But somehow it didn't make the pill any less bitter. I think I was somewhere in the middle of packing up to move to Michigan and run fast for the rest of my life when I got my phone call of um, polite rejection. At the time, I thought that was the absolute worst thing ever. Forget genocide and starving children in Africa, THIS was the worst thing ever, I thought. Think of a helium-filled-balloon bobbing along happily in the sunshine that just got shot with a BB gun. That was me. I thought the Running Show was over. Forever. No WAY can you be successful without being in a real training group, with real coaches, doing nothing but running all the time, with easy access to everything. There's no way, you need all of those components. It's DONE, so why bother anymore?
That's the first time--and thus far the last time--that I can ever remember thinking about quitting. I think I moped around for about six months feeling bad for myself and during that time got an awful lot of What-The-Hell-Is-The-Matter-With-You-Did-Someone-Shoot-Your-Dog-Or-Are-You-Dying-Or-Do-You-Just-Have-Really-Horrible-Indigestion looks from my friends.
It's taken me ages to figure out that, wait a sec, I've had all of those things all along. All of those things and then some.
It freaks me out sometimes how things can work out so seamlessly, and you end up precisely where you're meant to be. In retrospect and pain of rejection notwithstanding, this was probably one of the best things that could have happened. Call it a psychological defense mechanism or naivety or even sour grapes, but I believe that you are where you are supposed to be at the right time, and you might not know the reasons right now but you will eventually. Your perception is your reality, and you can be so set on attaining what you think is the best situation that the grass will always look greener on the other side, and you fail even to notice that you already have the best situation. I live in the absolute greatest place to be if you are a runner, there are so many trails here that I have yet to run on half of them. I live a half mile jog from an Alter-G treadmill that I can use whenever necessary. I've had the ideal combination of coaches from high school through college with so many varying, and often conflicting, philosophies to teach me enough to know about what works and what doesn't. I have the best physiotherapist on this side of the Mississippi who never fails to patch things up. And most importantly, I live with, work with, and train with a bunch of people who defy the notion that it's imperative to solely live the sport to be at your best, who show that you can work incredibly hard at the sport and work incredibly hard at life, who've been through their own wringers and know a thing or two about taking lemons and making lemonade, and who'll talk me off of the ledge of panic when emotion is trumping reason. They work full-time jobs and raise kids and even have freaking diabetes, and those are my examples to follow. So seriously, how much better can it get?
Alright kids, till next time, happy Halloween and don't forget to count your blessings.