Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Reflections of a Scholar

It’s been years since my last blog, and since I’ve graduated, taken the bar and don’t have a job, I have a little time on my hands to write.  Now that I have a moment, I can’t help but reflect on my running career during these past 3 years of law school.  There were some incredible highs – making a World Half Team, placing 15th at the Olympic Trials in a debut marathon and setting personal records in the 10k, 10 Mile, Half Marathon and Marathon.  However, I also dropped out of more races in the past 3 years than in my entire running career combined.  For the most part though, I feel I’ve enjoyed mostly success since I made the choice to leave the professional running scene in Flagstaff, AZ.  It is this decision that I’ve begun to analyze a bit deeper.

For those of you that didn’t know (which is probably all of you because, let’s face it, distance running updates aren’t really covered by ESPN), I began my professional running career in Flagstaff, AZ.  I relocated to the sleepy mountain town right after finishing my undergraduate at the University of Georgia.  Coming out of college, I felt I had a ton of room to improve and it was only a matter of time until I became one of the top distance runners in the world (ha).  For 2 years, I put all of my efforts into running.  That was my sole purpose.  I had a small job on the side, but I was there to run and run fast.  I had some pretty positive results – setting a 3k pr of 7:52 (about an 8:24 2-mile), finishing in the top 5 in the 5k US Championships, and competing for the U.S. in Japan.  However, much of my time in Flagstaff was not enjoyable.  There were many months of dealing with sickness, breathing problems, fatigue and other running related issues.  I found myself unhappy frequently. 

Looking back, the problem was rather simple.  My sole source of happiness was derived from running.  If I wasn’t running well, there was nothing else I was pursuing that could give me that feeling of accomplishment.  This is a huge problem because athletes in endurance sports can’t be in top physical form for very long (unless you’re a freak or doped out of your mind).  So if you can’t enjoy yourself during periods of poor running, you need to find something to fill that void.  At least that’s what I needed.  I think some of the best advice I’ve heard for running is to not let your highs be too high and your lows be too low. 

It was during a rough stretch in 2009 that I decided I needed to find something else to focus on besides running.  I had just dropped out of the Boston Indoor 5k and was quite downtrodden.  When you’re a “running serf” like I am, you only get a handful of chances to make it in this sport.  That was my chance, and for whatever reason, God told me right then (in an awesome southern accent) “Burrell, son, you’re probably not going to make a living as a professional athlete.”  So I started getting my stuff together to enroll in law school – it had always been my intention to go to law school, but I was hoping it would be after a couple Olympic trips.  No such luck. 

The decision to go back to school turned out to be the best one I ever made for my running career.  Aside from running in Adidas shoes of course – seriously, I do like Adidas running shoes.  School provided an outlet for when I wasn’t running well.  If I didn’t have a good work out, I’d concentrate on school a little harder.  I didn’t have to worry about performing in races because it wasn’t my primary purpose in life anymore.  Of course, I never lost my competitiveness and always put forth my best effort, but things were a little different nevertheless.  If the race didn’t go well, I didn’t have that sense of panic I did in Flagstaff.  Eventually, I started having some of the best races of my life.   

So I guess the overall message I wanted to convey to other runners with similar personalities is to not let running be your sole source of happiness.  Now I do want to acknowledge that I do know people that are perfectly happy with sleeping and breathing only running, which is perfectly fine if you’re wired that way.  However, if you’re similar to my personality and you’re feeling stale and depressed with your running, take that opportunity to find something else to pursue.  You don’t necessarily have to give running up, but make sure to take a mental break to succeed at something else.  When you turn your focus back to running, I think you’ll find a new, invigorated attitude towards the sport. 

I actually have a lot more to say about the past three years and my overall running career, but the blog is already too damn long and I’m not nearly as entertaining as Bill Simmons (pre-Grantland of course).  So I’ll save my other sweet insights for another day.    

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