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Chasing Your Big, Wild, Audacious Goals: A Letter from Olympian Shalane Flanagan

By Shalane Flanagan, April 9, 2021

Dear Runner 2-2

Dearest runner,

We only have this one body.

We only have this one life.

We only have a finite amount of time.

We can and should fill it full of adventures!

Is there anything that makes you feel more alive than working towards a big, wild, audacious goal? Not me.

To chase the dream is to live.

In order to go the distance of going for big goals, it takes small actionable steps daily. There is no getting around it. The unsexy work is the foundation.

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My advice

  1. Start by working from the inside out. Take stock of your baseline and be honest about where you are and where you want to be. Don’t try to be anyone else. Comparison to others is the thief of joy—so just compare you to you! 
  2. Take ownership and accountability. Seek resources to help you. Let your own progress be your biggest inspiration. Tracking self-improvement is a wonderful addition. 
  3. Find your tribe to help you see what you can’t. Your tribe will hold you accountable on days that are hard.
    Shalane Flanagan Quote 1
  4. Within each of us is an athlete. Sometimes, it just takes a while to discover what type of movement lights the fire within. Maybe it’s running. Maybe it’s dancing. Maybe it’s walking. Whatever gets you excited to move—do it.
  5. Over-prepare and then go with the flow. Plan out the training by working backward from your goal date, be it a race, event, or a self-imposed deadline. Give yourself adequate time to prepare and get fit so you aren’t rushing the process. 
  6. Sometimes you have to get fit to be prepared. This is where cross-training is extremely valuable. It’s easy to press fully into training when grappling with a goal that gives you butterflies, but utilize self-control. Have the confidence to explore fitness in a variety of ways to ensure that you show up healthy and hungry on Race Day. Shalane Flanagan Quote 2
  7. The time spent outside of training is training—and is just as valuable of a commodity as the 20-mile long run. So, focus on two key recovery tools: quality sleep and food.
  8. The secret is that there is no secret. Stress + rest = growth. As complicated as training can be, the bottom line really is that simple. 
  9. Be your own best coach. We tend to pride ourselves on consistent and difficult work, even when it's not the right thing to do. Give yourself a pat on the back when you listen to that inner voice that's simply telling you to rest. 

I know this: we are all capable of so much more than we believe when we don’t get in our own way! So, breathe in your awesomeness and celebrate the small, daily victories, because the real race is in the life you live. Let’s take care of ourselves so we can take care of others and have the energy to do things we love with the people we love.

Shalane Flanagan Quote 3

Listen to your body, set yourself up for success.

Though numerous blood biomarkers can affect or be affected by training, a handful are most closely related to recovery and, therefore, performance. We track markers like these in our bodies as a way to clearly and precisely listen to what it's telling us, and to be able to show up as our strongest and most resilient selves on the days that define us as athletes.

hsCRP

Elevated inflammation can keep your body from performing at its best and leave you vulnerable to injury. HsCRP measures our body’s inflammation levels and rises in an inflammatory state, like in response to exercise. Post-workout, inflammation rises and the immune kicks in to start the repair process in the muscles, allowing them to recover and grow. But, if we don't incorporate adequate rest and active recovery, this marker will remain high and the body will stay in an inflammatory state—and cause a cascade of consequences that can keep us from reaching our personal and wellness goals.

shalane magnesium

Cortisol

Stress is the enemy. Known as "the stress hormone," this steroid hormone is responsible for responding to both physical and emotional stress. It plays a critical role in metabolizing glucose and the energy we get from food, central nervous system activation, and more. High cortisol levels can weaken our immune system, cause muscle tissue breakdown, decrease bone density, and lead to poor mood and sleep. Bottom line, cortisol represents a connection between stress and our performance—and a reason to stay grounded throughout even our toughest training.

Magnesium

This is a mineral that supports the immune system, blood sugar levels, and muscle contraction and relaxation. Being deficient in magnesium can reduce muscle strength and bone health and impair sleep quality and mood—a double-whammy.

Creatine kinase (CK)

This enzyme is used to provide energy to our muscles, and when we break our muscles down during a workout, it leaks into the bloodstream. Having a small amount of CK in your bloodstream is okay, and is part of our adaptation to training. But like inflammation, it should subside with proper rest and recovery time between workouts. If it stays high, it's an indication that more rest and recovery is needed. We all want to stay healthy and injury-free, and there's no way around it: rest and recovery are critical.

Ferritin

This is a protein that binds to iron, making it a good marker of the level of iron in your body. Iron is required to carry oxygen to our muscles, which is obviously key for endurance and normal function of the nervous and immune systems. While iron is an essential nutrient for everyone, athletes have higher needs. Unfortunately, iron deficiency is relatively common in endurance athletes. And while rest is always important, proper diet and supplementation are what will most often dig you out of a ferritin hole.

 



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Shalane Flanagan
Shalane is a four-time Olympian, Olympic silver medalist, TCS New York City Marathon champion, World XC Bronze medalist, American record holder, Nike Bowerman Track Club coach, two-time New York Times best-selling cookbook author of Run Fast Eat Slow, and a proud mom!