Always the People

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Tim Rossi's journey to fall back in love with running

Running was insignificant in 2020. From covid, to the racial unrest that has gripped the world, to the US presidential election that refused to go away… and those are only a few major happenings (remember the wildfires, killer bees, Kobe passing, the US nearly going to war with Iran… shit man).

The year was complete chaos, and as we enter a winter where covid will be worse than ever (in the US at least) it is evident that any light at the end of the tunnel is, well, cloudy.

“I already have a complete list of the silver linings. It’s the goddamn cloud that’s killing me.”John Parker, Once a Runner.

And yet, I am going to write about running for however many more words I get onto this page. Why? Great question.

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I should start by saying that running is NOT something to be stressing over right now. Clearly there is enough going on in the world - running should be whatever you need it to be right now.

Whether you’ve decided to focus on an endless slew of virtual races or have taken a step back,for whatever reason, there is no need to force it. Hell, a ton of people do not have the luxury to run right now – something that I continuously remind myself of, especially as I think about my experience with the sport over these past 12 months.

For me, running has always been there as an outlet, helping me through anything and everything: work issues, relationship problems, the various curveballs of life – it’s always helped me think, cope, dream, chill, unwind. But this year has truly underscored how important running is to me.

I’ve gone from losing all motivation, sitting in a studio apartment crushing ice cream by the pint, to stringing together weeks of training for 25 lonely laps around a track where the infield is closed because of toxic soil (with some other running experiences in between). I’ve experienced all the flows, the troughs and crests, that come with this sport in a condensed period of time in 2020.

But I wouldn’t change my experience with running in 2020.

I initially wanted to talk about how I’ve felt in control of my running, but that flies in the face of a lot of the other shit that I’ve written for TEMPO. If I was really in control of then why the hell would I hurt myself (over and over and over…).

So no, not taking control, more coming to terms with this lack of control, accepting that shit happens, and deciding to keep trying.

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For the first time I was able to take my hands off the wheel, recognizing that lows are part of the process, and instead of dwelling on them I decided to try and do what I thought was right. Not forcing it like I have previously, but flowing in what felt like the right direction.

And I made a ton of mistakes. Hell, just look at my running for this past year – that “comeback” in February was definitely NOT the right thing to be doing at the time.

And that is the point I guess: You don’t know for sure you’re doing the right thing, but you can decide to try.

Tim Rossi

Deciding to try got me back, got me here, got me through 2020.

Now, this massively simple realization was not one I got to by choice. That failed comeback in February that I referred to? There was a reason for it. You see at the time I was still planning on running the yet-to-be-canceled Boston Marathon.

I think I wrote myself about 100 different Boston training plans: I had a normal 20-week plan that adjusted to 12 weeks when I hurt myself, which then adjusted to 10 weeks, 8 weeks, 6 weeks as my hip kept refusing to get better (i.e. I kept trying to run after a few weeks off and, thus, kept never actually letting myself heal up).

It took the race calendar getting cleared for me to pull the plug and take my hands off the reins. With nothing to rush back for I listened to my body and came back on my own terms.

I committed to the PT and actually let the process happen.

I built back over a series of weeks and months instead of days.

Doing less was what I needed – I accepted that doing less was right.

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With no gym access because of covid I couldn’t endlessly bike in place – an activity that proved to be making my hip even worse. Turns out sitting around crushing ice cream is what I needed (the jury is still out on if the ice cream helped).

This mindset of acceptance bled into my return to running; I appreciated where I was instead of wishing I was back where I’d been pre-injury.

I can still remember how enjoyable it was running for 10, 15, 20 minutes.I fell in love with the process all over again.

It deepened my commitment – I didn’t want to lose running again. So as the fitness slowly returned I kept doing my PT and my activations and intentionally forced myself to keep things under control; all things I’d never truly done with start lines looming.

“If there was one thing I’d change about my running career, it would be taking an extra two weeks off every time I was coming off an injury.”

Advice from a former professional runner that I was told in 2015 and clearly ignored.

Even in the face of a 16:29 5k in July (my PR is 15:24) I stayed calm. In the past I would have been super pissed and forced harder training upon myself but this time I was content to be relatively healthy.

I rode the wave, let it flow back.

And it came – I toed two starting lines on the track, not running what I wanted but racing again, and survived a random 15 miles rip session on Magnolia Road.

“My point is that this way of living that we once took for granted isn’t necessarily a ‘natural’ process at all. It’s not like water flowing down to the sea, not like aging. It takes effort, determination, conviction. But mostly it takes will. It takes a conscious decision to follow one difficult uphill path, and then the will to stay with it and not waver, to not give up.”John Parker, Again to Carthage

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Though in reflecting on it, the runs that I’ll remember from this year are the ones that were part of the journey back, the ones I had previously taken for granted: a 10 x 1:00 on/1:00 off fartlek with Ben Weingart in Boulder in August. Pacing a virtual 5k in Central Park for a squad of fast ladies in September. A long run with Kilgore in Rockefeller State Park where I didn’t think about my hip… the list goes on.

The common thread to all of those moments: the people.

In a year of minimized social interaction, spending time with friends new and old out there on the roads and trails and tracks made me appreciate running even more.

“I’d see the guys up there silhouetted against the rising sun and I’d say to myself, ‘You need to remember this, always.’ ”John Parker, Again to Carthage

To get healthy and fit enough to experience these moments that teetered on never happening was not something I took for granted, and 2020 gave me that perspective.

The people, it will always be the people.

I cannot overstate that.

Tim Rossi

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And that headspace carried into this 10k I did (shoutout Zach for the killer photos) to both test my fitness and also cap my “season” and kickoff a little down time - everyone's mind goes somewhere different when the weight of sustained effort descends. For me, this happened 15 laps in. With 2.5 miles of grind left in front of me there was a brief moment where it all felt like too much, where the doubts crept in.

But this moment proved fleeting, because my head immediately went to all of those people I’d shared miles with over the last few months. The weight of effort was replaced with pure positive vibes - dread was replaced by joy.

I had the ability to take this shot, to be better than I’d ever been before. I embraced the beauty in that, in the pursuit of potential, and drew on everyone I’d shared the journey with.

And while I knew they’d be there win, lose, or draw, the drive remained. I hadn't come this far to just come this far.

The goal was sub-32 - the final time was 31:58 (or 59 depending on which clock you believe), a 96 second PB.

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Was I pumped? Yeah, but ultimately I was amped because the new-found perspective had not gone anywhere - I still appreciate the running I have right now.

I get to do this and get to share it with some truly amazing individuals.

Is every day going to be perfect? Fuck no. I still have days when I wake up and my legs are thrashed, my body knackered. Truly now more than ever, and usually because of some external stress. But I’ve found myself still lacing up my running shoes on those days this year, because even when running has sucked I still get to do it.

Progress over perfection (stolen from a work homie).

I will keep riding the wave into and through 2021.

The same uncertainty and chaos that 2020 brought us is not going anywhere in 2021, the finish line as blurry as ever, but I know I can keep going (teleoanticipation baby cc Alex Hutchinson).

And maybe that’s what 2020 has been all about – learning, growing.

Appreciating, trying.


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