Through the darkest days comes growth for Tim Rossi
A note from the author:
I finished writing this in April, when the world felt entirely different. The reality is that the world has not changed, it isn't different for millions of People of Color globally, but this does feel like a moment where the world can truly change. The below words are no less true than when I wrote them and we edited them, but they are infinitely less significant.
Listen, learn, reflect, and do something.
The marathon analogy feels apt here, and my buddy Nick Roche clearly wrote about that here. But to abbreviate it, you wouldn’t try and train for a marathon over 1-2 weeks. It takes months, years, of miles to run a good marathon. The same mindset applies to the journey towards race equality.
Be in it for the long haul, keep applying the pressure.
Black Lives Matter.
Wake up, read the headlines, make some sort of caffeinated beverage, workout (pullups, pushups, planks, band work), mobility, work for a few hours, digital physical therapy, work, mobility routine round 2, go for a walk, work, Netflix (currently ripping through Criminal Minds). Sleep. Repeat.
This is what my days have looked like for the last XX weeks (who really knows) since Covid-19 locked the US down (including Chicago, where our Mayor has been an absolute savage) and demolished all sense of normal.
These are unprecedented times, and there are very real life-and-death decisions happening every single day – the lack of exaggeration in that statement is a testament to just how crazy these current times are.
To those going through the worst of this – you’re not alone. For those that have maybe avoided being hit, I truly hope this never reaches you. Regardless, we will get through this.
As runners, we’re used to being described, and describing our peers, as ‘resilient’. Our sport knocks us down, we get back up. Run long enough and you’ll experience some sort of setback. We learn how to respond, we adapt, we persist. ‘One step back, two steps forward’ is an idea we grab and hold close to our hearts – we need to believe that it WILL get better.
We will get through this.
Now that I’m off my soapbox (well, kinda, because I’ve still got like 1000+ words to go) you’ll notice from my above daily schedule that running does not appear. That’s because I’ve been knocked down again: A persistent hip/groin aliment has reared its head once more.
Obviously, I am going to focus on me being hurt. That is not to downplay the seriousness of what the world is going through (seriously, if you still are questioning if this is ‘really that bad’ feel free to give me a call), but more of an observation of the parallels. Because a lot of the mechanisms I’ve been leaning into to cope with the current global circumstances are lessons that I’ve grasped from my constant injury cycles.
While my running fam has taken to the roads in pursuit of Strava segments, legendary course records (cc the Tan & Genevive), and digital race titles (by any means necessary, cc downhill miles and the OSR Global Challenge, shout to Alex Burks for being a savage), I’ve been confined to my yoga mat and computer in search of answers.
Trying, once more, to figure out exactly what is wrong.
Weird stretches, endless clamshells, single-leg whatever, magnetics helping doctors peer inside, blank pages in a training log, a tiny bruise acting as a reminder of an injection filled with just as much hope as medication.
Fall down 9 times, get up 10.
Or better yet (and more on-brand), let’s use this quote:
“'Cause we had it, we was magic, I was flyin', now I'm crashin'” – Kanye, Knock You Down (admittedly this is less about the lyric and more about the song title).
“'Cause we had it, we was magic, I was flyin', now I'm crashin'”
Kanye West - Knock You Down
Being hurt absolutely sucks, and I’ve always viewed it as a test of my will. If I really want to be good, I’ll endure this broken bone (3) or that messed up muscle (two-ish). I’ll get an x-ray (a lot of them) or an MRI (4), figure out what’s wrong, and come back stronger – come back better.
I’ve always shifted my focus into rehab, pouring myself into it in an effort to come back as quickly as possible. I thought I could will myself to health, and that pushing as hard as possible to get back quicker was a sign that I did indeed want it badly enough.
More recently though, I’ve found myself wondering if this is a healthy and intelligent way of approaching things. I’ve started thinking that trying to jump directly back onto the horse after getting knocked off may not be the smart move.
And, truthfully, I still don’t know what the right response is. I do know that it’s emotionally exhausting to be running and think ‘does that hurt’ every time you take a step. To wake up every morning and immediately think ‘how does it feel today’. To scroll through any social media and see people that have dealt with similar issues and think ‘why can’t I be more like X.’
"The constant doubt is draining – being paralyzed by fear sucks."
Losing trust in your body, and in the way you feel connected to your body, is absolutely miserable. You feel like a stranger in your own skin, and I’ve dealt with it enough times to know that the switch doesn’t simply flip. It takes time. Time.
“I've been losing my mind tryna figure it out, But I'm stuck in a drought, I guess I'll start again” - Iann Dior, Sick & Tired (absolute tune)
Get knocked down, yes, but maybe spend some time off the horse to reevaluate, to learn, before jumping back on.
I’ve been taking a lot of inspiration from Jake Riley (2nd place at the US Olympic Trials, pre Covid-19) recently – he spoke about how he used some downtime from running after undergoing surgery to repair “Haglund’s Deformity” (i.e. Achilles surgery) to truly address some underlying imbalances in his running. And, after coming back slowly, the addressing of these issues has helped him take bigger steps forward.
One step back, two steps forward. Sacrifice the short term for the long term. Yes, yes.
But also flow better – I’m trying to not live in the extremes as much. The highs of things going well vs the lows of being hurt are spaces I fluctuate between massively – I want to change that. Right now, yes, I’m down about being hurt, but I am trying to be a bit more steady. I’m trying to let the emotions flow, knowing they’re normal, embrace them, and move forward rather than living in extremes, all in pursuit of a steadier balance.
“Over and over again, It's like I never win, Why you putting me down? It don't make any sense.”
Iann Dior, Sick & Tired
And this balance means trust – trust in the process, in believing that doing my daily rehab will manifest itself in some positive fashion 4, 5, 6 months from now. Long term growth, longevity in this sport, that’s what I’m after.
Riley joked with me when we were chatting about my latest setback, saying, “I love how every time you get injured your goals get bigger.”
And I mean, yeah, you are right Riley.
It is absolutely a coping mechanism: if a goal is huge I realize it will take a long time to reach it, and in that way I am able to shift my focus from the short term to the long term. I am better able to embrace the simple idea of NOT sacrificing long term development for short term satisfaction.
And long-term progress can only be sustained through the trial of miles (always shout to Once a Runner), or the first rule of running: don’t get hurt (shout to Luke for this convo).
Patience Tim, patience.
And patience is hard to have when running serves so many purposes in my life.
In a world where silver-linings is all we have, this perspective has been thrust upon us – no races for the foreseeable future, dire statistics weighing us down each day. I’ve definitely been guilty of dwelling on the doom and gloom, but I am also trying to prepare so that I can be part of the comeback, whenever that happens.
And yet, the emotional toll is very real. I talked a little bit about comparing myself to other friends above – I know people that have dealt with similar issues to what I am currently dealing with that were able to run through them. To, seemingly, will themselves to health, not missing a beat.
In a world where it is extremely easy to see what type of training people are doing on a day to day basis, it is impossible to not think “why can’t I be more like X?”
Worse, there is an underlying jealousy – I’ve absolutely been guilty of feeling bitterness, resentment, whatever towards people that are able to be out there crushing while I do another set of planks.
In the past, I’ve logged out of all the social apps, burying myself away from the daily reminders that people are out there, on the roads and trails, enjoying their daily runs. And while that has helped at times, I’ve started to realize that is not realistic for the long term.
We all must face a day when our PRs are in the past and running takes on a different meaning in our lives. And while I firmly believe that day has not arrived for me yet I’ve been thinking about this question a lot recently: Aside from being the guy that made it through the injuries, what do I want to be within the sport?
And one story that embodies what I want to be comes from the trials in Atlanta. My friends and I were running around, heading out to mile 25.5 to cheer, having just watched Galen Rupp, Jake Riley, and Abdi Abdirahman go 1-2-3 when Chris Derrick turns a corner.
Head hung, CD had just dropped out of the race. He was coming off a broken ankle, yes, but still was clearly pissed he had not had the day he had hoped for. As we passed, one of my homies Steve Finley yells, “Hey Chris, Jake Riley just made the team.”
This man, who had just dropped out of one of the more important races of his life, ripped his shades off and immediately perked up. See, Jake and CD had ran together in college, and in this clearly emotional moment for CD he was still able to be genuinely hyped for his former teammate that had just achieved what will remain a dream for so many.
"That is who I want to be – someone that truly cares about their team, their friends."
Whether it is now in these unprecedented times via training advice, phone conversations during long runs, or just emotional support as races continue to fall off the calendar, I want to be there.
So yes, knock me down running. I’m going to stay down for a little, evaluating and scheming for my next steps. Getting ready for the day when the world returns to whatever that new normal looks like. But in the meantime, I’m going to try and be the best fan of my friends that I can be.
Because one day running might be gone, and that’s what I’ll have. I can live with that.
Thankfully, that day hasn’t come yet.
I’m still dreaming.