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- World Champs VK Race Recap- The B Goal FTW
My therapist told me that writing about my experience at Worlds might help me to process things a bit better and to work through the come down from the dopamine high (which feels a bit like a withdrawal). This is apparently really common in athletes, and others experiencing big life events, and something I would love to write about in the future. Anyways, here goes... World Championships Vertical Race Recap My "B" goal for both of my races at Worlds was to podium. The "A" goal for both races was to win. I've talked a lot about my "ABC" goal setting system and have even included it in the 2023 edition of my Training Log + Planner. Basically, the goal setting structure works like this: "A" Goal- You are having a great day, the weather is good, body feels good, training went well leading up to the race. This is your 'shoot for the stars' goal. "B" Goal- You are having an average day, but for whatever reason it may not be the best. This goal is a step down from shooting from the stars but still something you can latch on to to challenge and motivate you in the race when things get hard. "C" Goal- This goal is for when sh*t hits the fan. If everything seems to be going wrong, this is a goal that you can think about working towards in a race so that it doesn't feel like a total loss or failure. Usually for me this goal is something simple like "have fun" or "remember to kick". On the day of the World Champs VK, my "B" goal was what kept me engaged in the race when I wasn't feeling very good. The start was a bit tricky and I was about 4 rows back from the line. There was a lot of shoving and tripping which made me run harder from the gun than I wanted to. The race just happened to fall 7 days out from my period which lately has been the day when I feel like I struggle to breathe. I knew this going into the race but I was hoping for a miracle and that maybe it wouldn't happen this time. It became clear very quickly that there was not going to be a miracle that day, but instead of panicking I told myself to just buckle up and get ready for a bumpy ride. I put myself in the top 5 by the time we hit the singletrack because I knew that if I wasn't going to win then I was going to fight like hell for a spot on the podium. The two Kenyan ladies that I ran most of the race with were not going to make that an easy task. About mid-way through the race I realized that VKs are actually not that much fun (lol). Then and there I decided I was not an uphill specialist. But I still had the hardest part of the race still to run, so uphill specialist or not, I wanted a damn medal. I had hoped to be able to use my speed to run the traverse section of the course quickly to make up some ground, but by the time I got there I felt like I was just running through mud with lead anvils for legs. At this point I was in 3rd place with a little gap on fourth place but I knew that a lot could happen in the upcoming final 800m of the race. The last part of the race featured a grassy slope at a 40% grade. The crowd roared as rounded the corner and started the final climb. I looked up and it felt like the finish was impossibly far away and so far above my head vertically that it was in the clouds. This was going to hurt like a bitch. With 4th place way too close for comfort, I started to slowly empty out all of the rest of my energy (both mental and physical) that I had left in the tank. Thank god the crowds were there to cheer us on and keep us going. If i had been on the mountain by myself in that moment, I surely would have stopped for a breather and for a release from the pain. Seeing familiar faces from Team USA teammates in the crowd kept my legs moving forward and gave me something positive to focus on. After what felt like an eternity (although it was probably only 5-6 minutes) I reached the finish line. I somehow remembered to do airplane arms across the finish and could only take a few more steps before my legs finally gave way and I had to sit down. But "airplane arms or you're doing it wrong" amirite? Although I did not win this race as had been my "A" goal, AND this was my worst finish ever in a trail race (3rd), its a race that I am very proud of. I am proud of being on the podium and showing that the U.S. can compete with the best uphill runners in the world and I am even more proud of my effort on the day. I got every ounce out of myself that day given some less than ideal circumstances. Having the "B" goal to pivot to when it was clear that I wasn't going to hit my "A" goal helped me to refocus on something to keep fighting for. Had I not had a "B" goal that day, my mind may have won over and eased up into letting me think that top 5, or even top 10, was good enough. But instead of wallowing about not winning I shifted my mindset to what I could do which was fight for a medal. So next time you find yourself not having the perfect day that you dreamed of, I hope you can pivot to your "B" goal to keep you motivated to keep fighting all the way to the finish line. Being flexible (and honest with yourself) is not a sign of weakness, it's a show of strength and wisdom. Oh, and 10/10 would wear the speedsuit again! Sincerely, Grayson Murphy, decidedly NOT an uphill specialist
- Pieces of the Puzzle
**The original publication date of this piece was July 2019** Northern Arizona (NAZ) Elite is known as one of the best distance running groups in the nation. With multiple US Championship titles on both the men’s and women’s sides across several distances and disciplines as well as elite PR’s in events from the 1500 up to the marathon, the results speak for themselves. This group is elite and they know what they are doing (much thanks due to mastermind and coach, Ben Rosario). Based out of Flagstaff, Arizona (regarded internationally by many as one of the best training locations for elite athletes across many sports) NAZ Elite has the set-up for the ages. When Coach Ben Rosario first reached out to me during my senior year of college, I was ecstatic. This was THE dream team and to be offered a spot and with a full sponsorship on this team was an opportunity I knew I couldn’t pass up. In July 2019 it was official; I had signed my first professional contract with an amazing team with all of the resources I believed I needed to be the fastest runner that I knew/still know I can be. The training partners, endless pine tree lined dirt roads, 7000’ of altitude, strength coaches who doubled as physical trainers, and more were all the things that I thought would lead to my success as a professional runner. From the outside this appears to be the perfect training situation and an ideal setting for those pursing running at the most elite level. While the training structure, volume, intensity and schedule differed in many ways during my time on NAZ Elite as compared to my collegiate training, it was nothing that I couldn’t handle or that I ever backed down from (I am sure Coach Ben can attest to this, long runs are my absolute favorite!). After all, I did just spend the previous five years of my life working to graduate with a B.S. in Civil Engineering at the top 10% of my class all while competing at a high level in the NCAA Division 1 Cross Country & Track. One of the most demanding Division 1 sports you can choose coupled with one of the most demanding majors you can choose meant stress and heavy workloads were no stranger to me. After some good races in the fall of last year, a nearly 50 second PB in the 10k on the track this spring, and my first international appearance as a member of Team USA for the NACAC XC Championships in Trinidad and Tobago, things seemed to be going well. However, two semi-major injuries during my time in Flagstaff (after making it through all of college uninjured) gave me a lot of time to think and reconsider what I wanted out of running and what role it played in my life. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that while running plays a major role in my life it will never be my whole life. For better or worse, I am a person that needs more than running in my life to be fulfilled and feel happy. I am not the person that can be content to live like a sort of modern-day monk only running, napping, and eating for the entire day (I very sincerely admire the focus and dedication of those that can!). I need to feel like I am contributing to the world beyond fast times and race results; I want to work to be a good citizen in all of the communities that I’m invested in, not just the running community (which tends to be a pretty closed off bubble). I have realized that in the end, it is the people and communities that you are involved with that make the place you live in your “home” and sets you up best for success. A while back I posted about having severe race anxiety before my 10k at the Stanford Invitational in 2019. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is something I have always dealt with and will continue to deal with for the rest of my life. This puts me in a rather fragile and elevated mental state all of the time in dealing with additional life stressors and anxious situations. With this in mind, I knew that it was integral that I get my pre-race anxiety under control because that was the only way I would be able to continue to pursue running at an elite level successfully. What I kept coming back to was: why was that 10k back in March such a sore spot even though I came away with a huge PB? Eventually it occurred to me that it was because I was in a place, both physical and mental, that just wasn’t right for me. It wasn’t exactly “wrong” but it just wasn’t right either. The only way I could describe it is like what happens when you’re doing a jig-saw puzzle and you think you have finally found the right piece you were looking for; you believe it’s the right shape and its all of the right colors but when you try to put it in the space it just doesn’t fit. There are so many pieces, and many of them look much the same but not one of those pieces actually is the same. I spent a year trying to jam myself into that space only to realize I just wasn’t the right piece for that part of the puzzle. Someone is the right piece for that part of the puzzle, but it is not me. Fortunately, I have faith that in due time I will find my place somewhere else on that professional running puzzle, the place where I fit perfectly, the space that was meant for me to fill. So, what does my puzzle piece look like you might ask? Well it has a lot of funky edges and tons of colors. It encompasses an athlete of many sports, an entrepreneur, an engineer, a wild child, and an outdoor adventurer with wanderlust and a spirit that can’t be tamed. My solution? Move back home to beautiful Utah (#BeUTAHful) and surround myself with the people that make me the happiest: my family, my twin sister, my boyfriend, and the rest of my Utah community. This gives me the space to explore and expand my passions outside of running such as mental health advocacy, sustainability and climate advocacy, cooking, cross-training, my business, and more. I also get the awe-inspiring backdrop of the Utah mountains and trails serving as both a comfort and a resource for future my endeavors. All of this with the intention of setting me up to be the most fulfilled and happy human I can be with the freedom to explore new parts of the running world to my heart’s content (woohoo, many more trail races to come!!!). Finding a coach and group of others who hold many of the same life and running values as me is important to me and makes me realize that I’m not so different after all, I just have to do a little extra searching to find my people. It is my hope that with this post you can see that I am not weak for leaving what most would consider the “perfect situation” nor am I ungrateful for the opportunities afforded to me. I want you to see that I am strong for being vulnerable and honest with myself and others, that I have humility, and that I know that its okay to say it’s just not “it” and it never will be. I hope you can find the strength within yourself to search for your community and the situation that will set you up best for success on your own terms, and remember that you have the right to define that for yourself. May we all find the part of life’s great puzzle where our piece is the perfect fit. Xoxo, Grayson
- Airplane arms or you’re doing it wrong.
Original publication date: Dec. 2022 The last few months have been far from ideal for me when it comes to running and my career. In 2022, I have been forced to pull out of more races than I have made it to the start line for. Coming from 2021 where I raced more than 15 times this year has been quite the contrast. I have only raced 3 times this year (technically 4 if you count the random local trail race I did back in August) and that’s all I will race this calendar season. I am lucky in that so far in my running career I have not been injury prone and have managed to have very few unplanned breaks in training over the last 7 years. This year, however, has tested my mind and body in many new ways. I have spent the majority of this year injured, or at least in a great deal of pain. I probably could count on two hands the number of runs I have had in 2022 where I was not in pain. And although much of this time the pain was not so severe that it prevented me from running altogether, it was still there lurking in the shadows. While it may be true that some (small) part of these aches and pains are associated with the process of getting older I also think that much of the chronic pain that I was feeling was due to my inability to give my body the break that it so needed. Now that I have made the very tough decision to bow out of World Champs and finally take a break, I have had a lot of time to think about what I want out of this whole running thing and what it means to me. I haven’t run a single step in nearly 2 weeks which feels like an eternity. I haven’t cross trained or biked either, except for a few bikram yoga sessions and walks around the neighborhood. While it has been difficult, this has been a true break and one that I am proud of for finally taking. It has made me realize that what I really miss about running and movement in general, is the release that it brings me, the places that it takes me, and the people that I have the opportunity to meet and learn from. I have said it before, and I’ll say it again: if you don’t have the sudden uncontrollable urge to do airplane arms while you are running then you are doing it wrong. Personally, this feeling is much easier to achieve while trail running but I have felt this way on the occasional road run too. It is my personal philosophy that running is something that I do, first and foremost, because it brings me a great deal of joy. While it is also my job, and I am forever grateful that my job can bring me joy, I have recognized for some time now that I need to prioritize my joy with running or else I won’t be very successful in the sport. When it comes to making decisions about my running career I have learned to heavily lean on the outcomes that will bring me the most joy. I recently heard some friends of mine talk about following something akin to a “fun compass”; a compass that points you towards your true north, that being your true joy. There are a lot of perspectives you could take when trying to make decisions about your career or life. You might choose to prioritize the desires from your friends and family, you might have a boss or mentor whose opinion matters the most to you, or there might be some expectations that sway your decision. I do consider, and probably over-consider, all of those perspectives but what I keep coming back to is my “fun compass”. In the past when I have let go of all other expectations and chosen to do what sounded “fun”, or what I thought would bring me the most joy, I have 100% of the time felt that it was the right decision and one that brought me a lot of success. By following this fun compass and chasing true joy I have found that uncontrollable urges to do airplane arms are much easier to come by. Have you ever been running and felt so carefree and joyous with the present moment that you had the uncontrollable urge to do airplane arms? “Airplane arms or you’re doing it wrong.” This saying popped into my head one day as I was flowing along on some beautiful Montana trails. It was July, and if you know anything about Montana, July is one of the best months of the year. It is warm and the flowers are coming out of their long winter slumber but there is still a crispness to the air. 90% of my morning runs in July in Montana are perfect running weather; you start off cool and finish feeling refreshed but not too warm. When I was running that day in July, I remember thinking that the weather was perfect, I was feeling great on the run, and things really couldn't be much better. There was no place I would rather be than running on that trail, at that moment, doing airplane arms. If you haven’t tried doing airplane arms while you are running then I would highly recommend this experience to you. To do airplane arms right, stretch your arms straight out from your sides and run for the joy of it, unencumbered, like a little kid on the playground. It might feel a little silly at first, but that’s the point! This one silly movement has the ability to transport you to a place of play and joy by turning what might have been just an ordinary run into something extraordinary. Most adults, myself included, tend to lose their sense of play and innate joy that often accompany many of our favorite activities as children. Running and exercise does provide us with many benefits that help to improve our mental, physical, and spiritual health. Oftentimes, people use running and exercise as a way to destress and as a time for self-care during the day. Even as a professional runner, running is both my job and a way for me to destress and take on the world with a clearer mind and healthier body. However, if my personal experience is anything like yours, then I would be willing to bet that it takes deliberate intentions to find joy in some runs. Running everyday can easily start to feel like a chore and just another mundane activity; just another box to check; just going through the motions of life. But I think I have found a way out of that cycle. I believe that the principles of airplane arms are the way out of just going through the motions of life and the way to start actually living life. By setting intentions for our runs to be full of joy and play, we can deliberately practice doing things during our runs to achieve this. I have heard of people smiling while they are running which is effective in both increasing their joy and decreasing their feelings of perceived effort. Similar to smiling, I think that doing airplane arms is another great little mind trick to gently remind ourselves that although we might be serious and focused in our training it can also bring us joy and play if we make sure to look for it. Now for the really philosophical part… I have come to believe that if I do not have the unfettered and compulsive urge to do airplane arms at least once every run, then I am doing it wrong. I take this to mean that if I do not experience a childlike sense of joy or play each day that I have the opportunity to go for a run then I am not running right. And this is a metaphor that I have started to apply to my life outside of running as well. We only have one lifetime on this earth so I want to make sure that mine is full of hard work but also experiences of joy and play no matter how old I get. I have learned that if I want to make sure that the compulsive airplane arms of joy feeling bubbles up in me each run, then I need to cultivate a practice of gratitude. Back on that perfect day in July, running through the mountains of Montana, I found myself being overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude for my ability to run and experience that kind of beauty. This is the key. No matter how I feel, what the weather might be, or where I might be running, I can always find gratitude in a moment and that is the key to airplane arms. So, next time you are out for a run I hope you can find a moment or two of gratitude and give airplane arms a go. After a few times with some, I hope that the airplane arms might also find you and happen out of sheer compulsion for your gratitude, joy, and play in the moment. And remember, whether in running or in life, airplane arms or you’re doing it wrong.