by Ansen Chamberlain
Each year of running as a high schooler has been so drastically different from those preceding. As a junior who has just closed out on his second-to-last cross country season, the ticking clock seems extra loud. I’ve watched quite a few friends end their high school athletics career and take an undetermined “break” from running, which—as someone who wants to run for as long as I possibly can—can be scary. …Burnout is real, but avoidable. These past few weeks, I have contemplated my running goals for 2023, focusing specifically on running quality and maintenance. Ideally, these goals will guide me through my senior season, leading to some amazing races and solid PRs.
Here it goes:
#1 - Unplug
Energy is contagious, and a great playlist can serve as a superspreader on a lazy day. This past year however, I have become too dependent on music to set my mood. An overreliance on stimulation to spark my runs has made it difficult for me to enjoy the world beyond my earbuds. The times that I have run unplugged were difficult at first, but by the end, they were extremely fulfilling and beneficial for my mental health/physical awareness. My most intriguing ideas and revelations have been delivered in a new environment. When you go for a run techless, you’re much more susceptible to that new thinking.
#2 - Fuel
If I had a “food of the year” for 2022, the winner would be sweet potatoes. Their versatility makes them ideal for a number of different meals, and they are notoriously easy on the digestive system; a perfect fuel for runners. …Sweet potatoes can only get you so far however, and I have really started to realize that these past few months. I focus a lot on carbo-loading, so much so that I often neglect the other macros—proteins and fats, which are essential for recovery, muscle building and energy storage. I have a pre-race meal that helps me in the short term, yet I’m still working on establishing nutritional habits that have benefits for the long term. My goal for 2023 is to find some new foods that are as perfectly paired with my body and running as sweet potatoes, while also making sure I provide my body with a good variety of balanced, revitalizing meals. Also—cook/bake more! …Cooking and baking when I have the chance has really forced me to be aware of my nutrition.
#3 - Strengthen
After breaking my leg in 2021, I spent a couple of months doing consistent physical therapy, and it really opened my eyes to the importance of consistent cross-training and strength work. For me, “strengthening” has a dual meaning. …If you think about building muscles, the muscle tissue itself must be torn first, then allowed to repair via recovery. So essentially, getting stronger encompasses challenging your muscles but also rebuilding them. While I was doing PT, I was running less, doing strength and mobility exercises more, and taking a little extra time for recovery, which really seemed to help. Throughout my cross country season this year, I was much more successful during the weeks that I focused on quality recovery, than those when I neglected it. Even though I am on a team that follows a pretty specific schedule, I have been able to tailor my schedule and recovery routines to best suit my body, and that has allowed me to race my best while preventing injury and burnout. In 2023, I intend to continue this practice, and also to focus on my mental strength. My most difficult workouts are those when I am lacking motivation; I need to practice pushing through the clouds of self-doubt to get to the light.
#4 - Prepare
Three of the races I ran during this past XC season were arguably some of the best of my life. They all had one thing in common: preparation. By preparation, I don’t solely mean setting out my bag, singlet, and racing shoes the night before, it’s more the mental aspect. My best races have always started a few days before the air horn or whistle scream.
I have adopted the practice of reappraisal: reevaluating any negative thoughts our fears that I may experience about a race and exchanging them for beneficial reflections, uplifting affirmations, or if-then planning, so that I have a strong mindset and a plan to stick to even in the worst scenarios. The other tool that has helped me exponentially—and not just with racing—is visualization. My coach likes to remind the team of the first sub-4-minute miler: Roger Bannister. Before his fateful race, Bannister replayed the image of him crossing the line under 4 minutes in his mind over and over; he mentally portrayed himself obtaining his goals. …And like they say, “seeing is believing,” …If you can visualize yourself accomplishing a goal, you’re already halfway there. For 2023, I want to really engrain visualization into my pre-race routine.
#5 - Motivate
There are days when I stare at my running shoes for a full 30 minutes before deciding to put them on. Sometimes I stare at them for a full 30 minutes and still cannot decide whether or not to put them on. Though, one thing always stays true: I have no regrets after running. If getting out the door is the hardest part for me, I want to take the steps to make running feel worth it. Other than reminding myself of the post-run elation, I think it’s vital that I take some steps to make running worth it even more. I often find myself slogging along the same boring routes, and my senses have little to take in other than the occasional passerby. In 2023, I am putting this melancholy to an end. Whenever I can, I plan to explore some new routes, find places to dine mid-run, and spend more time off the streets and on the trails. Finding new ways to experience a run has never failed to spark new motivation in me, which takes lacing up and getting out the door from a 30 minute to a 30 second venture.
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