Life is full of highs and lows, and there are some years that seem to serve up challenge after challenge. Alysia Montaño is proof that it's not about how we fall, but how we get up again. We recently chatted with the Olympian and seven-time USA Champion about resilience, goal setting, the sport she loves, the importance of hitting reset, and how she uses meditation to shift her perspective. Her glass? Always half full.
Going back in time first, we have to ask how you avoided common injury traps as you came back to competition after having your first baby?
Honestly, I [started back] slow. That’s why I was crying when I won Outdoors 2015 10 months postpartum… I was like WHAT?! I was truly surprised because I'd been so patient in the come-back.
I wish it was a crazy story. I listened to my body and came back slow. I was very diligent about strength exercises, which wasn't my normal strength, but I did not do weights (which I love) to avoid stressing my joints and ligaments postpartum. I really did Hit Reset. I let my body Reset itself. I didn’t force it to move in any ways it wasn’t ready to. I let my body speak to me, and I really, really listened to it. As much as I wanted to be stubborn at times, I knew I didn’t want to be hurt. I knew I wanted 2016 to be the year I was going after it.
How have you learned to listen to your body? Do you have tips for people that want to hone that skill?
Honestly it took one injury for me to be like NO! I got injured in 2008 and didn’t make the Olympic Team that year. I’d been a favorite to make the team and I’d been on a roll the year before. I won my first Nationals as Junior in college. And then the next year, I just overshot it. I overshot what I needed to do. I did so many stupid things, like I wouldn’t get enough rest. I’d run home from class at midnight, then wake up at 6am to train. I thought I was being an animal, but I was just being stupid. I was working too hard, and recovery wasn’t where it needed to be.
Many of us are so stubborn; we do more than we need to do. It’s a process. We need to recognize what our bodies are telling us. There’s a difference between being uncomfortable, and being hurt. You need to know when to back off right away.
2016 was a hard year and I’m sure it didn’t go according to script, but you turned it around and created a movement that was inclusive, positive, and exciting. How did you make that shift? Or was it even a shift?
For me rolling into 2016, so much had been happening in the sport that the Trials was really just the gut punch. Of course I wanted to make the team, but I’m not even sure what that would have looked like with everything that was happening.
So I stopped and said okay, Alsia Montaño, get on your feet and lets do this thing. It’s very ingrained in me to finish what I start. It was that conscious of an effort to finish what I started. It’s how I live. Every morning I wake and put my feet on the ground I know that as long as I put one foot in front of the other, everything I put into motion I need to see through.
With that being said, I need to practice what I preach. We all need to. Most of us in this world are striving for good. We want to put goodness into practice. We have to remind ourselves of that over and over, until it’s a habit, until it’s a lifestyle.
The Trials was hard, because it was so live, the world was watching. I had so many instances like that this year. I am very real and very open, but I am also prideful. Those tears everyone saw… I needed to figure out what the point of all this [pain] was. I had all this support through everything, I thought there had to be a reason that everyone was able to see all this heartache.
Social media, way back when, was weird. Like why did anyone want to see my training or life. But as I understood it more I found those connections very powerful. That people could connect to other people that inspired them. And I felt people’s support in hard times. It’s inspiration, and accountability… that’s where Road To Burrito came in. I thought, what can I do that’s more important to me than a medal? That’s more important than an arbitrary ideal of winning? That was my process.
So was there an ultimate goal in mind when you came up with Road to Burrito, or #5WeekstoTTC?
With the things that have happened in the sport recently, especially when it comes to doping or medals that were awarded to the wrong people… I couldn’t base my worth off that and I wanted other people to know that there are people who are living their life day-to-day, striving to be their best selves, and there isn’t a medal at the end of that. I wanted to show that we could reach for bigger common goals, and pull the community together. I wanted to show that there is no disappointment in anything you do, as long as you get up and you execute. Then you have the next day to look forward to.
And I felt like with everything that had been given to me in this sport, I wanted to give back to everyone else. And that was Road to Burrito. And it was amazing! It was an amazing response. As soon as it was over people wanted another challenge. It was overwhelming in a good way. So I took sometime to make #5WeekstoTTC.
Do you think connecting the dots between the pros and the rest us is important? Why?
I want ownership over what I love doing. Not only do I love running, I love fitness and I love health. I know the benefits that it gives you regardless of whether you’re chasing after a medal or not. It isn’t just about that. I think a lot of people, when looking at pros think they’re in it only because there’s a medal at the end, or money involved. And some people, obviously, that’s is all it is. But not me. I love it because of the challenge to get the most out of myself.
Yet I am a pro, I’m not working two jobs. But there is power at any level [of this sport] of owning your own life, owning your own goals, owning your own running.
I also didn’t want people to just see all of the dopers. It seemed like their faces were the focus of the media. I wanted to shift it. Like with 5 Weeks to Turkey Trot Challenge I wanted people to see what professional runners look like that aren’t doping, that are training clean. I wanted to show people what’s possible with the work. And to show the work it takes. Helping people recognize what they can accomplish in their daily lives and their physical lives, whatever that looks like for them. And I had people telling me they PRed or ran the furthest they’d run.
I wanted to show the importance of striving for more. That it’s okay, at the end of the day, to be tuckered. Because you did all these amazing things that you were able to pull out of yourself. Like you have so much more in you than you even know. I wanted to raise people’s expectations. I hope that I did that.
I’ll admit I needed it too, that it ultimately gave me so much life. I really feed off of giving to people. I’ve always been like that. I think there’s purpose for everyone. When it fuels you, it fuels you. When it moves you, it moves you. And you know it. You have to go towards that.
Lastly, as a pro I also get a lot of questions, and often the same ones. So it was also a good way to streamline information. To give people answers that they wanted.
Okay speaking of answers that people want. Your resilience is such an admirable trait. Do you have tools that you use to bounce back from disappointment?
I think it’s really important to process. To immediately let yourself feel whatever you feel, without hiding from it. I give myself at least 24 hours just to feel it. Not to dwell for days or months. But to really feel it, to move on.
I call it my 24 hour rule. The next day I start to plan how I am going to move forward. I write it out. I say it outloud. I meditate on it.
The next step is to move. Action is very metaphorical. Just use however you like to move, whether it’s running or cycling, or a strength training… just get those endorphins going. Ultimately when I start doing that, even if I’m still feeling it, I’ve started the process to move forward.
That’s how I approach everything. I don’t want to sit around thinking, “Why did this happen?” You might never know why something happened.
But injuries and those kinds of setbacks, you can look back on more. You can find what contributed to that injury. Maybe it was the day you pushed too hard on a workout, or added too many miles that week.
Overall it’s important to see the whole journey. When people think about positivity, they think you can never have a feeling of something not being great. But it’s not like that. It’s not realistic to be okay with something not great. But it’s important to look for the good. You have to shift the focus, shift the ownership.
Like in my 2016 there were plenty of things that weren’t awesome, but ultimately we had things that were really great. Like I could actually go to summer weddings, I could give back to people who had supported me. I started new projects. I had sponsors for the year. My daughter had three birthday parties, I got to spend so much time with her. There was so much good.
You mentioned meditation, how do you use that in your training or goal setting?
I meditate on my goals. I’m huge on saying my goals outloud and on having affirmations. I’ll say them outloud, and I always have affirmations or goals stuck to the mirror. All the time.
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