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  • Joy SpearChief-Morris

2018 Season and Canadian Nationals Recap

A few weeks have passed since I competed at the Canadian National Championships, but I wanted to give my thoughts on this past season now that it has come to a close, including my thoughts on competing at nationals this year. Since this year was so challenging for me, in many ways, I want to give justice to this season by reflecting, letting go, and then moving forward.

Photo courtesy of Harry Stantsos

I think every athlete does this: you begin each season by laying out your goals for the coming year. What it is you want to accomplish, whether that is a certain time or distance or certain teams you hope to make. I am no different and each year I put forth what it is I believe I am capable of achieving. Now I have always been a person who sets pretty high goals for myself, and I see nothing wrong with this. It doesn’t mean I always achieve them all, but I have usually been pretty good at accomplishing most of them or coming pretty damn close. For the 2018 season, I was focusing solely on the 100m hurdles for the first time and as a post-collegiate athlete whose focus was to train full time. I saw myself getting into the low 13 second range and making a top 8 showing at Canadian National Championships. I also saw myself qualifying and competing for Team Canada at the IAAF World Indoor Championships. I was confident that my goals were more than achievable and I began the season hopeful and ready for the changes that were going to push me to that next level.

A harsh lesson I learned this year was that life comes at you fast, and it can take a toll physically, emotionally and mentally more than I ever really thought it could. I felt like my life was becoming so completely chaotic that I was no longer capable of keeping up with any of it. It took me a very long time to accept that the chaos that was going on in my life would have such an effect on how I was performing on the track. I have shared a lot through my blogs in the last year about what it is that I have been experiencing on a physical, mental and emotional level. If you haven't read my other blogs, let me give you just a little run down.

In the first few months of base season I was adjusting to a new training group, new training program as well as adjusting to living in a new place, fresh out of school trying to find any kind of part-time job that could support my training. Just over a month into working a new job at a restaurant in early December, I got fired (news flash - I am NOT a good waitress). A few days later Santa Barbara literally burst into flames as the Thomas Fire started to rage through the county. The fire forced my training group off the track due to hazardous air quality and a dangerously close fire range, causing a huge disruption to our training. I ended up temporarily evacuating to the bay area with friends to escape the smoke. Heading into January, I was still confident that the month's disruption in training wouldn't be too bad and that I would be back on track to qualify for World Indoors. A day after returning to training as a group, the mudslides occurred and we were forced again to adjust our training as the destruction physically separated our training group first from the track itself and then from our coach for two weeks heading into our first indoor meet. My indoor results were not at all as I hoped they would be, I didn't qualify for World Indoors and I was a little upset and frustrated. Yet, I was determined that I would still see some big results come the outdoor season. Not even a week after my last indoor meet in mid-February, I got over ambitious doing power cleans in the weight room and suffered a grade 1 sprain to my lower back leaving me physically off the track for a month only being able to do non-impact cross training.

I returned to the track mid-March and was ready to open my outdoor season at the beginning of April. With each passing meet, my results stayed at the same mediocre level, and my confidence took more of a hit each and every race. I became embarrassed with my results, not wanting anyone I knew to see how poorly I was doing. I spent too many track meets this year crying and feeling sorry for myself, trying to figure out why the results weren’t happening and why I couldn't seem to race the way I used to anymore. I felt like I was working so hard and doing everything I possibly could do to be successful. I was doing my physio, taking care of body and working my butt off every practice. I worked hard to improve my nutrition and make sure I was getting myself physically in the best shape I could be to perform my best. Another race would come, and again I would wind up feeling like I was performing below my potential. My goals for myself got lower and lower with each passing track meet and I came to dread every meet that came my way.

I felt like I was failing. I didn’t want to accept the external factors that had played a part on my training not only physically, but also mentally and emotionally. But more than affecting just my training, they were also starting to affect all the other aspects of my life. I was working as hard as I could to get by financially but I was in a constant state of stress so high that I began to feel like I was having anxiety. I began to feel detached from my friends and my training group. I felt like I had lost myself. As hard as I was training and working, I was struggling to overcome the emotional and mental hurdles that kept being thrown in my path. For me, I couldn't see past the times on the clock as they have been the biggest markers of success that I have been able to measure myself against in the past. I had made this huge move in order to see better results on the track and yet nothing was coming together.

Coming into the Athletics Ontario provincial championships (or AOs for short) at the end of June and the Canadian National Championships at the beginning of July (the pinnacle of my season) I told myself that all I wanted was to run something that was going to make me feel good about myself, have some fun, and prove to myself that everything I had gone through this season had been worth it. I had given up on any real chance of a personal best as well as any of my other big goals for the season. I said all I wanted was to get back in the 13 second range, because I hadn't even managed to do that at this point. But letting go of needing to run a certain time is hard to do, as is trying to have fun racing when doing well is a major factor to having said fun when racing. I had to try and focus on what would make me feel the best about my experiences at AOs and nationals at the end of the day. My AOs results ended up being pretty much on par with how the rest of my season had been going. While I was a little disappointed with the results themselves (still hoping for that breakthrough), I had tried to focus on the other things I felt went well and that I had enjoyed about competing at the meet: seeing competitors/friends I hadn't seen in a while and being back on a familiar track. Overall, I left the meet feeling okay because I was determined to finish my season feeling positive. I needed to keep a positive mindset going into nationals so that when the season was over I could honestly say I was happy with how I performed an athlete and competitor.

Being back in London, Ontario for the few weeks leading into nationals, I completely changed my focus mentally from what it had been for most of the season. I knew that the physical training I had put in all season was what it was and it was not going to change any crazy amount in a few weeks. I trusted that the work I had done all season and just focused on tuning up in my workouts. I had been taking good care of my body, and I knew mentally was were I needed to put my energy in. Helping me with this was my sports psychologist, Natascha Wesch, someone who has been a huge part of my success on and off the track for the last four years, while also helping to keep my mental health in check. I focused on doing anything I needed to feel good about and for myself and did things to help lower my stress levels. I had some fun catching up with friends; I spent some time reading, journaling, and relaxing, going for strolls in Gibbons Park, and focused on taking care of myself. By the time I left for Ottawa for nationals, I was feeling the most like myself that I had felt all year. In Ottawa, my parents had flown out from Alberta to support me at nationals, so I was able to enjoy spending time with them while enjoying one of my favourite cities.

The day of the 100m hurdles I was nervous, but honestly, it was a feeling I welcomed. I hadn’t felt nervous or even excited for a track meet in quite a while. Once I started warming up the nerves started to calm down and the atmosphere of the meet and the race set in. I knew I had the support of my friends, coaches and family behind me. When they called us into the final call room before the race I was feeling the most relaxed I may have ever felt before a race. I had finally let go of needing any specific result at the end of the race or the need to prove myself to anybody. I have always been a competitor at heart and I love to rise to competition. Finally, I could feel that competitor in me starting to come out again. I told myself that I was going to fight my way to that finish line, not for any result but for myself. I was determined that no matter what, I was going to be proud of myself knowing I did everything I could to compete the best I could. I ended up running a huge season’s best time and qualified for the final. The last time I qualified for a Canadian National Championships' final was during my last year as a junior in 2013 for the 100m. This was the first time I have ever qualified for a senior national championship final! In the final I was once again feeling incredibly relaxed, the pressure was off, there were no expectations so I just went out and had some fun. The race itself wasn’t amazing by any means, and I still didn't feel like my old self race, but I have no complaints. I finished the season exactly as I wanted to with a smile on my face again and feeling proud of myself for overcoming everything that had been holding me back all season. Making the final and finishing 6th overall (my highest finish yet at a senior national championship) with my parents in the crowd to support me and cheer me on was simply the cherry on top.

So, looking back on the season overall, did I accomplish all my goals that I set out at the beginning of the year? Ha no. I didn’t qualify for any national teams and I was nowhere near close to setting a PB, in fact I ran some of the worst times this year that I have run since my first year of university. Yet for the first time this year I can say that I am okay with how this season went. To be able to come out of this season and nationals feeling the way I am right now is accomplishment enough. The smile on my face was hard fought for and it is the truest result of everything I have overcome this year. Now I am not going to make any excuses for my performances this year, or say if things had been less hectic or if I hadn't made this big move that I would have performed better. This season was what it was and all I can do is take everything I learned from this year and use it to make me stronger for the future. I feel like I accomplished so much much more than just a time on a scoreboard. I know that this season does not define me as an athlete, and more importantly, it does not define me as a person. While I may not have felt like my normal confident self competing this past year, I have never felt so proud of myself as a competitor. There were so many times this season I could have simply given up, and there were honestly a few times I did consider whether any of this was really worth it anymore. But I have always considered myself a fighter and for me giving up was never an option. My biggest success this season was finding myself and finding that competitor within again. She’s still here and she’s coming back with new inner strength.

This past year I have learned so much about myself, learned what it is I need to be successful, but also what it is that I need to be happy. I am learning that there is more than one path on the road to being a successful athlete and my path is a lot different than I ever thought it was going to be, and that is more than okay. Some roads take you there and back again and that is okay. I know now where it is I need to be to feel fully supported on the journey I am on, but also I know where it is I need to be to feel free to chase all of my dreams and have my greatest chance to be successful. These lessons are my true accomplishments for this year and I am grateful for all the hurdles I had to overcome to help me to discover them. Thank you to everyone who has followed along this past year, and as always thank you to everyone who supported me on and off the track in every way possible. I would not have gotten through it all without all of you. And lastly, a special thank you to the Santa Barbara Track Club and Josh Priester for this opportunity over the last year. I am incredibly grateful for everything you have taught me and for the experience to learn more about myself as an athlete and as a person.

So, while I may not have achieved what I thought I was going to this season, and while the results may not show what I know I am capable of or where I believe I should be, I know that my time is coming. Next year I plan on being a force to be reckoned with, and I plan on making my mark in more ways than just one. But for now, I plan on enjoying some off-season time. It is time to reset, relax, and refocus. Now, will someone please pass me a nice giant slice of cheesecake?

As for the blogs, season 2 is coming soon!

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