I’ve had hundreds of influencers throughout my running career. Family members, coaches, friends, teammates, trainers, fellow runners, chiropractors, pro athletes who’ve inspired me and so on. This morning I was reflecting on some of the best advice I ever received and thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool to have all these priceless lessons written in one place?” So for my sake as much as for yours, here’s the best running advice I’ve ever received.

  1. “Never feel sorry for yourself in the middle of a race.” This advice comes from an assistant cross country coach I had in college. Coach Keith only coached for the first year I was there, (and he probably doesn’t even remember me!) but this advice was on a sticky note for the rest of my college career. It hung in my dorm room to remind me that in the middle of a race when I felt defeated, tired, and ready to quit, I’m not to feel sorry for myself. I had chosen to pursue the glorious pain of racing, I had set goals waiting to be smashed. And none of these goals, or the girls racing me, would wait for me to stop feeling sorry for myself. From here on out when it came time for the pain I would grit my teeth and bear it proudly. I did not feel sorry for myself, I had earned this.
  2. “Hey, smile out there!” This advice comes from my father. (To my followers, you better believe an entire post will be coming in appreciation of him.) My dad has always been one of my biggest supporters. While he is very knowledgeable and a big-time coach to many people in his life, he gives more than just competitive advice. Like reminding me to always “smile out there.”dad and i To you serious/cutthroat runners, I will have you know I’m a very competitive person, and I promise, smiling during a race actually makes me more so. It reminds me why I do this in the first place. It brings me back to the joy of running, not just the pressure of performance. It helps me convince myself I’m in less pain than I actually am. It gives me a reason to make eye contact with one of my biggest fans, and thank God for how blessed I am. And that just fires me up. The picture below is from what was probably the best race of my career (or at least the most memorable). A race that practically came down to the death, a race at which my dad surprised me when I didn’t think he was coming. When I heard his classic whistle and “hey smile out there”…well let’s just say there’s no need to point out which runner I am in this picture. smiling during race
  3.  “Don’t save something for the end of a race…find it.” This advice once again comes from my father and he probably won’t even remember giving it to me. When I first started running long distance in eighth grade I had no idea what I was doing. No one else in my family had ever really run long distance before (okay my sister may have tried a race or two) but I was clueless about strategy. The sit and kick model seemed appealing to me. Jog for awhile and then be stronger than everyone else out there. Well, Dad’s advice was, don’t wait until the end, know the end is coming and somehow find it within you to finish. This was great advice. Essentially he was saying, don’t go easy on yourself, and don’t make excuses at the end when you’re tired…Finish. The. Race.
  4.  “Puuuuuuush.” My college track coach (Coach Newsom) is a very inspirational leader. During my college career, he was constantly giving speeches to rally us, demanding we give our very best, and always, always, screaming “puuuush” on the home stretch of the track. The advice isn’t necessarily earth-shattering–but his voice was. The picture below gives a snapshot, but I’ll continue searching for video evidence of its effectiveness.newsom yelling

5. “You are way better than you think you are.” My head college cross country coach (Coach J) was and still is the single-most influential person in my running career. He took my excitement for running and helped me form it into a passion. One I would stop at nothing to improve. He showed me I was better than I thought and then expected me to prove it in my racing. This piece of advice was used year-in and year-out during his career as a coach. He reminded us all we had chosen to run at Wartburg because we wanted to move up to the next level. While these words were a routine part of each year, there was one time something was very different about them. This one time, I believed them. I believed I could actually work my way up and compete with the best girls in the conference. I believed I could contribute to a national-caliber team. I believed I could invest the time and energy it took to push myself and our team to the next level. I believed, and so I did.

My senior year, we placed second at the NCAA Division III National Cross Country Championships. This picture was captured as we received our trophy at Nationals in 2012. This entire experience will be one I treasure for the rest of my life. Not too bad for never thinking I had a chance to be competitive at this level. All it took was some great advice, lots of hard work, and the belief that I could, that we could, that we would. I’ll write more about this experience soon. Because that season was one for the books.

xc nats

By now, I’ve taken this advice through three marathons (including my Boston debut) and well-beyond running. Job interviews, promotions, family relationships, you name it. This is not only running advice, it’s just plain fantastic advice.

So, learn from some of the best people I know: Never feel sorry for yourself, always smile out there, don’t save anything for the end…find it. Continue to puuuuush, and remember: You are way better than you think you are.

KirstenElsa