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Blog

a letter to my future self

Kimberley Doerksen

At the beginning of the year, New Balance asked the #TeamNB athletes to write a short post or letter to their future self.  Mulling over my athletic career and the changes that have lead me to where I am today, it was hard to articulate everything I wanted to say in a short letter.  This was the result:

Dear Kimberley,

Remember when you were 7 years old and first dreamt of becoming an Olympian? This led to countless hours of training, “sacrifices” and choices made to help better your chances of making that dream a reality.  You let yourself become vulnerable by putting your heart and soul into those aspirations. There were incredible highs that came with every small or large success, but were paired with the black-as-night lows that shook your confidence making you doubt everything.  Those were the times where you had no control over what had happened, only over how you’d get through it.  And you did.  Every single time.  Largely due to the incredible support from the ones who believed in your lofty goals and crazy ideas even when you didn’t.  Remember how selfless they were in supporting you, and strive to be that person for someone else.  Remember that through the inevitable moments of “I can’t” and other people’s “you can’t”, it’s your job to believe you can.  Then, take a deep breath, slip on your shoes and let the foot fall rhythms of your imperfect stride be the voice reminding you can fly.

With love,
Kim

a return to familiar territory

Kimberley Doerksen

This is your time.  This is your shot.  Make the most of this by looking inward, and having the confidence to trust the results from that focus.  

Making a return to sport after a hiatus, intended or not, is more difficult than anyone ever tells you it will be.  The motivation to train again is rarely an issue when given the green light as those words are music to an athlete's ears.  However, at times it needs to be reined in to ensure an overzealous athlete's determination doesn't cause another setback.  

Regaining physical fitness is a slow and tedious task that requires a lot of patience.  Months of forming a necessary foundation on which to build, takes time. It's never a straight line trajectory back to full form. The spirals of training will take you all over the place while on a net upwards trend. Just know that every piece of training makes for a stronger and fitter body.

The biggest piece of the puzzle that isn't as obvious, is how much harder it is to rebuild your mental game.  Confidence trickles back at a much slower rate, and can disappear just as quickly as it appears. Celebrating small victories will help you stay on track. But the emotional highs and lows can be far more draining than any hard training session.  The mind can make or break an athlete, and needs to conditioned just as much as the muscles that carry you through a run.

Since the start of the year, the focus of training has been to regain some leg speed, have fun, and learn how to navigate through a new style of coaching that forced me to trust, and realize I can't always get what I want.  Colin's voice of reason can elicit a hot-headed emotional reaction, but after a few deep breaths and a step back, I return to the conversation knowing he's always right.

Focusing on shorter distances at the start of the year required less mileage, but more intensity, and it left me exhausted.  We were starting from ground zero, and it was bloody hard.  To mix things up, I competed in a few indoor track races: the 800m, 1500m and mile events.  I now have a deeper respect for middle distance athletes.  I'll take a marathon over the 800m any day!

That being said, it was a fantastic reintroduction into competition.  I started to relearn how to race and go into a new world of discomfort; I relearned where my mental strengths and weaknesses lie; and I fell in love with my flashy neon spikes again.  I am by no means back in full form, but I know that everything I've done so far will help in the long run (no pun intended).

After the culmination of our "indoor track season", I was given the go-ahead to head home for the annual Fool's Run.  This half marathon is what kick-started my running career, and will always have a special place in my heart.  Not having trained for a half marathon, I went into the race with minimal expectations, just wanting to support the community that has supported me.  On a beautiful day, that hilly course shifted something inside me.  Whether it was the sunshine, the familiar territory, the local crowds cheering for me, or running with my nephew in the Jester Dash, I felt my heart exploding with joy.  I knew that in more ways than one, I was home.

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a leap of faith

Kimberley Doerksen

"But what if I fall?"
"Oh but my darling, what if you fly?"

For the past three years I've had the pleasure of spending a few weeks with the Wallace family at what has become our annual summer training camp. Perfecting the balance of training, eating, and enjoying the occasional drink, those two weeks are my favourite of the whole summer. Usually I come to camp with a general training plan, and we just make up the days as we go along.  This year it was a little different.

The past two years have been a struggle in terms of training and competing.  I was unable to attain a fitness level that matched, let alone surpassed where I was in 2014.  I thought I was training properly, eating correctly, doing exactly what the physio told me, and on a road to recovery from whatever injury I was dealing with at the time.  It went from a stress fracture, to a variety of soft tissue issues, and I struggled to fully recover.  I was sick and tired of worrying if stepping out of bed was going to cause pain; of basing my entire self-worth on my fitness and physicality; and of feeling as if I was never going to be considered an elite runner again. Dramatic, I know, but that was my reality at the time.  I was the perfect definition of insanity: doing the same thing again and again, and expecting different results.  So, something had to change.  

Unbeknownst to me, the answer was sitting right in front of me. Since we met in 2010, every time I've a niggle, a life dilemma, been in need of a training partner, or a drinking buddy I would always turn to the same person.  Starting out as my favourite athletic therapist, we became friends, and now he and his family have become an integral part of my support system. Colin Wallace saw me through a terrible collegiate career; prepared me for my first ever marathon at the NAIA Nationals; trained me through my first Boston Marathon; and offered me guidance over the years.  As a coach, and an athletic therapist, he was the hybrid I needed.  Finding a disconnect between physio's approval and returning to practices, I needed someone that understood both sides of the story.  

Without going into the boring details of walk-running, tedious exercises, and cross-training so much I thought I was a triathlete, I've been slowly regaining fitness and confidence over the last few months.  I'm thrilled every time I get the chance to run, especially now that I get to do workouts again, knowing that I'm building to something bigger and better than before.  

"Running, one might say, is basically an absurd past-time upon which to be exhausting ourselves. But if you can find meaning, in the kind of running you have to do to stay on this team, chances are you will be able to find meaning in another absurd past-time: Life."

a picture's worth a thousand words

Kimberley Doerksen

Keeping a training log, aka a runner's diary, is essential for my sanity.  By writing things down, I am able to work through problems, find trends in training, and document the highs and lows throughout a training cycle.  Sometimes entries can be pages long, and on other occasions I do a "3-minute write".  When I don't feel like writing, I set a timer for three minutes and write without thinking.  A lot of times those entries are just a jumble of thoughts, but there are other times that something profound comes out of it.  In one of those instances, I used the writeup for a school project, and associated images to make the words more powerful.  Here's the result:

These words that were written at a time when I was running well.  I recently reread them, and it triggered a visceral reaction: my heart swelled, a shot of adrenaline made my hair stand on end, and a huge smile crept onto my face.  Running isn't just a hobby, it's a passion.  Even the most eloquent pieces of writing fail to articulate how much it means to me.  I've started to run again, pain free no less!  Although it's a slow and arduous process, I'm beginning to feel the itch of competitiveness again.  I'm now ready to lace my shoes up everyday and work towards my goals.  The desire to step onto the starting line is starting to pump through my veins and I couldn't be happier.  Add in that school starts mid-April,  there are copious amounts of recipes that need to be tried, and work will help to fill my days.  I know I'll be balanced.  

Pictures by Mark Burnham (http://www.burnhamphotography.ca/)

a running hiatus

Kimberley Doerksen

I am seeking.  I am thriving.  I am in it with all of my heart.

A quote emblazoned on the front of one of my training logs resonated with me as soon as I read it.  However, over the last couple of months, it’s felt more like:  I am stagnant.  I am faltering.  I don’t think I have it in my heart.  Yes, I know this is dramatic, but when caught in a downward spiral induced by injury the world seems to fall apart around me. 

I can’t think of any athlete who is “good” at being injured, and I for one am terrible at it.  If it’s a little niggle, I stubbornly work through it and it usually rectifies itself.  However, when it’s something more serious, my stubbornness becomes a fault.  I push when I should rest; I become silent when I should talk; I sulk instead of finding other outlets; and I cry, all the time.  These tears flow partially because I feel sorry for myself, but more because I’m unsteady.  Running is my therapy, my solace, and my passion.  When that’s gone I worry I have lost who I am.  I lose my spark.  I fear of the darkness that descends when I’m thrown by the wayside and unable to do what I love.  Some have attributed my injury-induced hermit mode to my introverted tendencies, but it’s really because I’d rather be alone in my little black hole than bring others down with me.  I believe that no one should have to deal with my ill tempered, curt, bitchy, and tear-stained self. 

I am no stranger to injury.  In my short time as a runner, I’ve gone through some fairly serious ones.  Yet somehow, even with these extended breaks in training, something wonderful has come out of every unexpected bump in the road.  A terrible year of anemia led me to VFAC and my incredibly supportive coach John Hill.  A calcaneal stress fracture at the end of 2013, led to an uninterrupted build to my 2014 BMO Vancouver Marathon victory.  An eight-month hiatus at the start of 2015 took me out of competition for the Pan Am Games but led into a training block that resulted in running on my first national team at the World 50k Championships instead.  

So what has, and will this two-month hiatus caused by a multitude of soft tissue injuries bring?  To date, it’s made me realize I have other passions aside from running.  It was the push I needed to decide to go back to school; to try my hand at more intricate recipes; and to dive into a new job.  It confirmed that I do not thrive on the life of a professional athlete where all my eggs are in one basket; that I need challenges and inspiration from more than just perpetual motion.  It brought about a rekindled love for swimming; a superhero driven need for strength; a new outlet through spin classes; and a surprising enjoyment for walking hours on end.  All of these things have a common denominator: the incredible people involved.  Despite my sullen character, my support system has never faltered.  My family supported every lofty non-running related goal; Mads forced my ass out the door and onto the bike or into the pool; Nicole endured hours of walking and sound boarding; Brian kept me feeling like I have the strength of a superhero; John stood beside me whatever the decision; and my wonderful friends sent support, wise words and provided social outlets.  I’m sorry if I rejected any of these offers at the time - I really do appreciate the effort! 

Through all the down days, tear-filled nights and questioning my sanity, I continually failed to see past the speed bump that had formed on my road to personal success.  I became caught up in the things I couldn’t do.  One morning I completely unraveled and the light at the end of the tunnel vanished.  In that moment of insanity I lost my passion for running.  Then as swiftly as that feeling came over me, a switch flipped in my head.  The dark clouds began to part.  I found other goals, I let go of what I couldn’t control, and I took a deep breath.    

I am seeking.  I am thriving.   I am on a slightly different journey, with all my heart.