1. We all come in different shapes and sizes.
Despite what the advertisers lead us to believe, there is no 'ideal' running figure. The only requirement for calling yourself a runner is to lace up a pair of running shoes and start putting one foot in front of the other. Running is not about what you look like, but rather, what you see yourself becoming.
2. Sometimes all you need to keep you going is a little distraction.
Let's face it, sometimes running is hard work and you need a little distraction to keep you motivated or to renew your love of the sport. If you feel like you're getting into a running rut, why not grab your 'bestie' and head out to a fun adventure race. But whatever you do. . . Don't forget to take lots of selfies!
3. There's joy in finding your tribe!
By far the greatest gift of running is all of the incredible people you meet along the way. As we witnessed after the tragedy of the Boston Marathon Bombings, the running community is strong, supportive, and empowering.
4. When you're naughty, you need a time out.
What you get out of running has everything to do with what you put into it. If you cheat on your nutrition, your training mileage, or in a broader degree, the rules of our sport in general, you are bound to pay the price.
5. Always carry plenty of treats.
Runners are known for their voracious appetites, so it's always a good idea to keep a few treats on hand. When I'm out on a run, I make sure that I have enough nutrition 'on board', and when I'm not running, I always have an energy bar or snack in tow.
6. Be prepared when nature calls.
My advice to a runner heading to his or her first organized race, is to join the line for the porta-potties as soon as you get to the staging area. My second piece of advice is, once you've 'done your business', get right back in line. . . Trust me. Your nervous bladder and jittery tummy will thank you later!
7. Don't be afraid to go off road.
Most runners, especially those living in big cities, log most of their miles on the road or on a treadmill. There's nothing wrong with that, but whenever possible, I invite you to go off road and hit the trails for your run. The change of terrain offers a multiple of training benefits in terms of improving your gait and muscle imbalance, and the change in scenery will do wonders for your running inspiration.
8. Don't let the weather stop you from getting in your run.
You know what they say: There is no such thing as bad weather, just unsuitable clothing. Bundle up, or strip down, but either way, don't let the weather get in the way of pursuing your passion.
9. Don't forget to listen to your body.
Running is definitely hard work, and it takes a toll on our body. Sometimes the best training you can do is to simply 'do nothing'. Pamper yourself after a hard workout or race by getting a massage or a much-needed nap.
10. We're all in this together!
You don't have to sniff each other or rub up against each other like dogs and cats do, but giving another runner you pass along the road or trail a high-five or friendly wave helps cement the bond we runners share. Each of us is an ambassador for our sport and an example of how running can change your life.
It was the writer John Updike who said, "Surprisingly few clues are ever offered to us as to what kind of people we are." Yes, I’d have to say I agree with that completely. Here I am, almost 50 years old, and I am still trying to uncover the man I am and what defines me. Like many of the people I know, my life has been one of ‘implosions’—an anything but graceful teeter tottering dance tiptoeing from crisis to crisis. For years, I equated this constantly shifting ground as a form of failure, rather than what it actually is—the revelation of character, the clarity of yet another window opening upon that which sits in my heart.
For the first 47 years of my life, I felt as though I were looking through the wrong end of a telescope—my entire world was ‘small’, and all I could see was a life defined by addiction, depression, and isolation. A few years ago, I decided to pull back the curtain on this claustrophobic world, when for the first time in my life, I found the courage to say: “My name is Jean-Paul, and I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and rape.” And with the breath in those words, for the first time in my life, I was looking through the other end of that telescope into a vast world of possibility.
It’s no surprise that my Twitter handle is @RunjpRun because running is what I do; and in fact, it’s what I’ve always done. As a scared child, I ran away from the abuse around me, and as an adult, I used drugs and alcohol to run away from the trauma inside me. But here’s the interesting part—shortly after I got clean and sober, I actually took up the sport of running, and for many years, I simply thought it was ‘something I did’, but now I understand it as ‘something I am’.
When it comes to revealing character, there is no better chisel than living through, and with trauma. Today, I have an intimate understanding of what sits in my heart--a burning desire to help facilitate a dialogue in our communities about sexual violence and the impact it can have over a lifetime, not to mention, the ripple effect it has on all the lives it touches. Two years ago I ran the Boston Marathon twice in the same day to raise funds and awareness for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. That experience taught me a lot about community, reaching out, and building your tribe.
In all the writing and speaking I do as an advocate, I’m constantly reminded of the wisdom of the African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Therefore, for my message to resonate, it must first be amplified, and the best way for me to do that is to build a community around me. I thought I’d share with you a few things I’ve learned in the process:
Commit to your path and others will follow.
American entrepreneur Seth Godin has said, “The secret of leadership is simple: Do what you believe in. Paint a picture of the future. Go there. People will follow.” There is a tendency to be overwhelmed by logistics and details, and in the process, nothing gets down. Instead, I’ve put forth a ‘vision’ that others can rally behind--that being--Healing begins with a discussion. We can move towards this healing by having an open and honest discussion about the prevalence of sexual violence in our communities.
Invite co-conspirators and cross-examiners into your tribe.
As the Victorian writer George Eliot said, "There is no creature whose inward being is so strong that it is not greatly determined by what lies outside it." The strongest groups are those, which welcome dissenting opinions among their members. Having said that, it’s important to mention that by this, I mean ‘criticism’ and not ‘cynicism’.
Get comfortable with the uncomfortable.
Change comes when we brush up against boundaries and thresholds. I think one of the most damning and self-destructive phrases in the English language is, “We’ve always done it that way.” To enact change, you must change, and in order to change, you need to get used to the uncomfortable.
Guess what? Not everybody is going to like you.
Why is that when we get 9 compliments and only 1 critique, all we can remember is that one dissenting voice? I like what Brené Brown has to say on this topic. Unless you’re in the arena with me, putting your vulnerability out there too, then I don’t have time for your negativity. Standing up for something usually entails rattling a few cages and ruffling a few feathers.
If you’re authentic, it’s ok to fail.
But far and away the most frightening, and at times debilitating thing for me, is dealing with that internal voice that torments me with the refrain: “What if I fail?” To be perfectly honest, I’m still learning how to get comfortable with this lesson. As a high profile endurance athlete and public speaker, I’ve had my share of ‘growths’ and ‘setbacks’, but when it comes right down to it, I’d much rather be known for setting the bar too high than for setting it too low.
This fall, I will be running the Toronto Waterfront Marathon three times in the same day (126.6 km), not as a fundraiser, but simply to show others how resilient we are, even after the trauma of sexual violence. But most importantly, I hope that my campaign will build upon the momentum we are starting to see in the media about the prevalence of sexual violence and the need to address the countless lives that lay in its wake.
If you’d like to find out more about my Triple Toronto Marathon, share your story with me, or even to find out how you can join me for a few kilometers of my run, please contact me at this email address.
My name is Jean-Paul, and I am in treatment for PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Hearing me say that usually elicits one of two responses in people—abject pity or recoiling fear. I want you to know that I understand where you’re coming from, but allow me a few minutes to see if we can change this dialogue.
Without a doubt, I am indeed blessed because I believe that when you reach out to me, it is from a place of immense love and compassion, and I believe that all you want to do is to take away my discomfort and suffering. But I see it in your eyes, and hear it in your voice that you feel sorry for me. And still, there are others who step away from me because I scare you—My fragile mental health is an uncomfortable reminder of how razor thin the divide is between our sanity and supposed ‘insanity’.
I feel as though I found my way to PTSD like Alice falling backwards into the rabbit hole, except the roots and rocks I bumped into on my way down came in the guise of addiction, depression, and isolation. As is most often the case, diagnosing PTSD is akin to a truncated archeological dig, as patients and therapists delve deeper and unpack further into the trauma, with the hope that one day they’ll arrive at the source that has cast such a dark shadow across a life.
PTSD leaves you in an incessant state of hyper arousal, and with this, comes a bone-aching exhaustion brought on by constantly pulling yourself back to the surface. In order to meet that insatiable draw on my energy, I unconsciously ration those precious energy reserves by seeking quiet in emotional numbing and self-isolation. But by far, the most frustrating part is that even though the traumatic event(s) may have passed, the nightmares, flashbacks, and trapdoors are a constant piercing reminder of that trauma.
Those who live with the scars of trauma feel as though they have gone through hell and back again—we see ourselves as changed, altered, re-calibrated in some way. The outward symptoms of our PTSD are merely a superficial reflection of that change, and in no way do they portray an accurate account of that which has changed inside us as a result of the trauma. For some inexplicable reason, survivors of trauma are drawn to other survivors. It’s as if they can detect the invisible patina of that change and the communion that comes when people walk the same path. In the words of embedded war correspondent David Morris, someone who has written candidly about his own battles with PTSD: "The goal of every survivor is to try to resolve this failed homecoming, to try to be less apart.”
I can tell you from my own experience, that living with PTSD is like gingerly walking through a landmine field every second of your day—never knowing what sound, scent, image, or person will trigger you right back into the hell and powerlessness enmeshed in the trauma. Each and every one of us walks around with the baggage of our past in tow. The difference with PTSD is that your baggage is strapped to the roof of your car, on full display for all to see. The people in your life who love and support you patiently wait for you to get better, to get over it, but sadly PTSD often has a shelf life that long outlives us.
I’ve come to see PTSD not as a vicious fire-breathing dragon, but as a slowly slithering worm that lives among us. If you cut off its head, another grows in its place. You can’t silence it by putting it in a box because it continues to breathe and slither its way out. Therapy and drugs may slow its advance, but peace of mind only arrives when I learn to accept and live with the presence of the echoes of trauma in my life.
PTSD has been called a disease of time because the moment that trauma becomes entrenched in our psyche, time ceases to unfold in a somewhat predictable, linear fashion. Instead, survivors of trauma play out their lives on a parallel plane in which time becomes cyclical as trauma from the past latches on to the moments of the present. And so, I’m given an even more fitting reason to see a 'worm' as an ideal metaphor for trauma living amongst us because as a worm can inch its way forward, so too can it recoil upon itself—past touching present.