Subtitle: The Black Cactus (Introductory Mini-Blog)
Posted on July 5th, 2022
By Olivia Baker
Last Sunday at the AJC Peachtree Road Race Expo, I got to take a step into Abdi's world for a moment and sit down with him for a couple of hours at his book table. Between the constant flow of people asking for pictures and autographs, and our brief moderated Q&A session, I enjoyed having the opportunity to pick his brain about a few things. One thing I immediately asked him about was where the "Black Cactus" nickname came from. After all, it is in the subtitle of his book. I had thought that maybe it had come more recently and was a nod to his longevity in elite running, but actually, he told me that it came from the suggestion of one of his neighbors at a training camp location in Flagstaff, Arizona back in 2006. This neighbor was a jokester and simply quipped one day that because Abdi is of African descent and is from Tuscon, Arizona (where there are apparently a lot more cactuses), that he should be called the "Black Cactus". Abdi thought it was a cool and unique nickname, a rare commodity in the distance running world these days, and ran with it.
It is still possible that the reason that his neighbor thought of 'cactus' as a fitting nickname had to do with Abdi's longevity in the sport to that point—in 2006, he was 29 and had already been to two Olympics. That's a pretty illustrious career in and of itself by most standards. However, the fact that the nickname came before a career that would continue to last 16+ more years (and is still going, he ran 29:59 at Peachtree yesterday) hints at something deeper to me. Maybe I'm reading too far into it, but what if the nickname became somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy? His neighbor gave him the nickname, he embraced it, repeated it to himself and others, and ended up becoming the only American distance runner in history to compete at 5 Olympic Games. I'm not suggesting direct cause and effect here, but there is something to be said for the benefits of mentally visualizing, embracing, and believing for an outcome before it ever comes to fruition so, coincidence? I think not.
1. What is your favorite nickname (for yourself or someone else) and where did it come from?
2. What are you hoping to learn from this month's book?
Subtitle: What Inspires You? (Mini-Blog #1)
Posted on July 12th, 2022
By Olivia Baker
Throughout the first two parts of Abdi's World by Abdi Abdirahman, we get to learn a lot about how he first started running. We read through when he first joined the cross-country team at 19 years old at Pima Community College to his transition to competing at the University of Arizona (meeting Dave Murray who would be his longtime coach), and qualification for his first Olympic Team at age 23. Within the whirlwind of success that was the first several years of his running career, one thing that stood out to me was that Abdi never seemed to waver in his motivation. Sometimes achieving immediate success can have the effect of causing someone to rest on their laurels and enjoy the feeling of accomplishment, but Abdi manages to stay motivated by his love of the sport and ability to find inspiration from all over.
Like you and I, Abdi found inspiration in many of the great runners he watched compete as he was coming up in the sport (and who in his case would soon become his greatest competition) like Meb Keflezighi, Bernard Lagat, Adam Goucher and others. However, it was the runner who finished a 3,000m race (pg# 29-30) almost a lap behind the pack that inspired him to get out there and give track a try to begin with. Upon beginning to run, he then found that just running made him happy. He developed a healthy appreciation for the effort that it takes to be a runner at every level and drew encouragement from each stop along his ascent careful to be inspired but avoid comparison. Perhaps such joy and continuous inspiration are keys to the longevity of his career. Furthermore, it just goes to show that you truly never know when you are inspiring someone simply by keeping on going.
1. Who inspires you to keep on running, walking, or jogging?
Subtitle: The Benefits of a Humble Mindset (Mini-blog #2)
Posted on July 21st, 2022
By Olivia Baker
Upon joining Atlanta Track Club, I knew I was walking into the lion's den. I hadn't trained with other mid distance athletes in the first 3 years of my professional career and now I was walking into a group with two who had run significantly faster than I in my event (the 800m) and others who were elite in the 1500m, 5k, 10k, and marathon. I looked forward to a very difficult fall training season and I can see why Abdi discusses this same feeling in his build up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. After placing 15th in the 10k in Athens in 2004, he wanted to not only be the best in the US, but the best in the world, and in order to be the best, he knew that he needed to train with the best.
He started going up to Flagstaff for training stints at altitude alongside the likes of Mo Farah, Bernard Lagat, and Meb Keflezighi among other all-time greats and struggled mightily at times. He regularly got dropped on runs with Mo Farah. Bernard Lagat (primarily a 1500m runner at the time) dusted him in the track workouts. This is what fall/winter training felt like for me too! But rather than be embarrassed or discouraged, he humbly accepted the challenge and though he ended up placing 15th in the 10k again in Beijing, he ended the year having run faster in every race from 10k to marathon than he ever had before (I can attest to similar gains from 800 to 5k though my year isn't over yet)!
This same idea works whether you are training to be the best in the world or simply your best you! One of the quickest ways to improve is to place yourself in an environment of people better than you and then humbly accept the challenge set before you. So, this week, step up to the faster group in your run. If you're a 9:30/mile runner, I challenge you to join the 9:00/mile group for a day (and get to know a new run lead while you're at it). Step out of the comfort zone. It will most certainly be challenging, but both mentally and physically, the gains will be immeasurable.
1. Have you tried joining the faster group on a run or walk before? What was the outcome?
2. In what other areas of life do you have opportunities to step up to the "faster" group?
Subtitle: Abdi's Habits For Living a Happy Running Life (Mini-blog #3)
Posted on July 26th, 2022
By Olivia Baker
One of the things I was most interested in learning when choosing this book was what things have allowed Abdi to have such longevity in his running career and in the closing chapters, he shares that with us. In short, there are 5 rules that he has lived by throughout his entire career and plans to continue to follow long after professional running is over. They go as follows:
1) [Be] Rock steady. Abdi prioritizes not getting too high or too low under any circumstances. Both disappointment and happiness are fleeting, and it is important to be able to overcome both (pg# 259). For me, this means giving myself 24 hours after a race to celebrate a good run or sulk about a bad one. Once that time is up, it's time to move on to the next one.
2) Practice balance. Chasing a goal requires incredible focus, but in order to avoid burnout, it is important to cultivate other interests as well. As Abdi says, if you are too single-minded, you'll miss the humor and kindness around you (pg#259).
3) Stick with what works. Developing a reliable routine is key to longevity. Having such stability in training and racing can minimize injury risk and leave an athlete more prepared to handle unexpected situations.
4) Play the long game. This one could have been guessed. Someone who wants to have a long career will definitely need to make decisions in the short term to support that vision. In Abdi's case, we see this directly when he chooses to drop out of the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials altogether rather than take painkillers and try to run on a calf that hadn't fully healed. He sacrificed in the short term to avoid the risk of developing a more serious injury and jeopardizing his longer-term racing.
5) Give yourself 10 minutes. Practical advice for runners of all abilities. On the days when it is hard to get out of the door, commit to the first 10 minutes of activity. If you still don't want to run or don't feel good after 10 minutes, you can stop, but if you're like me, this one works every time.
While I am not someone who anticipates having a very long career in this sport (medical school calls in the near future for me), I think that this is great advice for anyone who wants running, walking, or jogging to be a part of their lives for a long time. We may not all be amazingly talented and durable like Abdi, but we can all learn from him ways to love running in our own capacity for a very long time.
1. Which of Abdi's habits for living a happy running are you already applying? Which ones are you interested in embracing more?
2. What are your final takeaways from Abdi's World?