Nick Symmonds: Handling Being The Favorite vs Racing As The Underdog

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Brooks Pro and CEO of Run Gum Nick Symmonds breaks down what it's like to race when you're considered the underdog vs handling being the favorite. His answers are extracted from an interview FloTrack did with Nick back in 2015

Managing Being The Underdog 

How do you manage being the underdog? 

"I've been lucky over the last few years to be the favorite in a lot of my races, but certainly on the world stage and definitely coming out of a Division III program I spent the majority of my career as an underdog and I love the underdog approach to a race because you can really just throw caution to the wind. No one's really paying attention to you -- you're not expected to do well; you can take more risks. I can remember in college taking all kinds of risks. I'd go out at suicide pace or I'd spot somebody 20 meters and see if I could reel them in. I liked to play around with that a little bit and fortunately, at the DIII level, I was able to do that. I think that taught me a lot of different tactics. When I talk to underdogs who hear my "cream always rises to the top" speech they say, 'Well, I'm not part of the cream what chance do I have?' and I say, 'If you look at any championship race one our two underdogs in the meet will ultimately surprise everybody.'

"I'm thinking about the 2010 world championships when Emily Infield snuck in there. Emily barely made it on the team -- she was injured for two years previously -- she barely made it on the team, barely got out to China and then she goes and wins a bronze medal. Every once in awhile there are outliers, and if you read Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers you know exactly what I'm talking about. There are these people that despite the cream always rising to the top will always shock you and to an underdog, I just say, 'Be that 1 percent, be that outlier, (because) you never know who is going to be that one who surprises everybody. "

Handling Being The Favorite

"Handling being the favorite or handling the pressure is something you also learn with age, and I'm reminded of 2000 and the Olympic Trials when I went in as one of the favorites to make the team. . . . I remember about a month before that, I wasn't able to sleep, I wasn't able to eat I was so nervous with the idea that I was going to have to perform at the very very best of my ability one night, and if I didn't I was going to have to wait four more years to have my shot at being an Olympian. The thought of that pressure, the thought of that do-or-die moment really eating away at me and making it to the point where it was going to compromise my ability to prepare for the race. I remember talking to Kelly Sullivan who now coaches at Oregon State, I called him up -- he's a good friend and a mentor -- and I said, 'Kelly, I'm gonna lose my chance at this before the race even gets started,' and he just said, 'Nick, I don't know why it's this way, I don't know what it is about championship rounds, but through the course of championship running the cream always rises to the top.' That's time and time again, you've proved that you're the cream. So if I'm looking at Cas Loxsom, I know Cas is going to feel nervous just as bad as I felt when I was 24 and trying to compete and make my first team. I'm gonna sit Cas down and say, 'Cas the cream always rises to the top,' and now at 24 or 25 he's proven for the last decade that he is part of that cream."

So how do you manage that, though? You said that you were nervous -- you weren't eating you weren't sleeping -- what are the techniques to manage that?

"I think just reminding yourself about the work that you put in. I encourage all athletes to keep a  training journal, and I keep my training journal on Sweat Mobile -- it's an application you can download. I can go through Sweat and look at every single workout that I've done since I began posting. I can look back on years and years of work that through my training logs and I just say, 'Oh my god I can't believe the amount of work that I've accrued.' As a somewhat durable athlete who's able to stack weeks on weeks on weeks, I'm able to take a lot of comfort on that. I remind Cas when we're doing five-mile tempo runs or when we're grinding out the miles that not a lot of other 800m runners are doing that, and when we stand on that starting line on July 4th, 2016, and try to make an Olympic team, I'm gonna sit him down and remind him that he's done more than anybody on that track except for me and we're gonna try to go one-two."


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