For the past few months I've been working closely with the International Skyrunning Federation and Canadian race directors to help bring Skyrunning to Canada through the inaugural SkyRunner Series Canada.
It's a style of running that has been very influential to me and has drastically changed how I interact with mountain environments. It has greatly enriched my life on a physical and emotional/spiritual level. As a proud Canadian, it's a real honour for me to play a part in sharing this style of running with the country as the Director of Skyrunning Canada. Hopefully I can play a small part in changing national perceptions on where races can be held, to help promote Canadian events to an international audience, to work with reliable race directors to develop new ones and change views on what terrain is considered runable.
It's a very exciting time for Skyrunning internationally, with national series in Greece, Russia, Poland, the UK, Spain/Andorra, Italy, the UK, USA, South Africa, Australis/NZ and France, as well as the SkyRunner World Series. Participation is at an all-time high and the brand and vision of this style of running has never been broader.The Executive Director of Skyrunning Lauri van Houten and the Skyrunning team, have done an incredible job at creating a global movement around this unique and aesthetically beautiful form of running.
Each national series has its own distinctive flair based on topography and culture and that's the same in Canada. While we don't necessarily have the same elevation and altitude in a lot of our venues, we can make up for that with technicality, remoteness, steepness and Canadian spirit.
I'm really excited for the opportunity to showcase some of our amazing mountain venues to a global running audience. I also think your events will benefit immensely from their association with the series.
Since this was announced yesterday, this may be old news to some of you, but you can find all the information at the Skyrunning Canada Website.
I would like to thank all the race organizers and the International Skyrunning Federation for their help. If you feel inspired to put on a Skyrunning race, send me the race information, including race course profile, elevation, number of participants, time of year etc...
Monday, March 17, 2014
Monday, March 10, 2014
I was invited to talk at F.E.A.T. Canada on Friday night. It was a nice evening, where I got to hear a wide range of speakers talking about how they approach and experience adventure. It was also a great opportunity to catch up with friends who I hadn't seen in months.
Although I sort of "winged" my 7 minute speech (each speaker is given 7 minutes to present their topic), it was loosely based on the following blurb I wrote on the flight over from Calgary. The talk was filmed and will be online soon enough. I figured I'd share the below post for anyone who couldn't attend and wanted to know what I spoke about
Although I sort of "winged" my 7 minute speech (each speaker is given 7 minutes to present their topic), it was loosely based on the following blurb I wrote on the flight over from Calgary. The talk was filmed and will be online soon enough. I figured I'd share the below post for anyone who couldn't attend and wanted to know what I spoke about
Work life balance is a highly sought after, but also an extremely tricky concept.
I was reading an article in the Harvard Business Review on my flight to Vancouver last night and the opening sentence in one of the articles was “Work/life balance is at best an elusive ideal and worst a complete myth.” I tend to agree
That same article outlined how certain top executives make deliberate choices about which opportunities they’ll accept and which ones they’ll decline, allowing them to engage meaningfully with work, family and community and leading to more supposedly balanced lives. The critical words in that sentence are “to engage meaningfully”.
Although it could be argued that some of the people that they interviewed had warped views on what it means to be meaningfully engaged, with one of the sources priding himself on choosing to give his child 10 minutes of his time at night rather than choosing to spend those minutes at the office. I guess that’s better than nothing, but it’s definitely a strange version of balance and priority in my opinion
As someone who has a lot of hats in the ring, family member, friend, athlete, adventurer, entrepreneur, lawyer, manager, as well as being someone who values experience, but who is also very competitive and performance driven it’s very easy for me to lose myself, lose sight of my loved ones and to forget why I’m doing certain things. What I’m saying is that I’ve spent a lot of time trying to find balance and I’ve failed more than I’ve succeeded.
I think some of it comes from the fact that I’m trying to do something that is inherently unbalanced. Mountain ultrarunning, especially at an elite international level and law are two very high demand activities, so is being an entrepreneur and being a good friend and family member. They all demand full engagement to be done properly. I like doing things properly.
Trying to balance all these aspects of myself definitely contributed to the end of my marriage, it lead to me leaving a job at a corporate law firm where I was making a good salary, doing work I enjoyed with people I like. It also lead to me getting sick, injured and burnt out on a sport and activity that I love. I guess the best way to describe it was that I was stressed out a lot.
I felt like each of these sides of me were constantly fighting with one another. I would be out running feeling guilty that I wasn’t working or studying, I’d be at work looking at pictures of places I’d rather be, I’d be at home with my wife wanting to be in the mountains, I’d be in the mountains feeling guilty about leaving my wife. I put pressure on myself to succeed without knowing exactly what success meant to me. It was not a good place to be. It was the opposite of being mindfully engaged.
It dulled my sense of wonder and appreciation for people and the world.
I was taking a break from racing, trying to find my motivation, debating my life choices, running aimlessly and one of the epiphanies I had during that time is that trying to “balance” things is the wrong way to look at it because balance means that two things are in opposition with one another, they are counterweights with nothing in common. I realized that that wasn’t how I related to these aspects of myself. They weren’t compartmentalized parts of myself, they were all a part of the whole. They were also all important to me.
I came to understand that it’s better to look for “work life integration.” It’s much less internally confrontational and I feel much less conflicted about the various aspects of who I am. I’m also learning that approaching things this way allows me to more easily transfer what I do well in one domain to the others.
More importantly, what this integration style approach does is that it gives me permission to more mindfully engage in the task I’m doing because there is no guilt about it. I know why I’m doing certain tasks.
Before, when I was trying to balance things, I could easily tune out on the activity I was doing, or worse, tune out the person I was with and the place I found myself. And although I could still function at a high level that way, I wasn’t getting any real fulfillment from it.
Approaching it from an integrated approach allows me to get the most out of myself and to have a much deeper appreciation for the places I go, and the people I meet.
I’m lucky that I have a job that allows me some flexibility to be me. I’m doing work that I consider meaningful and I’m making a decent salary. Surprisingly, being a dirtbag pro ultrarunner is not quite as glamorous or lucrative as it sounds. I'm having fun getting more involved with our trail running company and community and I'm really enjoying exploring new areas, pushing myself hard, meeting new people and trying to connect more meaningfully with friends and family.
I now process work thoughts on my runs and have a deep joy and appreciation for the places that my feet take me to. More importantly, I enjoy sharing those places and experiences with others.
I’m feeling more productive and engaged than ever.
My sense of wonder and curiosity is peaked by my work and I carry that over into my personal conversations and the places I run. I realize that I have to make the most of the time that I do get to spend in the mountains and my hunger and desire to train hard and explore is stronger than ever.
So, in conclusion, don't compartmentalize your life. Accept all aspects of who you are, use the different aspects of your personality to compliment the various activities that you're involved in, engage fully in what you're doing and you're more likely to enjoy the ride.
Monday, September 9, 2013
Below is a very in-depth interview I did with Robbie Lawless (RunTramp) for iRunFar.com. Huge thanks to Robbie for the interesting and probing question and for Bryon Powell for creating a website that gives so much to the ultra-running community-
Adam Campbell has always been something of a mover. Iran, England, Nigeria, Spain, and Canada are just a few of the countries that have had an influence on his colourful upbringing. He’s moved from promising triathlete to the most prominent trail runner in Canada without missing a beat. It’s been a rocky 12 months for him but he’s doing what he does best: moving forward, leaving it behind him. I caught up with Adam just before his Squamish 50 win in mid-August to chat about his life in motion.
iRunFar: One thing I just realised about you, Adam, is that you were brought up in Nigeria.
Adam Campbell: Yeah, I lived in Nigeria until I was 17.
iRF: Okay, were you born there or what’s the story behind it?
Campbell: Well, it’s actually a crazy story. My parents were living in Iran and the revolution happened. I was going to be born there but then things started to go to shit. My grandfather was the Canadian ambassador to NATO, so he was able to get my mom on one of the last evacuation flights out. She ended up landing in England but my Dad was still in Iran. So my mom landed in England without any family there and I was born there. My dad managed to get out of Iran about four or five months later.
iRF: Wow, incredible. So your Dad was pretty much trapped in the country?
Campbell: Yeah, basically. He was trying to figure out how to get out.
iRF: It must have been tough for your mom to be alone as well?
Campbell: Yeah it was hard on her, for sure. She was staying with some second aunt once-removed… [laughs]
iRF: [laughs] You’re actually a Brit then?
Campbell: Yeah, I was born in Southampton so I’m actually a Brit. I have a British passport.
iRF: So your mother went from Iran to the south coast of England then you end up on the west coast of Africa, Nigeria to be precise. How did that happen?
Campbell: My Dad got a job in Nigeria on a six-month posting and he’s still there 34 years later. He’s retired now and a bit of a gypsy. He just wanders the world and goes on exotic trips. Last year, he drove his Land Rover across the desert from Nigeria to Spain. He broke down in Timbuktu and all these other crazy things. So I grew up on the coast in Nigeria. My backyard was the beach.
iRF: After your parents’ Iranian experience, Nigeria wasn’t exactly what one would call a calm country back in the late ’70s, early ’80s, either. It was a pretty unstable time for the nation, right?
Campbell: Oh yeah. It was just after the Biafran War and all through the ’80s. And the whole time I was there, there was probably four or five coups. It was a military dictatorship the whole time I was there.
iRF: Crazy. Do you have some memories of that?
Campbell: Oh yeah. We used to go through police checkpoints on our way to school. We’d get days off school because there was a coup!
iRF: Wow, okay. And you lived there until you were 17?
Campbell: Right. Then I went to boarding school for a few years. So both my parents are Canadian but I’d never lived in Canada. They wanted me to get a little bit of a Canadian education and to just experience what the country was like so I could get into a Canadian university after that. I actually went to a French lycée when I was in Nigeria. It was completely French, run by the French government, so I have a Parisian French accent when I speak! It was a really international upbringing because all my best friends were from around the world as well. They were from Ghana, Algeria, France, Lebanon, Syria. It was real mix of people.
iRF: What nationality did you feel, though? You’re from Canadian parents but you were born in England, living in Nigeria, and speaking French. Quite a mix.
Campbell: Well there’s this thing called being a ‘third-culture-kid.’ It’s like you never really belong to any one place but are really comfortable in different settings and tend to like wandering around quite a bit. I find that applies to me.
iRF: You still feel that way now? That the ‘third-culture’ phenomenon has shaped your personality to what it is today?
Campbell: Oh yeah, it had a huge impact. You kinda’ see yourself as a… ‘global citizen.’ That might be a good way to describe it. It’s freeing for sure but you also find yourself craving for a home place. I would say, if anywhere in the world has captured me, it’s the west coast of Canada.
iRF: So you feel at home there now?
Campbell: Yeah definitely. This, to me, is one of the most beautiful parts of the world. I’m lucky in that I still get to travel a lot to fill that other niche but this is the place where I like being the most. It’s my favourite place to fly back to. How does that sound?
iRF: Cool. So, how about sports? When you were growing up on the beach in Nigeria, were you a sporty kid?
Campbell: Oh yeah! We didn’t have a TV or anything like that growing up and the weather was so nice that we just spent all our time outside. I played just about every sport under the sun. We lived on the beach so I did a lot of surfing, boogie-boarding, skim-boarding. I’d also sail every weekend. We’d do a lot of off-shore sailing in catamarans. I also had a little sailing dinghy that we’d play around in. I played tennis and soccer. Pretty much every sport imaginable!
iRF: Is that including running? Did you run back then, too?
Campbell: Not really. If there was a track meet, I’d jump in and do it and I was always a fast runner in my school. I wasn’t training or anything like that. But if there was a race, I’d do it. The school would be like, ‘you’re doing this race.’ And I’d be like, ‘Okay, I’d love to!’ We were running all the time but nothing was structured. Even the sports I was playing weren’t that structured. It was more like skateboarding and those types of things. It was a great upbringing for a kid. You’ve a lot of freedom and a lot of independence.
iRF: You said that your dad is something of a wanderer and traveler. Was it like that with your parents when you were younger?
Campbell: For sure. It’s always been like that. My dad and my grandpa–this is just to add to my international flavour–they bought a house in southern Spain, just outside of Malaga in a little mountain village called Mijas. We’d spend all of our holidays there. We’d also travel around Europe quite a bit. I was very lucky; we traveled around Nigeria a bit, too, and little bit around Africa.
iRF: When you finally go to school in Canada, where were you based then?
Campbell: It was the east coast, a school about an hour and a half from Toronto.
iRF: So after the freedom of Nigeria, how was the experience of going to a Canadian boarding school? Was it a happy experience?
Campbell: Oh yeah. The school I was at had the most beautiful campus in the countryside. It felt like a giant sleepover. [laughs] It was a co-ed school, too, so it added to the appeal! I don’t think I could have handled an all-boys school. [laughs] The school had a huge sporting culture as well, so I kept up the sports when I was there and pretty much played a different sport every term.
iRF: Okay. You still hadn’t focused on a particular sport or passion at that time but were just having fun and trying it all?
Campbell: Yeah, exactly. I played American football. I got destroyed in that. I played tennis; I was on the swim team, the cross-country ski team, the rowing team. I did a ton of sports. Then, after my second year there, I did well at a couple of cross-country running races. I was on the soccer team and they asked me to do some cross-country races and I started to beat the people on the cross-country team. I was at that age where you start to look for a little bit of identity and I was getting a little recognition from cross-country skiing and running. It was basically any sort [of sport] that you had to work hard at; I really liked that aspect of it. You put time in and the results came. That started appealing to me more and more. Plus, where we were, for cross-country skiing especially, you’d go out into these unbelievable wooded areas that we didn’t have in Nigeria. It just felt like this quintessential Canadian thing to experience.
iRF: Cool, Adam. So it’s at that time that you started figuring out that you had some talent for these type of aerobic activities, cross-country skiing, running, and rowing. Where did you go from there?
Campbell: In my first year in university, I started to get into triathlon. A whole bunch of the guys that I would race in cross-country skiing and running would do triathlons in the summer and I’d see that they were making the national team and getting these cool uniforms and stuff! [laughs] I was like, ‘Man, I can beat those guys!’ I was good at running and I knew I was a decent swimmer, so I signed up for my first triathlon.
iRF: And what age were you then, Adam, when triathlons started to become a focus for you?
Campbell: I was around 18 or 19. After boarding school, I stayed in eastern Canada to do an undergraduate degree at Queen’s University, between Toronto and Montreal. It was a coincidence but it was actually the triathlon hotspot at the time; the Olympic gold medalist was from there and another Olympian was living there, too, so I got to train with these type of people straight away. I also met a coach there and started working with him. Pretty much the second I started following a structured training program, I ran my first half marathon and ran like 1:15. Everything just started to click. My first-ever triathlon was the junior Canadian championship and I finished fourth.
iRF: Did you start to envision yourself representing Canada at the Olympics and having a triathlon career?
Campbell: Not at that time, but a funny story about the Olympics is that friends came to visit us in Nigeria and they’d bring VHS tapes. So one time I got the entire 1988 Olympics on VHS, the entire BBC coverage that a friend had copied and I watched those things religiously. I fell in love with the Olympics. I probably have the strangest 1988 Olympic knowledge ever. [laughs] I just loved every sport, it didn’t matter. I watched equestrian stuff, gymnastics, track and field… I loved all of it!
iRF: [laughs] Cool. Going back to your time in university, you started racing triathlons but you were also still running cross country, too?
Campbell: Yeah, I was racing a lot. I was running cross country for the university; I was on the university swim team, cross-country ski team, and I was doing triathlons as well.
iRF: Wow, sounds like you wouldn’t have had much time to actually study?
Campbell: Yeah, well, that’s the whole point. I actually ending up dropping out of school! [laughs] I was doing well with triathlon and got invited to train with the National Triathlon Center.
iRF: That must have been a really big deal for you?
Campbell: It was a huge deal. It was out in western Canada so I actually dropped out of my degree. I was thinking, ‘I’m not really into school at all, I’m way more into this training thing!’ I’d met the Olympic gold medalist and he was living out west. So I literally hopped on a plane with all my stuff, landed at the airport, and pretty much called him up and said, ‘Hey, I’m here. Can I live with you?’ So I went and lived with the Olympic gold medalist Simon Whitfield. Some of the other triathletes that were some of the best in world were also training there, so I just went straight into this high-performance sporting world.
iRF: How was that transition? Did you suddenly find yourself in the middle of this whole scene which would have been really structured and a lot more serious than what you were used to?
Campbell: Yeah. It instantly became my job. It was a case of, ‘What do I need to do to be the best triathlete I can be?’ And also, ‘How do I make the Olympics?’ I was crazy obsessed with it. At the time, the Hawaiian men’s and women’s Ironman champions were training there; the world triathlon champion was training there, the Olympic gold medalist was training there and all of Canada’s top triathletes were training there. It was this super-cool sporting hub at the time.
iRF: How did you feel amongst all those champions, Adam? Did you feel like you could put it up to them, that you could compete at the same level?
Campbell: Well, I was in total awe of them. But, at the same time, my mind actually thought I could run with them! [laughs] My very first run out there, I tried to run with Simon Whitfield, a 14-minute 5k guy. [laughs] It went pretty well for the first three of 10 intervals. [laughs] It was good; we had access to fantastic coaches and I started to race internationally. I actually went to a training camp in Noosa, Australia, for three months pretty much after I first got there and got to train with them everyday, became really good friends with them, and learned a lot from them.
iRF: Okay, how far did you take it with your triathlon career?
Campbell: I made it up to the world-cup level and was on the national development team and the under-23 national team. I also won a couple of Canadian duathlon championships. The thing is, I actually never became quite fast enough at swimming. Those guys have so much explosive power at the start of their swim and I just didn’t have that. I was a good swimmer but just not good enough to compete at the highest level.
iRF: Was it just a realisation over time, that you just weren’t going to make it to the very top?
Campbell: Yeah, basically. I’ve always been somebody that just asks a ton of questions. I figured that, if you wanted to know what to do, then ask the best in the world. I was training with them and doing exactly what they were doing. You know, I was living with them. At the end of the day, they were just better than me. [laughs] That’s just the beauty of sport, sometimes that just happens.
iRF: Yeah, but it must have been tough, too?
Campbell: No, it wasn’t. Of course it would have been nice to be able to go to the Olympics, but I gave it my best shot. It was actually pretty easy that way. I didn’t necessarily love the highly-structured training either. I don’t know whether I just wasn’t disciplined enough that way; it just never really suited my personality so well. Simon [Whitfield] became my best friend and he was clearly going to go to the Olympics in 2008 and he had a good shot at winning a medal and my partner at the time, who then became my wife, was ranked third in the world and she was going to go to the Olympics, too. I decided to became the national-team manager so I could keep traveling with them and help support them and be at training camps with them. It was my backdoor way of getting to the Olympics! So the 2008 Beijing Olympics, I went as support crew. I applied to law school, too, at the same time.
iRF: Okay, cool. You had a pretty good go at it, Adam. You were fully committed to it for quite a few years.
Campbell: Oh yeah, I had a good run with it. It was 2002 to 2008 where I was a full-time athlete or involved in sport to some capacity. I also worked at running stores or whatever to earn a buck to support my triathlon life. When I was done with triathlon, I decided to race an Ironman, just to say that I had done it. It didn’t go so well. [laughs] No, it went reasonably well but I didn’t crush it. Then I decided I was just going to run because running is what I loved the most, especially long runs and trails.
iRF: That’s when you really began running trails?
Campbell: I actually trained for a marathon first, in Victoria. I ran 2:29 and it went well. I did a couple of trail races when I was getting ready for that and I much preferred those than the marathon training. So I just switched completely over to doing the mountain running and trail running thing.
iRF: How was your initiation into this new world? Did you have instant success or was there a learning curve there?
Campbell: To get back to the whole ‘ask the best in the world’ thing, when I was going to switch over to running on the trails, I Googled who the best mountain runners in the world were and I saw this Jonathan Wyatt guy! I found his email on his blog and sent him an email and asked him if he’d coach me! He wrote me a training program for the world long distance trail running championships at the Jungfrau Marathon! He was racing as well. It just shows you the calibre of people in the sport. I didn’t pay him or anything; he just wrote me a training plan. [laughs] It was great.
iRF: It went well at the Jungfrau Marathon. Tell us a little about that.
Campbell: It went really well. It was the world long distance championships and I think I was in seventh up until about 30k. Then I bonked a little bit at the end and finished 11th. It was my first-ever mountain race and only my second-ever marathon, so I was really pleased with how it went. I had a great time and it just totally sold me on the sport.
iRF: Where did it go from there? Around the same time or just after that, you got involved with Arc’teryx, right?
Campbell: Yeah, right after that, I contacted Arc’teryx. I was looking to get a sponsorship so I cold called them and sent them a race report. I was like, ‘you guys are a mountain company and you guys really need to start making some clothes for runners because we’re running in the mountains as well!’ It just so happens that they were thinking along the same lines… the timing was perfect and I was the first runner that they sponsored. They didn’t really have any real running clothes at the beginning. It was more hiking stuff and climbing gear, but I’ve worked with them over the years to refine that line down to some amazing running stuff.
iRF: How did you progress, race-wise? Were you racing primarily Canadian races after that?
Campbell: Yeah, I was mainly racing Canadian races. I started law school at that time, too. I wasn’t really too sure how much time I’d have to train and race, but I was racing trail races around Canada and I was running most of the local trail races. I signed up for the 2009 Trans-Rockies Run with this guy Aaron Heidt–he just won the Canadian Death Race–and he’s a really good Canadian ultrarunner. We trained hard throughout that summer to get ready for that and we ended upcoming third overall. Hal Koerner was there and I started chatting to him and he pushed me to try my first ultra. I was always super-curious about running ultras anyway because I knew the longer the runs got, the more I seemed to enjoy them and the better I seemed to do. To be honest, I was quite scared at the idea of running more than three hours because I was one of those runners that thought, when you’re out running, you’ve got to run four-minute kilometres or faster for everything. So I’d do these three-hour runs and run almost 50 kilometres during them. [laughs] It took me a while to learn to chill a little bit.
iRF: I guess mountain runs will make you learn how to slow down?
Campbell: Oh yeah, they humble you pretty fast. I learned to slow down and enjoy the views. I still like to hammer but not nearly quite as much as I did initially. So I was talking to Hal and I could see that I could run with him or was faster than him on the shorter stuff so I was like, ‘oh, maybe I should give this ultra stuff a go.’ I signed up for the 2010Chuckanut 50k down in Washington that year and trained hard for that. I ran it and finished third and had a really good race and beat some really good runners. Then I did another 50k race called the Knee Knackering and won that and then signed up for White River 50 Mile. Anton Krupicka was there; Scott Jurek was there. I decided to take it out with Anton and we were well, well under course record pace through 25 miles. I was pushing the pace and thinking, ‘This is kinda’ cool!’ and then I absolutely fell apart! My hamstrings went on me, my IT’s went on me on the long downhill, and Anton just ran away from me and was like, ‘Okay, sucker!’ [laughs] He was like, ‘Nice try, kid. Come back next year, rookie!’ I’m joking, he didn’t say anything like that but I could kinda’ tell because we were running along and I was like, ‘Is this a good pace?’ and he was like, ‘Oh yeah. This is a pretty good pace!’ I just had no idea.
iRF: [laughs] It seems like a baptism by fire. At that time, you were studying law so running was in no way like your triathlon career. It was purely just a passion as opposed to a ‘job,’ right?
Campbell: Yeah, right. Law school was three years and I was also working at a law firm. I wasn’t making any money out of doing the sport. I ran before work or at lunch or after work. I just fitted it in where I could. I was still running a lot and it was very important to me, but it wasn’t my only focus at the time.
iRF: Tell me, working at the law firm, I can’t really picture you there. [laughs] Was it fun?
Campbell: Yeah, it was. It was a very corporate law firm in downtown Vancouver, high up in a building. I had to wear a suit and a tie everyday, there was no two ways around that. I was probably the most shabbily dressed person there. I would often have muddy legs under my suit because there was a little park called Stanley Park just a couple of kilometres from downtown Vancouver, so I’d bust over there during my 50-minute run at lunch, come back, jump in the shower and go straight to a board meeting or something! I did that for just over a year and I kept up the ultrarunning, too, training for the Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji 100-mile race in 2012. I did that and did really well there. [Adam finished second behind Julien Chorier.] My wife at the time was still a professional athlete and she was trying to quality for the London Olympics so she was pretty much living in Australia and Europe, so I didn’t get a chance to see her too much. I had a few sponsorship opportunities so I decided to take a sabbatical from law and go and live with her in Europe and be a full-time trail runner.
iRF: Okay, you take a timeout from your career and move to Europe. When was this Adam, sometime early last year?
Campbell: Yeah. I moved to Font Romeu for the summer–she was training there–but our marriage was pretty much ending at that point.
iRF: Okay, that was an attempt to try and get things back on track?
Campbell: Yeah, it really was. Getting to run full time sounded really good to me, too. I liked the office and the people I was working with, but I was basically being pulled in way too many directions at the time. I was honest with myself and looked at the tabs on my web browser on my laptop and all the magazine and books beside my bed and they were all about mountaineering or running. They were not about law! I took a pretty serious pay cut to do it, that’s for sure. [laughs]
iRF: But it’s the classic ‘lifestyle choice’ thing, isn’t it? It’s not about the money.
Campbell: That’s what it came down to, a lifestyle choice. I wasn’t leading a good, healthy life at the time.
iRF: You became a full-time trail runner and tried to sort your marriage out. What happened next?
Campbell: My marriage started falling apart and I wasn’t entirely sure what to do. We tried patching things up. It didn’t just end suddenly but happened over a series of months. We moved back to Victoria, BC, which is a small island just the other side of Vancouver where I lived initially. That didn’t work out so we made the call that we were done. I had no real clue what to do, my life kinda’ fell apart.
iRF: It sounds tough, Adam. How were you coping, mentally?
Campbell: I was exhausted and I was devastated, for sure. For such a long time I felt like I had so much together. I had done really well through law school. I had a good job and I was doing well running. Then, all of a sudden, my marriage was over; I wasn’t working; I was injured; and I just wasn’t really enjoying my running at the time. You’re out running for so long that you get really deep inside your own thoughts when you’re by yourself and I was having a hard time with that. Some days I would be completely numb and I could run all day and other days I just couldn’t get out of bed, really. I was depressed; that’d be the best way of describing it.
iRF: I guess you had the symptoms for sure.
Campbell: Yeah. I decided to run the Victoria Marathon that year, too, and just to do something stupid: I ran in a business suit. I was just trying to find something fun and lighthearted to do because my life felt so chaotic. I managed to raise some money for a charity and I felt really good about that and I got lots of support. I guess I was grasping at things that I could have a lot of recognition and success from. After that, I ran the TNF EC 50 in San Francisco and, even though I ran off course with Sage [Canaday], I had a good race and felt like I could compete with the best, still.
iRF: That race was justification that you still had it?
Campbell: It was. I was thinking, ‘Okay, on my day, I can still compete with the best in the world.’ That’s really good to know – it’s good to know you can get it together mentally, too, and perform. After that race, I decided to move back to Vancouver and focus on running and make a new life for myself, basically. That was the start of January this year.
iRF: So 2013 started with a new beginning. How was your lead-up to the start of the race season? You had some injury problems, didn’t you?
Campbell: I actually had a really good winter of training. I was doing a ton of ski mountaineering, cross-country skiing, and putting in some good running volume, too. I was feeling strong. Then, for the first time ever, I sprained my ankle really badly in February. I was running up in the mountains and went over an icy bridge and tore a whole bunch of ligaments and broke some cartilage in my heel. That was a nasty one. I had to hobble off this mountain, which took three hours. I was pretty much hypothermic when I got off because it was snowing so hard. It was horrible. I didn’t actually appreciate how long it can take for an ankle to heal. I was still feeling a little lost, too, coming to a new place and trying to figure out what to do with my life.
iRF: Things started to come around for you then, though, right? Spring brought its usual optimism?
Campbell: For sure. Things came around and I was feeling really good going into Transvulcania this year. Then I got sick there and had the single most miserable experience of my life. [laughs] I really wanted to finish the race… I just really wanted to finish. I came out of that feeling quite fit and strong but my heart wasn’t fully into the racing side of things.
iRF: That’s not a good frame of mind to be in for someone who’s just decided to become a full-time trail runner?
Campbell: Exactly. I felt like I was missing something in my life. I think because I have always been so busy a person. I loved to get up into the mountains and training but I wasn’t feeling complete satisfaction. I was satisfying one aspect of my life but there were other aspects that I wasn’t fulfilling.
iRF: Was it to do with the fact that trail running had become your job as opposed to something that you had always had as a compliment to your career in law?
Campbell: Definitely. You start to feel more pressure; people look at you in a different way. I was on the cover of a couple of magazines and I started to go get some really strange emails. Probably nothing like Anton or Kilian [Jornet] get, but people start making some really odd comments. It doesn’t really get to you but, over time, you notice that there is a different type of pressure there. Most of it is self-imposed, too. I’ve always seen myself as an ambassador for trail running in Canada and I take that really seriously, so when I don’t feel like I’m competing and racing at my best then I feel like I’m letting people down. I was feeling that pressure as well; I was not doing what I should have been doing to live up to people’s expectations.
iRF: It’s an interesting topic, Adam. I guess from the outside, for people who are not at the elite level looking in, it would seem that it would be like a dream come true to be able to run trails for a living and to be a professional. I guess what you have found is that, despite all the amazing opportunities, it still comes with its own set of pressures. Performances and injury worries, and financially, too, like you mentioned?
Campbell: I was definitely feeling financial stress. It’s hard because I had put myself in the position where I could have a really well-paying career and a lot of my friends are professionals, making really good incomes. Although they all envy the free time that I have and envy the things that I do. Don’t get me wrong, I really appreciate everything that I have more than anything. I’ve made a lot of it happen for myself as well. I feel incredibly privileged to be in that position, but it does come with its own pressures, for sure. I just haven’t felt like a complete person, like I should, from running. I just haven’t gotten the complete satisfaction that I hoped I would. I miss out on having a career or something else to put my time and energy into and feel like I am contributing to society in a different way.
iRF: Okay, with all that in mind, you’ve decided to go back and divide your time between working and racing. You have a career and you have racing but they are not one and the same?
Campbell: That’s basically what I have decided to do. I still plan on competing and racing. I’ve worked while competing at a high level before so I know it can be done. I’m looking for jobs that will still allow me the flexibility to do what I want to do as well. I have a couple of opportunities to work with a couple of corporate law firms again but have decided to not go that route. I am not willing to work 60 to 80 hours a week and sacrifice the things that I enjoy doing. But I’m definitely looking for a bit of stability to take the pressure off so that, if I get sick or injured or something, it’s not the be all end all of who I am.
iRF: I can understand that completely. I guess the other thing to think about is that it’s a relatively short career, too. Okay, there are men and women out there that are still crushing it in their 40s, but the age thing must play a part, too?
Campbell: Yeah, that’s it, too. I’m not 24 anymore and I’ve done the athlete thing for a really long time. I’m a bit older now and I do want to have a family and be established… For me, you have to have a little bit of stability in your life to make that happen. I definitely have a much clearer sense now as to what is important to me and spending time in the mountains is one of those things. I will always put myself in a position where that can happen.
iRF: Okay, great. It sounds like it was a big weight off your mind when you decided to take a step back from full-time running. It sounds like you are relieved in a way?
Campbell: I really was. It made a big difference for me. I’ve started a new relationship with somebody and that’s going really well. I’ve made some really good friends here in Vancouver as well. All these things start falling into place. I think that the emotional part of ultrarunning, mountain running, and trail running is really underrated as to its importance. You have to be emotionally there if you are going to put yourself through that much pain. You have to be willing to do it. Of course, you’re in beautiful places but racing is hard. For me anyway, I’m not somebody that can use sport to tune out. It’s such a big part of my life that emotions play a really big part of how I compete. I have to be excited to race. I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion that I’m not going to race if I feel like I don’t want to be there. Some people race every weekend no matter what, but to me racing is a celebration of your preparation and everything. If I’m going to toe the line, I’m there to compete and give my best and I can only give my best if I’m there emotionally as well as physically.
iRF: Looking forward, then, where would you like to see yourself in, say, three year’s time? What would be your ideal set-up?
Campbell: Hopefully still competing. Definitely I’ll be still out in the mountains, either on skis or running or climbing. A family is important to me, too, having people I’m close with around me and sharing those mountain experiences with them. I’d like to have a fulfilling job too, that gives me satisfaction on a daily basis and makes me feel like I’m contributing to my community in a good way. I’m getting a lot of pleasure right now in sharing and introducing people to the mountains and trails. I’ve started a local run group called Club Mud. We have a whole bunch of people that meet up every Wednesday and do a local mountain run. It’s been a lot of fun to meet people that way. Things like that are important to me. You know, I really appreciate all the opportunities that my sponsors give me and all my supporters, too. I don’t want it to sound like I haven’t been grateful for that side of things. I feel incredibly fortunate to pursue my passion the way I have, and it really is my passion. I’ve just come to the conclusion that it’s not the only thing that’s important to me in life. I have absolutely no regrets for giving it a go and trying full time and I still plan on giving it all I can racing and competing with the best.
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Thursday, July 11, 2013
Raw honesty & a decision
I've been struggling quite a bit recently. This is never an easy thing for anyone to admit, let alone an athlete and a highly competitive person who relies on their self-confidence and positive outlook to see them through life's struggles. These challenges have come in various shapes:
I've been struggling physically
I sprained my ankle badly on February 20th, a second/third degree sprain, and although I have an incredible support network of therapists at Gastown Physio & Pilates, and have been treating it diligently, ligaments can take a while to heal and there can be lingering effects for months.
At the moment, I can run, but it's inconsistent and awkward. I'm certainly not putting in the mileage that I'd want to be putting in, nor am I running entirely pain free. Aside from a limited range of motion while toeing off, my subtaylor joint seems to become displaced quite easily and also has a limited range of motion. Once again, I can manage it through therapy, but it will frequently give me issues while running. This in turn causes my peroneal, my soleus & my gastroc muscles to seize up.
It's all quite frustrating, because I'll go through pain free periods, I'll ramp up my mileage & intensity at what I think are a reasonable rate and then things will start to fall apart. I am probably a bit hesitant when running at the moment, especially on technical terrain and definitely compensate at times, which can lead to a separate host of issues. I may also be asking a bit too much too soon from my body.
I'm someone who believes that a lot of injuries are psychosomatic, caused by physical and emotional stress. We change our gait quite a bit when we're stressed, holding tension in strange places. For me, this often manifests itself in illness or, more recently, muscular-skeletal breakdown. It can become a bit of a nasty cycle if you let it, because while injured, you also lose one of your stress relieving outlets.
One thing I've become aware of over the years, is that I don't like thinking about races when I'm injured. I find that it leads me to make bad, emotional decisions and often just leaves me frustrated with my training. When I'm injured, which I hadn't experienced much until this past year, I much prefer to focus on doing what I can to heal and then I worry about performance. Health is the cornerstone to performance, but true high performance is rarely healthy, it's a very narrow edge to ride. The pressure to race, unless it's a major goal, is an unnecessary stress that I find often hinders my healing and I'm not someone who likes to race injured. I enjoy running and competing too much to do it sub-optimally.
As a professional and a recognized name in the trail running community, I feel an added responsibility to compete and perform at the highest level. This makes it harder not to think about races. Aside from having contracts based around my performances (my sponsors don't pressure me at all, in fact, they are all incredibly supportive, it's a responsibility that I feel when I sign a contract/make an agreement), along with other professional responsibilities, I also feel like I represent a community when I toe the line and I want to be putting my best toe forward and I want to be at the major races. I've worked hard to be recognized as one of Canada's leading trail runners and I consider myself an ambassador for the sport. I don't take that lightly.
Being an ambassador and a moderately public figure comes with it's own pressure. This has been made clear to me recently as people around town have been asking me whether or not I'm racing the Kneeknacker this weekend, a wonderful local 30-mile mountain race that is highly regarded in Canada, or the UTMB at the end of the year. I don't mind people asking, I decided a while ago to take on what I think of as a leadership role and a public life in the trail community, but I do feel the expectations at times. I normally wear the responsibility proudly, in fact I've actively adopted it, it's just easier to feel like I deserve that recognition when things are going well.
Aside from that, despite feeling fit and excited to race at the time, I was very sick at my first race of the year in Transvulcania and had one of the single most miserable experiences of my life. I'm still not entirely sure why I finished, it was mostly because I'd gone all that way and had had a lot frustrations going into the race, nor am I sure if I'm proud of myself for plugging through it it, but I did. It certainly sapped me on a variety of levels. I felt the effects for a long time after. I don't think I can read much into what happened on the day, other than perhaps I should have flown in a bit earlier, but that didn't make sense financially, which is a significant consideration as a professional.
All of these things have left me questioning my physical ability, along with my decision making. I know that when I've trained hard and feel fit, that I can compete with the best in the world, I just haven't been able to feel that way yet this year and frankly, that's a little frustrating.
Sport is ultimately about problem solving, figuring out what you can do daily and over a period of time to be the best you can be, given your life circumstance and choices. So it's up to me, with some guidance from my many friends, family and team of professionals, to figure out what I can and need to do. That's quite empowering, but it can be a challenging puzzle to put together at times, because the end picture isn't always clear and the puzzle pieces are often hidden, or scattered. Perhaps it means changing how I train, taking time away from competing, re-evaluating my competitive goals, or looking at sport in a different way. I'm not one to repeat the same pattern for too long if I don't like the probable outcome.
All that said, I'm still getting out to see beautiful places, I can run and do other activities and if I didn't have ambitious athletic goals, I probably wouldn't consider it an issue. As with most things, this will likely just require patience, diligent and continued therapy and hard work and maybe a reevaluation of my goals.
I've been struggling emotionally
Once again, as an athlete, this one is hard to admit to. Since a lot of my running is painful and compromised, I don't get the same sort of joy from it that I do when things are going well. Yes, there is a lot of ego involved in sport and my athletic successes, whether in training or competing, feed that ego. I've found myself stopping to walk on a lot of runs and I don't have the same sort of day-to-day drive that I usually do when I have a big goal that I'm zeroing in on.
Once again, I'm not saying that I get no pleasure from running. I love the sport and the way I feel when I'm moving light and fast over natural terrain, it's incredibly liberating and empowering to me. I see amazing things daily that fill me with awe, I continue to explore my backyard with the same curiosity and wonder as always, I get to run with some great friends, cementing bonds and meeting new people along the way and I have had some some great days of running hard and fast, something I enjoy doing almost above everything else. It's just not coming as easily as it often has in the past and I find myself struggling with that at times.
What this means is that I'm trying to readjust my expectations and approach to running. Once again, I realize this is all a temporary blip, I'm lucky to be able to do what I do and I am doing what I need to do to get better, it all just requires patience, but I can admit that some days are harder than others.
I had a hard time emotionally last year. I decided to take a break from the practice of law to pursue a full-time running career; my wife, and partner of over 10-years, and I separated shortly after that. Although it's clear in retrospect that the relationship had run its course, it is still a hard thing to deal with emotionally at the time. It takes a lot of energy and it changes your entire life.
You find yourself doing a lot of self-reflection during those periods of emotional grief. Unlike a lot of people, I have a hard time training well when I have a lot on my mind. I need to train with a group during these periods, or else I end up spending too much time alone with my thoughts. I also often feel too physically drained from stress to really be able to train hard. Some days you don't feel a thing, moving efficiently, but almost in a numb way and other days you feel like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders and you have to muscle your way forward. I lose sleep when I'm stressed and, once again, I hold a lot of tension. I like to exercise during these periods, I think it's important to keep moving, a coach once told me "motion is lotion", but it's definitely not training.
As with my injury, you can sit and dwell on things, hoping they will change, or you can take things into your own hands and wrestle your way forward. It won't always be be pretty, but it is empowering and making decisions and moving forward is always better than stagnating.
I moved cities, leaving Victoria for Vancouver, British Columbia, to be closer to the mountains as well as for a change. I have met many incredible people along the way. I've started a relationship with a wonderful woman who I met since moving here, I've been doing different activities and I've been enjoying exploring the city and its surrounding areas. I have an incredible support network and I have a lot to be thankful for, my running included.
Despite all that, it's a lot of change and my routine can feel uncertain at times. I left a lot of friends in Victoria and Vancouver doesn't feel entirely like home yet. Not being able to compete, which basically means not being able to do one part of my profession (professional athlete involves a lot more than just sport, it means managing a personal brand and all that that entails), is frustrating. Once again, it's left me contemplating my choices, life and career. This is not a bad thing, but my training has suffered a bit for it recently, which, compounded with the injury (the two may be related), has definitely meant that my self-confidence and identity has taken a bit of a hit as of late.
Training and racing, while enjoyable, are hard for me. I have to be emotionally engaged to perform well and recently, I have found my emotions pulled in directions away from racing. Once again, it's temporary and racing is far from the most important thing in life, I know that, but it is important to me. I miss performing optimally. I realize that it's up to me, along with my amazing support network to have a bit of patience and figure out what I need to do to move forward.
In light of my recent feature in Impact magazine, talking about my decision to become a professional runner, this may seem a bit strange, but things change. I've decided that I'm going to go back to work a traditional job with a more secure income. Although I love the freedom to run and train where and when I want, I've been struggling with where I see myself going in sport, as well as my life and feel like I'm missing some stability. I feel like it's time to move on and approach my life slightly differently. I believe my running will be better for it too. I'm lucky in that I have an excellent fall-back plan, having a law degree from a good school, a diverse skill set, a broad network to reach out to and an extensive and interesting work and life history to tap into to give me some amazing options.
Perhaps I haven't handled the pressure of being a professional well at times, perhaps I've made some bad choices along the way that have held me back from my ultimate goals, perhaps the timing just wasn't right, or maybe I'm being too hard on myself and I've done a good job of things, it's just that the reality of success in high performance sport is very narrow at the top. I'll never really know. Regardless, in no way do I regret making the decision to pursue my sport and my passion full-time. Very few people can say that they've had the opportunity to do that, nor have they taken the risk to do it and I'm proud of myself for what I've done and what I've made happen.
I'm more than willing to wear my choices and accept them, both good and bad. I've learned something and grown each time I've had to make a decision, no matter what the outcome. I've had amazing opportunities and I've embraced them fully. I've made some amazing things happen for myself, I've met some incredible people and had some of my most memorable experiences through sport.
Ultimately, I'm not willing to dirtbag it and give my everything to sport at this stage of my life and that's what's required to be a full-time athlete, especially a mountain/ultrarunner where the endorsements and paychecks aren't huge. I imagine I'll ultimately find work within the outdoor, or recreation industry, based on my interests and connections, but I'm open to any and all opportunities. It's a bit of a luxury and is quite exciting.
It's funny, I've had a few high profile/successful athlete friends tell me that when it's time to move on, you'll just know, they were right. Although I know the transition won't be easy, nor will the process of trying to find work, the decision to start looking for work has been easy and I'm in an enviable position to be able to look for something that feels right.
I still plan on competing and training at a high level, the sport means a lot to me and I love the community, as well as the places my feet take me. I also have some things I still want to accomplish. A lot of top athletes work full-time jobs and handle it well. I've worked bloody hard at sport, and I love training, it will always be something I do and I think I can continue to compete with the best on a different schedule. While it required some time-management skills, I believe I enjoyed running more when I had something else in my life and to me, enjoying my running, as well as living a life that I'm proud of, are more important than anything.
What does this mean for the rest of the season? I'm not entirely sure at this point. I am focusing on getting my body back in order at the moment and am looking for work. That may have an impact on what I can and can't do race wise, I'm okay with that. I am planning on racing, but not until I feel ready and excited to toe the line. Most importantly, I plan on continuing to explore my backyard, sharing that with as many people as possible and getting back to enjoying my running and, hopefully, running long and fast!