Life Lessons from Millennial Marathon Runner Becky Wade

This country has had enough sad news lately, which is why it was refreshing to spend time talking to Becky Wade, who will run the Chicago Marathon this weekend.

Wade, a Rice University graduate and American distance runner, is a top contender in the 2017 Bank of America Chicago Marathon. In 2013, Wade won the California International Marathon, with a time of two hours, 30 minutes, 41 seconds—the fifth fastest among American women that year. She holds several track and field records at Rice University and documented her experience running in various countries and developing friendships for one year as a Thomas J. Watson Scholar in her book Run the World.

We spoke on the phone two days after the horrific incident in Las Vegas (Full disclosure: Wade and I were track and cross country teammates in high school at Ursuline Academy of Dallas). Originally, I had wanted to explore Wade’s achievements in light of the many trend stories about the negative characteristics of the millennial generation, of which Wade and I are both members.

But when Wade commented that when it comes to her training, staying committed replaces worrying, I realized here was a way forward after the depressing, evil, unjust and unfair news pouring out of Las Vegas this week.

In times of national tragedy, we often look to sports to unite us, inspire us, and restore hope (think of President Bush throwing the first pitch at Yankee Stadium after 9/11). Sports can teach us important life lessons; in the face of adversity, they show the strength of the human spirit in a raw and real way.

Consider the rigor of Wade’s training: she runs well over 100 miles every week under the guidance of Dr. Joe Vigil, who coached Olympic Medalist and American Record Holder Deena Kastor, and longtime Rice University coach Jim Bevan. She trains in Boulder, Colorado—“It’s beautiful and the sunshine changes everything,” she told me—with her fiancé William Firth, who also ran at Rice. Firth will pace Wade during the first twenty miles of the Chicago Marathon.

“I’m very fortunate that my fiancé has done my whole buildup with me, paced me with every workout, and done my long runs with me,” said Wade. “It works out that this is his base phase. He has been super helpful.” For the uninitiated, base training consists of running high mileage in order to train your body to utilize oxygen as efficiently as possible.

If you think about the amount of mileage Wade has been logging, maintaining good health is a feat. “One of the hardest things is finding a balance between training hard and feeling like you’re ready for a great race, and not overdoing it and risking injury, burning out, or peaking too early,” she said. “My peak workouts have been getting better and better.”

Wade also attributes her health and happiness to two things that even those of us not training for a marathon should embrace, namely 1) getting enough sleep and 2) not comparing herself to other people.

In Wade’s words, “I’ve committed to not looking at a clock during the night and I’ve been logging my sleep. The irony is, I’ve had a string of good sleep this past month because I am committed to doing everything I can to get good sleep instead of worrying.”

When Wade is not running (or sleeping) she spends time writing and volunteering. “Running is complimentary to full existence outside of the sport,” she said. “I’ve done several things since I’ve been running post-collegiately and I’m most balanced, happier, more productive, and everything flows easier when I’m not so singularly focused on running.”

Before moving to Boulder, Wade trained in Houston, where she also worked part-time as a legal assistant at a law firm and volunteered as a coach at Rice. Wade acknowledged she has taken a non-traditional approach to professional running by not making it her sole focus. “There’s a ton of people I race against who only run,” said Wade. “I need to be mentally stimulated in other ways and connect with others outside of the community. I’m going to run as long as I can, but I’ll have a lot of other ways to contribute to the world just than how fast I can run.”

When I asked her how she’s feeling about Sunday’s marathon, Wade said she feels “at peace” with where she is. “I would say this is the best buildup I’ve ever had for a marathon,” she said. “Whenever I go into a race and feel happy and healthy, the window of opportunity is there.”

As for Wade’s future? “It’s fortunate that marathoners are peaking later and later. I think among all sports, female marathoners have the longest longevity, so hopefully I’ll be competing for another eight to 10 years at a very high level—enjoying it and improving. It’s cool that the training stacks and so if I think long-term, I’m still very early in my marathon career. I’ve done four (Chicago will be Wade’s fifth marathon), but later on in my career I may have done 15 to 20.”

You may not be an aspiring Olympic athlete or training for a marathon, but there’s no denying that staying committed to a plan—as Wade does in her training—can give anyone direction and purpose in their everyday lives. As we go about our days, it’s easy to become cynical or depressed about what we read or see in the daily news cycle or on social media. Wade shows through her actions that doing everything to stick to a commitment and a plan has the added benefit of forcing you out of such ruts; it encourages you to set worry aside and focus on your purpose.

Wade’s approach to distance running transcends the sport. She’s an inspiration. And for all of you cynics out there railing about younger generations’ narcissism and lack of purpose, recall that Wade just happens to be a millennial.

(You can follow Becky’s progress on Twitter: @bexwade89)

Image: Twitter (@bexwade89)

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