Mind & Body



What You Can Learn from Sawyer Nicholson, 12, Who Beat all the Grown-Ups in Mississauga

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Ben Kaplan

Sawyer Nicholson, 12, won the 5K race at the Beneva Mississauga Marathon Sunday. She didn't win the children's event. She beat 856 grown women. She ran 18:19, more than two minutes faster than the woman behind her, and the time was slow for her—because she was battling a brutal wind. Nicholson, also an elite soccer player, has won before. When she was 11, she set the age group 5K world record at the Niagara Falls International Marathon. However, her Mississauga finish might be her biggest accomplishment to date. "Sometimes I'm surprised when people come up to me and ask for pictures, I mean, it's kind of crazy," she told iRun. "It makes me feel good but I'm a little embarrassed, I mean: I just love to run."   How does she do it, and, importantly, how can you take from the kid and import her lessons upon your own race? We grilled her, not too terribly hard, but pressed her for teachable lessons. 1. Eat pasta, be chill.  The night before the big race, Sawyer didn't adjust her routine. "It was like a normal night of the week, I did my training, had pasta and went to bed early," says Nicholson. The lesson: live life healthy. If you do the right things often, it's not a major adjustment when it's time to get down to work. And pasta the night before race day. But you probably already do that. 2. Visualization.  Sawyer says she has no problem sleeping and she really doesn't get nervous the night before a race. "I lie in bed, close my eyes and think about the race, what I need to do," she said. These thoughts, however, don't cause her anxiety; they're comforting. "I don't think about what might go wrong," she said, "I think about what I want to achieve. That makes me motivated."    3. Food is pleasure.  On race day, Sawyer hit Tim Hortons and her fuel was a donut. "It's not the best and I'm trying to change that, but I also like donuts—they taste good," she says. Again and again when talking with the 12-year-old what strikes me is how chill she is. Sawyer is probably a budding Olympian. But things we obsess over—Probiotics? GI issues? Carbs? She takes lightly. "Maybe before the race I'll have some nuts of a Clif bar and I like to drink lots of water," she says, "but really it seems to all be OK." 4. Pace matters, but also doesn't.  Sawyer brought a plan into the Mississauga 5K, and wore a watch; she also didn't follow her plan or look at her watch too closely. "I did my first kilometre really fast and it felt pretty easy, but in the middle, around 3K, that was hard," she said. Her kilometre splits were around 3:38—slow for her, who usually runs 3:35-per-kilometre—but she was still able to kick at the end. "I hit 3:40-per-kilometre and that was annoying and I was like, 'Oh gosh, I need to pick this up,' and since I was upset about that I made my last kilometre faster," Nicholson told me. We'll all enter a race with a plan, but must be able to change on the fly given the conditions—heat, wind, hills, plain old not-your-day. Nicholson, gifted, was able to kick at the end despite her hard effort under adverse conditions. The lesson? Take what the race gives you, don't give up—and finish the thing. The race isn't over until the end.   5. Motivation.  Sawyer found motivation, not dejection, in her slowing time. When she realized she was slowing down, she didn't get dejected—she got mad. "If I'd run a better pace, I might not have had as much motivation to pick it up at the end," she said. "There's always positive to a race and that's what I'm glad about Mississauga, despite my time, because I ran the last kilometre faster than I normally would."   Sometimes I give up too quickly. Sawyer's running a 5K, a lot different than a marathon. But still. Hang in there when you're out there racing. Don't give up in the middle—surprise yourself. The only outcome that's certain is disappointment if you don't see the race through to the end. 6. And, of course: super shoes.  Sawyer won her 5K in ASICS METASPEED EDGE Paris shoes. They're the same pair she wore in Boston and an evolution of her shoe selection from New Balance Fuel SuperComp Elite and the Nike Vapor Fly. "They're really good and light and comfortable," Sawyer said of the METASPEED ASICS sneakers. "I raced in them in Boston and decided to wear them again." If the shoe fits, as they say, wear it. 7. Stay active, and keep racing.   Sawyer plays elite soccer in addition to her training and has no plans of giving it up any time soon. "I don't see the point of quitting soccer, especially since I'm having so much fun," she says. Oftentimes, Sawyer does a run before soccer practice and if you think she's resting on her laurels after her win, you're nuts. She's doing the Ottawa 5K presented by ASICS Run Keeper at the end of the month, the Oasis ZooRun in the fall, "and probably the Toronto Women's Run Series," she told me, "Those ones are always really fun." Sawyer Nicholson, at 12-years-old, has gotten a lot of attention for her extraordinary finishing times. The thing she likes most about running? The people. "I like how one moment you can be head to head against someone racing against each other in a really hard competition and five minutes later, you guys are best friends," she says. "The community around running is just the best and I think everything about racing is fun." There's a lot we can learn from Sawyer Nicholson. Although the donuts may best for us before race day when we're 12.      

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