A Confession About 2019: Why There Was No “Year Of”…

Every year on Strength Running, I announce a theme that helps us focus on a particular topic throughout the year. But that didn’t happen last year…

This is a tradition that goes back to the very beginning of Strength Running. Way back in 2011, my goal was to help you run faster (well, that’s always been my goal!). So I coined 2011 the Year of the PR.

It kept going:

  • 2012 was the Year of Stretch Goals
  • 2013 was the Year of Consistency
  • 2014 was the Year of Injury-free Running
  • 2015 was the Year of Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone
  • 2016 was the Year of the Team
  • 2017 was the Year of Fundamentals
  • 2018 was the Year of Strength

I’ve found this to be a high-impact way of starting the year. It focuses our attention, gives me a big theme to come back to throughout the year if I need inspiration, and influences a lot of the content that I make for you.

In hindsight, this also lets you see what areas I think are particularly important to focus on for runners.

And it’s also just more fun! The feedback in January every year is always great. I hear about your goals, aspirations, and what you’d like to accomplish. It forces us all to reflect on where we’ve been and where we’d like to go.

I also learn more about your struggles, failures (ahem, learning opportunities), and the sticking points that prevent you from improving. Sometimes, knowing about your problems is more productive for me because then I can address them directly and create podcasts, videos, and articles that solve each issue.

But you might have noticed that there was no theme for 2019.

We skipped right past that and went into a “Best of 2018” post. What happened?!?

Why 2019 Was Different

jason and papa

Halloween, 1985

On December 20th, my grandfather (Papa) passed away. I’m not very good at sharing personal issues, but here goes…

I had flown to Florida to see him the previous weekend because we knew he wasn’t doing well and time was short. Years of battling cancer will do that.

But I wasn’t really prepared to see him in that condition. He couldn’t talk much and in hindsight, it was clear he was less than a week from passing away.

This was the first time in my life that someone close to me died and it shook my world more than I thought it would. My grandfather was like a dad to me, especially considering that my parents are divorced and I don’t have a relationship with my father.

When I found out, I slumped to the floor and spent hours looking through old photographs. I couldn’t bring my daughter to school. I couldn’t work. My wife took over a lot of household chores. I didn’t even run that day. I was a wreck.

All of the plans that I had for early 2019 were postponed because I simply couldn’t bring myself to think too hard. Grief, I found, was a powerful performance limiter.

I was able to pick things back up after a few weeks but I had lost the spark to start a big campaign in the new year.

So all the material I was planning – including a brand new coaching program that I had been researching for over two years – was put on hold.

Learning From Loss

Papa & Nana

Papa & Nana waiting for my wedding to start

I was devastated to abandon the consistency I had built into Strength Running. For 7 years, I started every January the same.

But I accepted that 2019 would be different. I needed time for my own mental health rather than pushing forward and working so hard. Similar to getting a major running injury, I was resigned to treatment rather than training.

Of course, running helped me through my grandfather’s loss and my panic over not working as hard last January. Everything I learned from 21+ years of training pulled me through this gut-wrenching time in my life:

  • Mental toughness to endure difficulty
  • Discipline to do what I didn’t necessarily want to do
  • The ability to focus on what was truly important
  • Confidence in my business and my audience to take a brief step back from work

It wasn’t easy, but the psychological skills I gained from endurance training were pivotal in how I managed my grief.

But I also want to thank those who helped me through this time:

Jonathan Levitt, who lost his own grandfather last year.

Scott Jones, whose dad passed away too young.

And Amelia Boone, who’s recovering from an eating disorder.

I look up to these folks for sharing their grief, pain, struggles, and their loss so publicly. Personally, I struggle with that. I tend to retreat inward during times of emotional volatility. All I could manage last year was a Twitter thread

But their words and example showed me that loss is universal. Their acts of public vulnerability helped reinforce that we’re all going through something.

Moving Forward with Grace

Meaghan & Papa

Papa dancing with my wife Meaghan. He always loved a party.

My grandfather was an immigrant from Italy with a 3rd grade education. He often worked three jobs to support his four children but ultimately owned his own business, house, and vacation home.

He’s the embodiment of the American Dream, the promise that if you work hard and play by the rules, you can find success in this country. Through his example, I learned about the value of hard work, independence, and perseverance.

And I know that if I could talk to him today, he’d want me to endure the grief that I still feel today and press forward. He’d want me to do better than I did last year. Instead of succumbing to grief for months, my grandfather would want me to work hard and do my best.

So Papa, if you’re listening somehow, that’s what I’m going to do.

I’m going to give Strength Running all I have. I want to elevate the sport of running and give as many runners as possible the knowledge, tools, and drive to improve beyond their expectations.

This year, I want to focus more on the mental skills that were so paramount to my running but also to my processing the loss off my grandfather. Skills like:

  • Anxiety management
  • Focus (long vs. short-term)
  • Intensity
  • Mental toughness
  • Confidence

Next week, I’m kicking off 2020 in true Strength Running fashion by announcing our theme and working my butt off to help you become a faster, healthier, and more mentally resilient runner.

If you’re onboard, I can’t wait to share all of this with you. Hop on our email list if you’re not already to be the first to hear new announcements. Until then, I’ll send you our best training guidance.

Here’s to making this year our best ever, together. Salute!