Tina’s good friend and For Real-Isodes co-host, Sarah Crouch, takes over the reins of the podcast for this episode. A former elite runner, and an author herself, Sarah is the perfect person to talk with Tina and Zoë Rom about their new book, Becoming a Sustainable Runner.

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Although environmental sustainability may be the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “sustainable,” Becoming a Sustainable Runner actually addresses three distinct, but intertwined, topics. As Zoë explains, “It’s basically about how all runners can sustain their own running, can better connect with their community, and can better sustain their planet. And the reason that it tackles those three topics is because we really wanted to make the case that they’re all inextricably interlinked, right? You can’t think about your own health without also considering the health of your community and your planet. Likewise, if you’re trying to sustain the planet without trying to sustain thriving, healthy communities and thriving, healthy individuals, you’re missing out on a big piece of the puzzle. So we really wanted to make the case that these three things all necessarily depend on one another and make the case that all runners should be equally invested in their own health, their community’s health, and the health of their planet.”

Also, Tina adds, ”It’s called ‘Becoming’ for a reason. We’re not perfect at this in any of the areas, and we don’t expect you to be. So, ‘Becoming,’ because we’re all on this journey together and that’s the point we really wanted to get across.” 

Tina initially came up with the idea for the book, but collaboration took it to another level. “I think one of the beautiful things about co-authoring something is that when you bring in two people who have different opinions, ideas, but pretty spot-on shared similar values, you get different sorts of approaches and you get more of a triangulation of ideas,” Zoë says.  “So you take this kernel that was very much Tina’s baby and it gets to be nurtured and grown and developed into something that’s more than any one mind could ever do.” 

The first section of Becoming a Sustainable Runner is “Sustain Your Runner’s Mind and Body,” because, Tina explains, “You can’t care for your community, you can’t care for your planet, you can’t care for the world around you, if all you are doing is treating yourself horribly, especially if you are someone who treats other people very well, but just not giving yourself that same understanding that you are enough, regardless of what you achieve.”

That struggle with self-worth is one with which many runners are familiar. For Zoë, “Any time I stand on a podium, I’ve encountered that feeling of having to really fight back against the voice inside that tries to qualify whatever success I have, whether it’s as an athlete or in my career, like, ‘You only got this because the other applicants weren’t that strong’ or ‘You’re only on this podium because the girl who really should have come in third didn’t end up racing at the last minute.’  Like, ‘Oh, you don’t deserve this. This is luck. This is not you.’”

The search for validation brought Sarah to the breaking point. “I was running 70 miles a week, and then 100, and then 120, then 135, just going off the rails until I had a reaction of Bell’s palsy. Half my face was paralyzed as a reaction to chronic fatigue. And so, I’ve reached points where literally, my body starts to fall apart.”

When Tina was in college, her natural drive to succeed was intensified by the pressure she felt from being on a running scholarship. “Everyone stands on the start line and they’re like, ‘I’m the toughest one out here; no one is gonna outwork me.’ And what I was thinking with that period, it’s kind of the Rocky Balboa of Rocky IV, where he’s out in the snow. And especially me being in Michigan was like, ‘Nobody is gonna out work me. I’m in northern Michigan.’ But it just wasn’t sustainable. And I ended up so lonely and isolated.”

In the book, Tina and Zoë share ways to combat those feelings. Zoë meditates, a practice that didn’t come naturally to her. “I was very reluctant to adopt a meditation and breath work practice because I am not a very relaxed person. I am very fidgety. Stillness is a place of discomfort for me; not feeling productive sort of stretches my comfort limits. It’s not always easy for me, but I have noticed that I feel really different, mentally and physically, when I’m in that practice. And so particularly for people who, like me, every time they hear someone else talk about their meditation practice, have the biggest, most performative eye roll possible, like, ‘Oh my God, can’t wait to hear about your Burning Man experience,’  you are the person that most needs to lean into that.”

Tina has gone through phases of meditation, journaling, and gratitude practice, but currently, with a business and two young children, she’s taking a less structured approach. “I very much like to touch the bark of trees. I did it multiple times today, just to ground myself .And that’s not a meditation practice as such, but it’s a grounding experience. Or when I have five minutes between things, instead of just grabbing emails and ‘Oh, I’ll quickly do this,’ being like, ‘I’m just gonna go sit outside and just look and be.’”

Part two of Becoming a Sustainable Runner expands its view and explores ways to contribute to the running community. That could mean mentoring new runners, volunteering at races, serving as a pacer, or Zoë and Tina’s choice, running as a guide. “There’s so many beautiful people that I’ve met through this experience, that I can’t imagine not doing it now,” Tina says. She recommends signing up with Achilles International to get started guiding.

The third section of the book, “Sustain Your Planet,” is the culmination of the first two parts. “We wanted to lay out an argument that gently brought people to their own conclusion that being an activist is necessary for being the runner they want to be,” Zoë explains. ‘Wherever you’re running, if it’s a trail, sidewalk, street, whatever it is, unless you’re running on the treadmill in your own house every single day forever ,you’re not training in a vacuum. You need clean air, clean water, and safe, accessible terrain to run on. And those things only exist because of political actions undertaken by others. And wouldn’t it be great if all of us runners got involved to advocate for the shared resources that we all need. So we want to defang the scary idea that being an activist requires being literally Greta Thunberg and dropping out of school. It can look like a lot of things and we all need to get involved.”

There’s something in Becoming a Sustainable Runner for everyone, and takeaways for different times in a runner’s life. “I’ve had feedback from a few people that have said that they enjoyed that this wasn’t a book they felt they had to read cover to cover, that they could go to specific chapters as they felt like it,” Tina says. “And I think that’s a really good point. Like we have a chapter on traveling to races. So maybe you read that chapter when you are getting ready to head out to an event. Maybe you are going through a tough period in your life and going through one of the major life challenges that we talked about and you need that reminder that it’s okay if your runs just end up being easy every day because that’s all mentally and physically you can handle. So it’s a book you can go back to, depending on where you are at that point.” 

“Not every bit of the book is gonna resonate with everyone and that’s okay,” Zoë adds. “That was never our intention. We wanted to write something that was self-aware and imperfect and was just more of an invitation and a challenge than a definitive, perfect, linear narrative. So, for anyone that’s on the fence, there will be something that will resonate with you in here, there will be something that challenges you, and there will be something that you don’t like. And I think that’s really beautiful.” 


Order Becoming a Sustainable Runner on Amazon

Becoming a Sustainable Runner website

Zoë’s Instagram

Tina’s Instagram

Thank you to 2before, AG1, and Allbirds for sponsoring this episode.

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