Sonya Looney describes herself as a normal person who has been able to achieve extraordinary things through hard work, self-belief, determination, moxie, and grit. That includes being a World Champion mountain bike racer who has competed in over 25 countries, in places like the Sahara Desert, the Himalayas, and the Mongolian steppes. She’s also a runner, a TEDx speaker, an entrepreneur, and host of her own podcast, The Sonya Looney Show.
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“I love the ultra endurance stuff just because I feel like you really get to know who you are as a person.”
Sonya’s mountain bike races are usually 50 – 100 miles or 24-hour races. She loves the endurance aspect, and also that “you have a lot of time out there and it’s so mental, and the range of emotions that you experience in the course of a day is so diverse, and you wouldn’t necessarily feel those in your daily life.”
“If I can safely push through this thing, then that builds my confidence and my self- belief for the next time.”
The obstacles in endurance mountain bike racing require the rider to make a choice: do I go on, or do I quit? Life, of course, is the same. As Sonya says, “you learn over time that giving up makes you give up more,” so she chooses to take on the challenges. You can look back on the hard things that you did and got through, and then “you can remember that and then you just keep going and going.”
“Optimism is accepting the difficult things as they come up, but knowing that with effort and maybe a little bit of grit that they can get even better.”
Sonya believes that to do those hard things, you need to train optimism. That doesn’t mean “just blindly thinking that everything is going to be fine and ignoring all the difficult things.” You need to be aware of your negative thoughts, but instead of giving into them, you can work on confronting and overcoming them.
“The outcome isn’t the most important thing about what you’re doing.”
One of the greatest fears that people have is failing to meet the expectations of others, or even harder, of ourselves. Sonya emphasizes the importance of being focused on the process, because “you’re not entitled to the outcome. Like you might think, “I deserve to win’ or ‘I deserve this,’ but so does everybody else out there that’s working just as hard as you, or maybe even harder than you. So really it’s about being proud of your effort at the end of the day.”
“Our lives get over complicated, focusing on all these things that we think that we need to feel good.”
One thing that Sonya has learned through her travels in other countries is that “you don’t really need that much to be happy.” There are places where people live very simply, but they’ve found a way to make it work for them. Seeing that has made her ask herself what she really needs to feel fulfilled, and to appreciate all “the basic things we take for granted.”
“Ask yourself, what are the consequences if I don’t speak up and will I regret it if I don’t speak up or do the thing?”
Sonya has chosen to compete in some smaller races in other countries because it’s important to her “to have a different lens on life,” even if that means passing up more prestigious races that could get her bigger sponsorships or more media coverage. She’s found that when you don’t follow your heart, “a lot of times you do regret it if you don’t do it, and that’s because it’s clashing with something that you fundamentally believe in.”
“I think a lot of us do feel like people will love us more if you achieve more.”
Following your own path can be difficult, especially if it means doing something that you’re afraid you might not be good at, or that other people won’t approve of or understand. But Sonya believes that “if you have the courage to explore that curiosity, to just open a door or to try an opportunity that comes your way that sounds interesting, you’re going to learn so much.” As she says, “it’s not my quote, but be brave enough to suck at something new.”
“Just focus on the joy of getting better, because there is a lot of fun in getting better at something, but it requires getting started, even if you’re bad at it.”
Thank you to Tracksmith and Generation UCAN for sponsoring this episode.
Tracksmith is a Boston based company that truly cares about the quality of their running clothes. Running can be demanding on our clothes; they definitely go through wear and tear to where we may be purchasing new clothes constantly. Tracksmith designers work with the finest materials and keep you in mind as a runner, with spots for your keys, phone, and fuel. You can go here to check out my favorites!
Thank you, Generation UCAN. I have been talking about them for years and they are my ONLY source for fueling while I am training and racing. And without fail, I have a product of UCAN every day, whether it is a Peanut Butter Chocolate Bar or their delicious Cookies and Cream Protein Powder. I am also excited to share with you a NEW product, a gel! It’s fueled with Superstarch and ready to go wherever you are headed.
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“Thank you” to Sonya. We look forward to hearing your thoughts on the show.