Max McKeown has written extensively about leadership and culture, and he uses the three-letter acronym “R.U.N” to describe the steps through which any individual, business, organisation or system wanting to adapt, must go.
R, Recognising the need to change. U, Understanding the adaptation required. N, making the Necessary adaptation. These are the steps, according to McKeown, that can result in not just surviving, but thriving.
When it comes to actual running, the ability to adapt and change plays a big part in our enjoyment of, and success in, the sport. Whether we are adapting to short-term disturbances – bad weather, pressure at work – or long-term life changes, the ability to be flexible can often be the key to improving and making the most of the time we have to run.
Three of today’s most exciting athletes are perfect examples of the importance of adaptability. The trio are from different backgrounds and have different experiences, but share one key attribute: a passion for running. Grayson Murphy, Malindi Elmore and Samuel Fitwi illustrate how being adaptable has helped them rise to the top of the sport.
Grayson is one of the most exciting runners in the US right now – although her rise to become one of the sport’s stars has been unconventional, to say the least.
“I started running in my sophomore year at Santa Clara University in California,” says Grayson, “but before that, in high school, I didn’t run – I played soccer, mainly.”
What propelled Grayson to try out for athletics was a desire to be part of the team and enjoy the social side of running. “When I got to Santa Clara, I thought that perhaps I could run,” she explains, “so I asked if I could try out. It seemed that I had some talent and pretty soon I was racing on the track and cross-country.”
And that talent shone through very quickly. By the time Grayson graduated from the University of Utah, she was a five-times All-American in cross-country, steeplechase and the 5,000m indoors.
It looked as though Grayson was on a trajectory as a track athlete. After graduating, she joined a professional team and ran 32m28.09s for 10,000m. But Grayson’s curiosity and unusual introduction to running meant that when the opportunity to do something different came along, she jumped at it.
“Running on the track and in the mountains was not my intent,” she says. “I was dedicated to track when I was part of the pro team after college. But the set-up was not right for me. So I left and moved home. Suddenly as a free agent I had the chance to race on the trails – something I had not been allowed to do before.”
Grayson talked to her coach and they agreed that trying some mountain races might be fun. Of course, Grayson gave each event her all, and surprised the trail running world – and herself – by winning the US Mountain Running Championships. This was her ticket to race the 2019 World Mountain Running Championships in Villa La Angostura, Argentina. Grayson won that too.
Grayson’s success across multiple running disciplines – from 5,000m on the track at college, to finishing sixth in the steeplechase at the US Olympic Trials this year, to winning the World Mountain Running Championships in her debut, and then defending her title this year – illustrates how an open mind and the bravery to follow her curiosity has propelled Grayson into the limelight. And that is despite her modesty.
“I never thought I would win,” Grayson says of her entry into the mountain running scene. “It just kept happening.”
We’re sure it will continue happening.
Canadian Malindi Elmore has also demonstrated exceptional adaptability, which has ensured she has remained competitive throughout a 30-year career at the top levels of endurance sports. Starting out as a youngster, Malindi was a true multi-sport athlete, taking part in everything from soccer to water-skiing. But by the age of 12, Malindi knew that running was her real passion and that she wanted to go all the way to the Olympics.
Following a dazzling career at high school and then Stanford University, Malindi’s dream came true when she won the 1,500m at the Canadian Track and Field Championships and was selected to represent her country at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Although in 2012, Malindi decided to start a family and retired from the track, her love affair with endurance sports was far from over.
“I don’t actually seek out motivation,” Malindi says. “It comes intrinsically and I really just follow my heart. I am drawn to sport because I love to move and I’m always striving to be the best I can be.”
That drive led Malindi to give triathlon a go. She quickly discovered a passion for long-distance races… at which she excelled, competing in 20 long-course triathlons, including a podium place in her debut Ironman.
After a few years in triathlon, Malindi took another break to have her second child. And then the familiar tug returned, this time for her first love – running – albeit over the marathon distance. Only a few months after deciding to try a marathon, Malindi ran the Olympic qualifying time, which meant selection for the Tokyo Games. Malindi took on the best in the world and finished ninth.
So what have been the hardest aspects of a career that has seen Malindi compete at the highest possible level on the track, in triathlon and now in the marathon?
“I don’t find returning to sport all that difficult,” Malindi admits. “Probably the toughest part is wanting to remain at the top of the sport. My aim is definitely to compete in the Olympic Marathon in Paris in 2024. And between then and now, solidify my marathon career by setting faster personal best times and in doing so, lowering the Canadian national record.”
With a solid coaching team of Mike Van Tighem, who has been supporting Malindi since her high school days, and her husband, Graham Hood – himself a successful Olympian – Malindi has all the pieces in place to make the most of her third adaptation.
Beyond that? Well, we will just have to wait and see.
On the other side of the Atlantic, Samuel Fitwi has had to adapt from someone not at all focused on running to becoming one of Germany’s most successful current athletes. Samuel was born and grew up in Eritrea, where – he claims – the only thing that would motivate him to run was an encounter with a hyena. In fact, Samuel’s sport of choice in Eritrea was volleyball. Sadly Samuel was forced to flee his home country for Germany in 2014.
“When I arrived in Germany, I was not that into sport,” explains Samuel. “I played a bit of football. But I did not run as a sport. I was given a place at a school for refugees where I spent six hours each day learning German and I played a bit of football there. But thankfully one of my teachers recognised that I might be a good runner and suggested I join a running club.”
Samuel’s teacher was right – and Samuel’s talent for running became immediately clear. At the very first session at the athletics club, with 20 other youngsters on the track, Samuel beat everyone in a 1km race. Despite having no previous experience of running or training for the sport. And that was just the start.
A few days after his initiation as a runner, Samuel went to a local 5km race. He won that too. Of course, becoming a runner was not all plain sailing. At the running club, Samuel was up against athletes with years more experience and training. But he did not let that deter him; in fact, he used these runners as motivation and a source of information to improve.
What is undoubtedly true is that Samuel’s life has demanded that he adapts to changing situations – not least leaving east Africa for central Europe. But Samuel seems to take all the disruption in his stride. When it comes to changing from football to athletics, Samuel simply says:
“Running was an opportunity for me to make so many more connections. Despite football being a team sport, it tends to be just played between local clubs. But running has opened up so many opportunities for me to run with people from all different backgrounds.”
Along with his coach and friend Yannik Duppich and the support of Saucony, Samuel has his sights set on the biggest international stage of all – the Paris Olympic Games in 2024. Despite all the changes Samuel has gone through in his life, his ability to adapt has seemingly made him stronger.
And Paris might just be where he really makes his mark.
The versatility of the athletes we have met here is neatly reflected in the way Saucony’s footwear range has been designed to help runners get the most from themselves, wherever and on whatever surface they run. On the track, the Endorphin 3 spike provides traction for athletes racing any distance from the mile to 10km. For athletes on the road, the latest Endorphin 2 collection is designed to deliver cushioning, grip and responsiveness. And let’s not forget the Peregrine 11, the latest iteration of a shoe that is the perfect partner for athletes tackling all sorts of trails, from dry and hard-packed to wet and muddy.
Adaptability is a key ingredient in getting the most from yourself. Grayson, Samuel and Malindi know that. And so does Saucony.
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