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!

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  1. Melanie Ayers says:

    I’m sorry for your loss. Grief – of all kinds and from all sorts of losses – is, as you said, a type of injury, and you have to learn to be patient and kind to yourself. This isn’t so easy for those of us who thrive off of our mental toughness and inner strength. Grief can truly be a time of self discovery too. It’s an opportunity to learn so much about yourself. But, just like running, when you don’t know where to begin your recovery, sometimes, just getting up and doing what you have always done, is a good way to start. Fake it ‘til you make it.
    I’m looking forward to what you have for us this year. Onward and upward with great memories to carry us forward. Wishing you all the best.

  2. Christine Fieser says:

    One of our dogs suddenly passed February 23, 2019, 2 months later my father passed away at the age of 67. I too struggled just to breathe in those early months. 2019 became about survival and grace. Each day was a mark of distance from the grief I was experiencing. I couldn’t run as I was healing from an injury I had in December which made the mental toughness of grief difficult, no zoning out and pounding miles out. It’s difficult to explain to those who haven’t experienced loss. My thoughts are with you.

  3. Kirin Loomis says:

    Thank you, Jason, for sharing your journey with us. Your openness makes it easier for the next person, and we all benefit from feeling connected to each other.

  4. Grief is often so misunderstood and underestimated. It is powerful. You don’t just walk through some “stages” and get over it. All you can do is press on daily and continually remind yourself to linger in moments of joy. May 2020 be a year of many such moments.

  5. Fabrice Suplisson says:

    Sorry for your loss Jason!and thx for sharing the special bond you had with your grandfather.

  6. Rick Wooldridge says:

    Excellent focus area for 2020! I lost my father in December of 2016 and struggled with trying to process it. The following year I turned 40 and those two life events were almost too much to manage, so I decided to revisit something from my childhood that I really enjoyed. Running. I started 2018 with a very humbling 5k but remembered why I loved distance running so much. The mental clarity you get from running is unmatched in any other sport in my opinion. The pure focus of putting one foot in front of the other is meditation. Over the last 2 years I’ve worked up to a 1/2 marathon and this year I’m running a 30k race in March and the Toronto Marathon in May. There have been many positives that have come from my training but the biggest one is my mental clarity. I’m a better person now. I owe it to running.

    • Thanks for sharing, Rick! I can attest to how powerful running can be for your mindset. It’s not therapy, but it’s like meditation and comes with a lot of benefits. Glad to hear you did something positive after the passing of your father.

  7. Lynne Wardle-Ransom says:

    Thank you for being so open and honest, this really resonated for me. I haven’t been able to run for 32 months with two groin tears and upper hamstring tendonitis. With each set back I have found the resilience to keep going and then my Mom died this past Fall and since then I am mentally a mess. Thank you for not feeling so alone.

  8. Nicci Ramirez says:

    Thank you so much for sharing with us!!!

  9. I’m so, so sorry for your loss. Thank you for being transparent and sharing your heart and struggles. I started long distance running due to the grief I was experiencing after my dad passed away. I took care of him for three years along with my grandma at the same time who was legally blind. They passed away within 3 weeks of each other. I was pregnant with my 5th child at the time. I didn’t have time to grieve it seemed. When she turned a year old I signed up for a half marathon. Best decision I ever made. When my husband and I separated 2 years ago I signed up for a half marathon. Cried every mile of my training. So healing though. Thankfully we had a happy ending. We got back together three days before the half marathon. Very tough times though. So hats off to you for taking the time to grieve. Been following you for years now. When I got injured I found your website.

  10. Thank you so much for sharing your journey, Jason! PRs are fun, but running for me is much more about finding myself, supporting my mental health. 2019 was a tough year for me as well – here’s to looking forward to a better 2020!

  11. Hi Jason,
    Thank you for your openness and vulnerability as this wouldn’t have been an easy decision to make in making this public and it take courage to do so. Losing someone you love is never easy, and we often find that we have to stop and then find a way to stumble on, knowing that what they want for us, even when it’s the last this g we want to do. I love your 2020 focus, as mental health is a critical factor in our day-to-day lives, and supporting each other is a crucial factor in that. I wish you well for this year and beyond. Kylie

  12. Tony Langdon says:

    Thanks for sharing. I took up running with a group when my first partner had been confirmed with terminal cancer, and both the exercise and the social contact was a huge help during and after his passing.

    My goals then were simply using exercise and social connections for self care during the grieving process. Things got more serious later, and I worked up to a half marathon in 2006 and a marathon in 2008, before rediscovering my true strengths and passion – sprints.

    I’ve recently lost a very close friend to cancer, and again, my sport and my club and social connections are helping me come to terms with it.

  13. I am very sorry Jason, it is traumatic and heartbreaking.
    I went through it last September and I didn’t run for a couple of months, now I’m running again – it’s difficult but I’m moving.
    Thank you for sharing 🙂

  14. Jason,

    There is no amount of love or words that can ease the pain of loss. It is internal suffering and there is no shake to it, just living with it, carrying it around like a badly healed scar.

    What is beautiful however, is the strength of your memories – and the strength of those memories can physically manifest: your body temperature can change when you remember some funny joke he told you, when you’re alone and the energy around you unexpectedly shifts, perhaps you can capture a hint of his favorite cologne. Be in these moments for as long as you can.

    Then there are the days when out of nowhere, something sends you all the way back to day one. The grief feels fresh, the overwhelming wave of sadness engulfs every inch of you beyond control and beyond consoling.

    People can go all their life and never experience a love or a connection such that could produce such suffering and sadness. You have that with your papa. Remember how much he loved you and the way he loved you.

    I wish you well and am thankful that you had him for as long as you did.

  15. Sorry for your loss Jason. A well delivered tribute to such an important figure in your life and ultimately, work. He’s left, but he’s left so many memories that will continue to inspire you as you go along.

    Looking forward to the 2020 theme!


  16. Matthew Wolfe says:

    This was very healing for me to read because I have experienced some losses lately too. Thank you for sharing.


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