Runner's Tribe Interview with Steven Solomon
Where are you at in your travels?
I am currently sitting onboard a flight from Canberra to Brisbane. Having returned from American to Australia in early July, I have spent my time training at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in Canberra and Griffith University on the Gold Coast.
Although the AIS is my current base, my training squad (headed by coach Iryna Dvoskina) and I do periodic trips to the Gold Coast during the winter months to train in the warmer weather. The AIS is home to some of the best facilities that I have ever come across in athletics, but above these resources, the quality of staff at the AIS make it the ideal training base. However, the cold Canberra weather can make sprint training precarious at times, so the trip up north allows me to harness some quicker sprint training to compliment my longer tempo characteristic of base training.
How have you found being a student athlete at Stanford so far in regards to training and competing?
My time as a student-athlete at Stanford has been a lot of fun. Although injury has interrupted my performances, training alongside some of the brightest and motivated minds in the world has been a tremendous experience. It is comforting training with a group of people whom are all in the same position as you: student-athletes.
The balance between study and sport remains one of the great challenges facing athletes at home in Australia. From my own observations, university programs in Australia have not been designed with co-curricular activities in mind. This is in antithesis to the way that the American collegiate system operates. Emphasis is not purely on academics -- but is rather shared with social development, athletics, arts and other hobbies that students enjoy. A clear example of how structurally different the Australian and American university systems operate can be seen in the application process.
When applying for university in Australia, there was one part of my life that determined whether or not I was admitted into my degree: my academics. All I had to do was score well in my studies, and I would be offered a place in the university of my choosing. Whether I was a student-leader, musician, artist, employed, athlete … didn't matter. The university admission is centered on academics -- and whatever else you can bring to the university is seen as an unanticipated bonus. In contrast, the only merit that your academics play in your university admission in America is to get a sense of your academic status. College applications involve letters of recommendations, personal essays, a list of your co-curricular activates, social service participation and even your hobbies! The university handpicks who they admit by forming an impression of who you are as a person -- and how you will align with the culture of the university.
In the interest of time, I will leave this point and perhaps return to it in a more extensive fashion in a blog post or follow up interview. I hope that without explicitly going deeper and pointing out how the differences in admission affects university culture, you can see that when an institution is interested in not only your academics but rather you as a person, they can cater their campus culture to best fit all of a students passions. I really love this holistic approach -- and no matter where I end up living in the world, I will hope to provide my children with the opportunity to study in a similar environment to which I love been privileged.
Have you been able to manage your time well with studies and training?
I have always thought of myself as skilled in navigating my academics and athletic commitments -- although, taking a scientific approach by comparing my grades across academic semesters where I am in and out of competition status, it becomes clear that I am better at managing my time outside of competing seasons.
I am a busy person-- to give you a glimpse into a day at Stanford:
· 7am -- Wake up
· 7:30am -- Breakfast
· 8:00am -- Emails and calendar attention
· 9:00am to 12:00pm -- Class
· 12:00pm to 12:30pm -- Lunch
· 1:00pm to 2:00pm -- Class
· 2:30pm to 6:00pm -- Athletic Training and Recovery
· 6:30pm to 7:00pm -- Dinner
· 8:00pm to 11:00pm -- Study
· 11:00pm to 11:30pm -- Socialize
It is not hard to imagine how competition season adds stresses of travel, missed class, new environments and hotel rooms. I am a hard worker, and do my best to balance everything, but there are times when it can get chaotic. Despite the chaos, Stanford works incredibly hard to minimize the stress through athlete-academic tutors and advisors.
I often wish there were more hours in the day …
My biggest tip to stay on top of the balance is to plan. Write down everything that you need to achieve/complete and when they are due. This technique has proven very profitable for me -- allowing me to spatially organize my time to my assignments, study friends and athletics.
What's your favourite 101 class you've taken at college, and why?
This is SUCH a tough question. Introductory classes have been some of my most enjoyable experiences at Stanford. Although I am pre-med and majoring in Human Biology, the set up at Stanford requires students to take classes well out of their normal scope. Computer Programming, Economics and Rhetoric introductory classes have been fascinating, but if I had to pick one favorite, it would be Psychology 101.
My course instructor for PSYC 1 was Professor James Gross -- a psychologist at the forefront of emotion regulation research. Three days a week for 10 weeks, we sampled and were teased with psychology theories that ranged from the brain stimulation of optical illusions to advice on how to get your crush to go out with you. If you ever get the chance to take a psychology class, do it! And for those who enjoy reading and who have finished with study, I would highly recommend reading Daniel Kahneman's book, Thinking, fast and slow. The book touches upon many of the principles concentrated in PSYC 101, including cognitive biases, prospect theory and happiness.
How often do you picture yourself running the 400m's in Rio? Is this now the major goal for you?
All the time. I am so happy and motivated right now and the thought of RIO is a daily occurrence. After a frustrating few years, I am finally back to a place mentally and physically where I know that I am putting myself in a great position for success.
What's your training schedule look like during track season and any standard week?
Having decided to take my next year off Stanford to best prepare for RIO in Australia, my training day is as follows:
7:30am -- Wake up
8:00am -- Breakfast
10:00am -- Training (Track)
12:00pm -- Recovery (Contrast baths)
12:30pm -- Lunch
1:00pm -- Nap
2:00pm -- Physio / Soft Tissue
3:00pm -- Gym
5:00pm -- Recovery (Ice bath)
Currently, I am training harder and smarter than ever before. Each evening, I am exhausted, yet each morning, I wake up feeling refreshed and ready to train. My week consists of 3-4 running sessions, either on the track, hills, or trails. Complimenting my running sessions, I partake in two water running sessions, three swimming session, three gym sessions and two Pilates workouts.
Do you have a favourite American restaurant you frequent?
I love food -- in the old adage "some people eat to live, while others live to eat", I definitely fall with the latter. America has some really good food, but also some rather questionable dishes : ) -- my favorite chain restaurant is a Mexican eatery called Chipotle. If you are ever on the West Coast of America and come across a Chipotle, I would recommend a chicken burrito with mild salsa and guacamole. Fresh and delicious!
If you could go pro at any other sport, what would it be?
I think about his question often. I think that Track and Field is the most difficult sport in the world. Our sport requires us to train our bodies at and above its limits, and perform against competitors from all ends of the world. We have no room for error when races are decided by hundreds of a second. No teammates to lend a hand. Athletics is ruthless, but that's part of the reason that I love it.
Growing up playing rugby, cricket, tennis, soccer and any other sport that my school or local club offered. I have enjoyed a taste of many alternatives to athletics. As a kid, I was adamant that if I were to represent Australia in sport, it would be lining up for the Wallabies.
However, returning to the question -- if I could go pro at any other sport, it would be soccer. My favorite club is Barcelona, and I would love to have the opportunity to play in front of thousands of fans every week, traveling Europe and beyond with teammates from many origins. If Barcelona is too much of a stretch, I think that a stint in the AFL would be a ton of fun as well!
Growing up, did you have a sporting icon?
Returning to my previous answer, I was obsessed with rugby growing up. My idol was Matt Burke. I used to walk to the park everyday after school and place kick just like my idol Matt did on TV. He was a class act -- on and off the field.
If you could give any piece of advice to a young upcoming runner, what would it be?
I have a lot of advice that I would offer to upcoming runners -- and often reach out over social media to give my advice to those who ask. As a holistic answer to this question, I have the following advice:
Enjoy running -- really enjoy it. It is the hardest sport in the world, and the only way that you can succeed is by thoroughly enjoying doing the work. Surrounding yourself with a smart coach, fun training partners and a supportive family is paramount to success. If you can establish this kind of environment, the blood taste of lactic in your throat, the burn in your muscles and the cramps will all be worth it. And lastly, don't underestimate the importance of your arms -- focus on strong arm-drive, and do not view your arms as secondary to your legs. They should be viewed of equal importance.