Tina Muir is a sponsored runner and former international athlete. She is the founder of Running For Real LLC and the host of Running For Real Podcast. Muir is also a keynote speaker and an environmental activist.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I spent most of my childhood in St Albans, England, which is a city north of London. It was a beautiful place to be, one I only came to truly appreciate after I left, but it had all I needed to grow and challenge myself. I did, however, spend three years in Bloomington, Indiana as my dad helped open a Ford Manufacturing Plant there. I think that is where my love for American culture came from, and also likely where the formation of “life begins at the end of your comfort zone” quote began for me. It showed me that it is okay to travel, to go to new places and meet new people. As long as you are open and willing (as a young child would be), you will find new experiences and people to connect with. Obviously, at that point, I did not realize that, but looking back, that is clear.
I also had a moment from my childhood that sticks out because I lied to my teachers, and another little boy was punished for something he didn’t do. To this day, that still bothers me, and if I knew his name, I probably would have tried to find him to apologize. It upsets me that I did not have the courage to speak up. I believe that made me always promise to be honest, or at least try to live my life by speaking up for what is right.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
That loving who you are is okay. It is not arrogant and gross. It is not a weakness, but a strength. It is heartbreaking that many people do not realize this until they are in their 40s and 50s, and some people never do. I see now how important it is to be kind to yourself, and treat yourself with the same level of love and respect that you give to others. A lot of us are very good at giving to others and looking after others, but not so good at looking after ourselves. As I now have girls who are two years old and 6 months old, I get a second chance at building this from the start.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
That you have to hustle and work 100 hours a week to be successful. While I do believe we have to put in quite a few hours upfront to be good at something or get going, it should also be at a time motivation is high and you are also simply loving what you are doing, so it shouldn’t feel like a huge chore or stress to do it. Once you have built a base or a starting point, I do not believe the sacrifices you have to give (through close relationships, your health, your heart) are worth spending every waking minute on your profession, getting three hours of sleep a night, feeling as though everything is urgent, is worth it. At the end of the day, most careers (at least most world-class performer careers) are not life and death. If you skip a few things or have to take some time away, it is not going to make as big of a difference as we think it might. I would much rather spend 10-20 hours a week on my career, but feel I have other areas of life that bring me value than give everything I have to my profession and feel I have nothing else to offer or enjoy. I have been one of the best runners in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and I am much happier now as someone who is an “average” athlete. It is okay to take periods of life where you do give your all to something, but it doesn’t have to be all the time, and stepping back and taking some downtime is not only healthy but imperative to reaching your potential.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
When I was 18, I wanted to go to school in the US at a school out in California after spending eight months exploring that year. My visa was denied and it broke my heart. I cannot remember a single moment in my life. I was as devastated as I was then, I walked the streets hysterically crying. It was too late for me to apply to a British University, I had told everyone I knew I was going to America, and I knew that a “no” on your file was a mark that would make it ten times harder to ever get accepted again. For a few weeks, I could not pick myself up, but then seemingly out of nowhere, I received an email from a different university in Michigan, the coach there was confident I could get my visa accepted.
The school year started ten days from when he reached out to me, I had never been to this place, and back in 2007, the internet was early enough in its infancy that you never knew how reliable a website was. I decided I had nothing to lose by making another appointment again. I was terrified to go back into the embassy, but I took on the coach’s confidence that this could work with more preparation and the feedback from the previous interview. As I sensed the interviewer was not feeling convinced, I gave it all I had to show her that I did love my home, but I also believed in myself as a runner and what University in America would give me. My visa was accepted, and a few days later, I flew out there alone.
Knowing hardly anything about the school, knowing no-one, but trusting in my heart I was doing the right thing. Five years later, I was one of the fastest college runners in the country, had met my now-husband, and had grown a little closer to the person I wanted to be. The lesson was, trust that instinct, especially after a devastating loss or defeat. Something will come out of it, and you will be scared, you will want to shy away and protect your heart. This is the time to be brave and trust in it. Even if it doesn’t work out the way you expect, it will teach you a lesson you needed to learn that will impact the rest of your life.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
It comes back to trusting your instincts and knowing that you and your body knows best. When I was a professional runner, everyone around me would be adding more and more technology to their lives. In a race, as you passed each mile marker, a chorus of GPS watches would bleep, and simultaneously all the runners would look down, and either slam on the brakes, or take off, depending on what the watch said. It was kind of shocking to see how something that felt “right” for that person a few seconds ago, could suddenly be wrong. I knew to trust my body to tell me what was right, and for that reason, I rarely had regrets about my performance.
I think the same applies to the rest of our lives. We get that intuition, that gut feeling of what is right, what our heart wants to do, but often we push that aside and look to pros and cons lists or end up in analysis paralysis by overthinking it. Every time I have trusted my instinct, whether it is saying yes to something small that appears to have no real rewards, or saying no to something huge that didn’t feel right, it has paid off.
What is your morning routine?
I wake up between 5-5:30 (thankfully this has become a natural wake-up by now), argue with myself for a few minutes until I get out of bed (although the temptation to go back to sleep is strong!), and go straight to the kitchen. As I am still breastfeeding, I pump milk for my daughter (so my husband can give her a bottle at some point in the day), while I am drinking Athletic Greens and writing in my gratitude journal. For me, that is ten things I am grateful for that day. If I am feeling as though something is on my heart that I need to explore, I will write in my journal for 2-3 pages. If not, I move on to a 10-20 minute meditation on the 10% Happier App. I love that they combine learning with meditations, and they are short. From there, I eat a UCAN bar and then either get changed and go for my run or try to get a small amount of work done before my girls wake up sometime between 6:30-7. Once the girls are up, the focus is on appreciating the time with them until I find a window to get a little more work done or we have someone come to watch the girls for a few hours (1-2 times a week).
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
Can I say a morning run? 🙂 It is not surprising that a former professional runner suggests a run to improve life, but I actually went through a phase as I retired from elite sport where I wasn’t sure I would ever run again, so I do feel it is important to mention. You do not have to be “good” at it or do it daily to be considered a runner, I consider everyone who laces their shoes up even once to get out there a runner. Excluding the external changes that running brings (which for the record, I actually think are less important than the internal changes), running has the power to make a dramatic transformation for almost everyone who truly gives it a try with an open mind. I have seen this most powerfully myself through my mother this year.
After 18 years of enjoying watching me run (I would argue loving the sport itself more than I did), and many years of trying to convince her to give it a go, my mum finally tried running this year, and has become hooked. It is helping her work through the anxiety that 2020 has brought and also helping her to believe that she too can do hard things. I love to run in the morning, because it means even if everything else in the rest of the day was a total disaster, at least I accomplished something; I moved my body and added to my health.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
When you are a mother of two young daughters, you have no choice but to be productive if you want to get things done. A lot of it for me is removing myself from other things that might distract me. As our attention span continues to dwindle, we can easily switch from activity to activity as the thought pops into our mind, but that loses so much of the momentum we can get by finishing a task in one go before moving on to the next. I have to shut myself in my makeshift office/guest room, and I look forward to the days I can get back to a coffee shop where there are few other distractions. I believe in the power of music too. I listen to this writing playlist on Spotify from Michael Hyatt and I find it so helpful for getting things done.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
It’s hard to pick just a few. I feel for me with books, it is about the compiling effects of growth and almost the order they come in. Some books I have re-read years later, the messages make sense and expand my thinking in a totally new way they hadn’t before. I love to read non-fiction books, and love to learn how to be growing constantly.
That said, if I had to choose, I would say The Power of Vulnerability by Brené Brown for the permission to talk about the things we struggle with, how being vulnerable is actually a strength, one that allows for more connection, meaning, and love to come through. I have always felt the desire to share in a vulnerable way, but this gave me the research to back up that living in the way that felt right was actually the best way to live a fulfilled life too.
And then recently, Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell opened up a whole new perspective on life, and a desire to dig deeper to understand humans in a way I had not before. I wanted to build empathy and compassion towards others whose experiences I did not know, and also place less emphasis on trying to “figure people out” (because humans are genuinely bad at it!).
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone” by Neale Donald Walsch is a quote I have hanging on the wall near my front door, to remind myself to go out into the world and be brave, to push the boundaries of what I am capable of, and be bold. It is very easy in this world we live in and feel like we need to play it safe, get to x point before we can take risks, stick with the things we “know” but the more I try new things, the more I realize that this is where the magic of life really is.
And then in tough moments, I remind myself of this quote. It is long, but I do know it by heart. I repeat to myself “keep moving forward” if I need that reminder. I think it’s a great message to not only believe in yourself, but to love yourself, and see your own strengths, rather than looking out to the world for external validation (or excuses).
“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now, if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain’t you. You’re better than that! I’m always gonna love you, no matter what. No matter what happens. You’re my son and you’re my blood. You’re the best thing in my life. But until you start believing in yourself, you ain’t gonna have a life.” ― Sylvester Stallone, Rocky Balboa