ordinary people doing awesome things (interview 4): Adrienne Langelier

Adrienne Langelier is a badass.

She’s a runner, sports psychologist (you can book an appointment with her here) and confident human whose sense of humor and desire to get to know those around her is immediately apparent. I met Adrienne through an early morning run group, and have been inspired by her authenticity and energy since I met her. We sat down over coffee to discuss running, her career path, body image in the running community and more.

[interview edited for clarity]

Kenaia: I wanted to start by asking you about getting started running, because that’s how I know you. I’m kinda curious, how did you get into running? Everybody has their “running story”. What does that look like?

Adrienne: Yeah. Ok, do you want the very very beginning?

K: Yes!

A: Ah, you’ll probably never hear this ever again in your life, so… I’ve mentioned this in other interviews before, but… I was 5, 6, whatever… I was a little kid, and my very first distance run was chasing the family dog, who had gotten out. So apparently- I don’t know how far I ran, but all I know is- somebody had to get the dog. My mom and aunt actually got in their cars and started looking for me because I was gone so long, still after this dog. So I just remember, I did catch him. I come back holding the dog by the collar and they’re both on the porch, they’re both just like “oh my god, we were going to call the police!” and I was just like… “I got the dog!” I was just all hot and sweaty and I was like, it’s fine.

K: Oh my gosh. Okay!

A: Yeah, so apparently I liked running and helping people, I’m just made that way.

K: Oh yeah. Already! Early on you’re like, running: running= help somebody out.

A: Pretty much! So apparently I was quick enough to get the dog, too. So that’s kinda like the, “oh, I actually have this ability” and then I was that kid in elementary school who pretended to hate running on running days, when in reality it was like yes, it’s Tuesday!

K: …and everybody else is like UGH.

A: Pretty much! It was one of those things where I always enjoyed it, but competitively, believe it or not, I was a later bloomer. I ran some track in junior high and all it did was make me super nervous, so it wasn’t that fun. Switched to team sports for a while and then, kinda how I got back into competing is, first day of graduate school, I’m sitting in physiological psych. I want an A in it, and my professor happens to be a runner. So he asked, a show of hands, ok, who in this class is a runner? So I’m like yeah, I do some running, cause I did it, just cause I enjoyed it. So he invites me to a trail running group. I meet them, and I keep up with them just fine, and I was just like oh, I’m actually still kinda good at this. So a couple weeks later, I’m at a mixer for new students, and he tells me about a 5k. So I’m literally drinking an adult beverage and having a hamburger- I put that down and I’m like “I’m in!” I do that 5k, end up 1st female in like 23 flat or something like that. And I was like “oh… I want to get better at this”. Got an A in that class, and started racing from there, and then the monster just kind of took over.

K: So you were in school for this kind of stuff first, before you started competing?

A: Yeah.

K: Interesting, I kind of had expected that to be the other way around- like, you were running and then needed to learn mental training…

A: No, it was one of those things where I struggled with it when I was younger. I actually would have really benefited from a sport psychologist when I was, you know, a kid!

K: So what made you go into that field, then?

A: People fascinate me. It was the one thing, like- not good at math, sciences I’m okay at, but human behavior has always been something that I wanted to understand better. Maybe it was me trying to understand myself, maybe it was me trying to understand… I don’t know. Actually, I started out in college as a business major, just because I thought it was the right thing to do. found out very quickly that it was not, because I was a freshman on academic probation. I decided, okay, let’s take some time off from school, and figure out what I want to do, and I’d been wanting to do psychology the whole time. So, I changed my major, went back to school and took a couple classes, decided “this is it”, you know, I’m going to be a therapist. So you know I was going to work with all different kinds of people. Still love running, still love sports, but that was still not on the radar until I transferred to Texas A&M and I took a class- I had a professor who was a sport psychologist, so that kind of introduced me to the idea that “oh, this is a thing”, people actually can do this, because I thought it was this huge, exclusive thing, that you worked either for premier soccer teams or the Olympic committee…

K: Not just like, normal people.

A: Yeah, exactly. so I was like, it’s almost like the CIA, with difficulty to get into. Anyway, then my friend started suggesting I get into the field, too, so I started spending many hours in this professor’s office, picking his brain. He introduced me to other people in the field, and they kinda showed me how I could form a career working with athletes. So being a competitive runner was just kind of a bonus, because it really, number one it just kinda helped me get into the field a whole lot easier, because I understood it from being an athlete, and knew people in it, but I also had unique experience just competing that a lot of people didn’t have. So I got licensed as a counselor but I specialize in athletes. It was a very twisted, convoluted intro into my career, But now 10 years later since I’ve gotten my masters, here I am!

K: Do you feel like that beginning business knowledge has helped you long term?

A: I had to figure it out all on my own! They train us great as clinicians, you know, we’re always told, yeah, practice is a business, but there’s this running joke that counselors are terrible business people, which is true.

K: Why?

A: Because it’s kind of hard to take somebody’s money sometimes, after them sharing everything with you, stuff like that.

K: You’re like, by the way, I need $500…

A: Absolutely! And it’s also… a lot of times we get into this, not because we’re trying to make a million dollars, but because we’re trying to make a difference in somebody’s life. So it’s a balance. But I think, you know I have two locations now, so I think I’ve kinda figured out a model that works for me and works for the people I work with as well.

K: What was the hardest part of that for you? Like that emotional connection, or was there something else you had to learn?

A: Honestly, yeah. At first when you get out of school you have a lot of days where you go home thinking, “oh my god. I have NO idea what I’m doing.” Even after you know, the years of school and stuff like that because versus, say, other jobs, we learn just by doing. So when you’re first starting out we’re almost just as vulnerable as the client is. But the more you get comfortable just sitting and just being, meeting a person where they’re at, then stuff starts clicking.

K: Versus having to know all the answers right away.

A: Absolutely. Cause that’s stuff that- I used to put a lot of pressure on myself- is, okay, I have to be able to fix things. No, in reality I give people the tools to live a better life, or overcome whatever challenges that they’re facing. I’m more of a facilitator.

K: Do people come to you more to learn those skills, or when they have a specific issue?

A: Oh, all over the place. People, if they’re having- maybe they’re struggling with performance anxiety, which is a specific issue, some people, they have some pretty big goals. Maybe they want to make the Olympic team, or the Olympic Trials. Or get a scholarship, and having a mental skill set is usually very helpful. It’s something like that. So you don’t have to necessarily be struggling with something to benefit from seeing a sport psychologist, but I am prepared to help them deal with whatever that issue is, whether it’s anxiety or eating disorders, so stuff like that.

K: That was something that I was actually curious about, your perspective on body image. I’m curious from a sports psychology perspective, or just from your own experience, what you’ve seen in that, or what that looks like to you.

A: Oh wow. That’s a big- that’s an interview in itself! That’s something that, especially in the running community… I’ve seen over the past decade some improvement in the culture, we have a ways to go, but I remember when I first started racing, I didn’t necessarily look like the people I was competing against.

K: Honestly, neither do I and that was part of the reason I was curious about your perspective on that, because it’s a- like, you notice.

A: Yeah, to be straight up honest with you, that’s something that I did struggle with when I was younger. It’s, okay, well, I don’t look like these girls… do I need to? Is this okay? Is this acceptable? And when I notice it really kind of reaches a crescendo, at least from my experience, is when you’re injured, because a lot of us identify with- whether we mean to or not- identify with running. And if we can’t do this thing, suddenly we’re trying to figure out, okay what else is my body good for?

K: Where is my worth?

A: Yeah, exactly. Where is my worth? I’ve had several athletes voice concern over weight gain when injured and stuff like that, so the conversation- you know there’s still a lot of toxic elements to it on the body image talk, but we’ve made some progress. There’s a lot of stuff on social media now where the idea is, there is no one size fits all, to a distance runner. And I think also people like myself are starting to make some headway with the conversation as well.

K: What do you think would help further that? What would you like to see in the running community, or just in society, that you think would make a difference in that?

A: Especially from a younger age, is really teaching self-acceptance in these young ladies and young men, that you don’t have to look a certain way to be a good runner. It needs to be more about, are you taking care of yourself? Are you getting good sleep, good nutrition? You know, and are you improving? Not what do you look like or what weight you’re at, but if we look at more addition versus subtraction, i.e.; you know, cutting weight to run better, you’re going to have a much longer and much more successful racing career. You know, I’ve seen this in athletes I’ve worked with. I’ve had some where they’ve battled and maybe had to discontinue running, because the pull to be thin is too strong. I’ve seen other ones where they have no problem eating whatever they want to eat, whatever their body is asking for, and I’ve watched them have continual success, and also more enjoyment in it.

K: Well that’s the important thing, the enjoyment. So, two questions based on that- we’ve looked at the positive side, like what can be done, but also what should we stop doing?

A: What should we stop doing? Oh god. Still pertaining to like, body image… well honestly, we need to stop being so hard on ourselves.

K: That is a hard thing to ask of runners.

A: Seriously. That’s going to look differently for different athletes, but we need to maybe stop looking at numbers so much, whether that’s on the scale, the GPS watch, or our race times, and look more towards, okay, how strong do I feel? You know, how much rest am I getting? All that kind of stuff. The biggest thing is just, stop with all of the criticism and also kinda the black-and-white thinking, either you’re fast or you’re not, or if it’s not a PR then the race is a failure… Because there’s so many other ways that you can measure success in running.

K: For example?

A: Okay. You know, some of it is looking at, number one, how do you feel when you cross the finish line? That’s a question I ask a LOT of my runners and also swimmers, is when you finish, what feeling are you after? Because a time on a clock, if we really look at it objectively, is a very arbitrary thing. If we kind of think, okay, this is how I want to feel and here’s some of the things I can do to help make this happen, what are the things that I can be thinking about that will increase that likelihood, then I think usually the experience will take care of itself. Whether you want to feel proud of yourself or accomplished or something like that.

K: Yeah, cause then you’ll do the things that will get you there.

A: Yeah, absolutely.

K: So kind of going back to the enjoyment thing, are you enjoying it?

A: Yeah, exactly! But other things is like, how far have you come since you started? Whether that is from the first time you started running, or if you had numerous bone injuries like I have, how far have you come since you started from your last setback? Cause a lot of times we tend to look at what we want and really zero in on that goal, but we kind of lose sight of, oh my gosh, I used to be here and now look what I can do.

K: There’s a whole giant process in there!

A: Oh, absolutely.

K: So now I’m curious- what happened to your bones?

A: What happened to my bones? All right. So I have had 8 stress fractures. I’m pretty open discussing all of this, because it can help people, because I did, early in my running career- I was too light. The way I describe it is, I was racing with a borrowed body. It was fast, it did some cool stuff, but it was very very not durable. Cause it really wasn’t mine.

You want to run with your own body. Your own.

So it was kind of a journey coming back from the relative energy syndrome that I dealt with, obviously it’s- estrogen was out of whack, so I went through the bone issues and stuff like that, but I was also training really, really hard, because I had a goal of qualifying for the Olympic Trials.

K: And did you make that goal?

A: I did not. However, back to the measuring of success… I don’t regret trying. At all. Like, I got some really fast times and met some really great people, and had some experiences that I would have never had, had I not set that goal for myself. And now like looking back at it, honestly, it was more of a journey towards that. I don’t know how life-changing it would have been to actually qualify. Would it have made me happy for a while? Sure. But I don’t think it would have changed dramatically one way or another.

K: I mean, that would be an interesting conversation too, as far as having a goal that big- cause I mean, that’s a very big goal- and striving for it, and then…

A: Oh, it took some time to let it go! It definitely took some time to let it go.

K: So what was your process of letting it go and being accepting of that?

A: Well I had to get to a point where I was over being”the runner” that I was, and I had to kind of start falling in love with the runner that I was becoming. That started with just accepting where I was at that given time, which was very difficult, very, very difficult. There may or may not have been some tears shed or anything like that. But, you know, it just started from maybe training under the cover of darkness, on a grass field, maybe running nine minute pace, and to being able to finish first in a race again. It just started with, okay, this is what I had today, I’m not injured. So I had to really force myself to look at the positives from where I was. And sometimes that was just going from, you know, a week at a time. To, okay, guess what, I felt a little bit better for this run then I did this same distance as I did last time. And I found, just really zooming out and looking at the perspective of all of it has been really helpful.

K: Do you do anything like meditation, or any other structured thinking/relaxing?

A: I do quite a bit of meditation on my own. I do a lot of journaling, both just in general and I keep a training journal, you know, because I helped out with “Strong” [Olympian Kara Goucher’s confidence journal for runners], I do keep a confidence journal myself, so, every run we need two positives. And it’s amazing how simple that is, but how helpful that can be. Because, especially like in the summer in Texas, there’s a lot that can go wrong, and I can look at, well, I felt like I was being boiled alive but, guess what, I covered the distance, and this time last year I wasn’t able to do that.

K: That’s really healthy. How long have you been doing the journaling? What got you started in that?

A: A few years. I kind of started doing it a little bit before “Strong.” I’ve always been a fan of the Believe training journal and I really liked that. I’m a big fan of practicing what I preach, so I have my athletes journal. I’m like, well, if I make my athletes journal… I better be doing it myself! Otherwise, you know, I’m just a big fake or something.

K: Do you think a lot of people that are in counseling or in therapy also do a lot of those things?

A: I would hope so. A lot of my colleagues, I know they do, you know, a lot of them go to therapists themselves and stuff like that, so… I mean it’s just like, being human is not the easiest thing, so…

K: Especially in the modern world, especially as an athlete…

A: Absolutely.

K: Is there one thing that stands out to you as maybe the most difficult thing that you see people go through as athletes?

A: Honestly, whatever level you’re at, is number one just being okay with where you’re at and not wanting to rush the process, which ties into just overall confidence in yourself. I see, you know there’s a lot of comparison and stuff like that with other athletes. So often I hear, especially come out of runners’ mouths, is “I’m not as fast as blank.” “I’m not as good as blank.” And a lot of times we’re really putting ourselves down unconsciously when yeah, maybe we may not be where we want to be right now, but if we think hey I, if I am willing to put in the work and be patient, who’s to say that I can’t be there? So showing people, helping them find their strengths and focus on what they’re doing, and falling in love with their process, is one of the more challenging things but probably one of the coolest parts of my job.

K: That’s hard. I mean, from experience- and I’m sure you know this too- that’s hard.

A: Yeah, and I see that in high school runners through some of the professional runners that I’ve seen.

K: Do you notice a lot of similarities despite age, or different things that different age groups tend to gravitate towards?

A: I’ve noticed there’s a lot of universal things that people struggle with. I mean, everybody’s path is their own, but I find sometimes I’m having very similar conversations with pro racers as I am with someone who’s trying to walk on to college.

K: So why do you run? How do you answer that in a sentence?

A: You know what? I’ve actually thought about that quite a bit.

Honestly, it just feels right

It really does. Like, I love running, and I like racing. I don’t see myself racing hard forever, but am I ever going to quit running? As long as my body allows me to, absolutely not. Ever since I was like a kid, chasing the dog, it just felt right.

K: Yeah, I mean it’s… natural movement.

A: Well, it’s been the thing that has come- I don’t want to say the most natural, but it’s been the thing that I’ve always kinda come back on. If I’m feeling stressed out, then I can go for a run. If I’m in a good mood, go for a run. If I’m in a pretty place, the first thing I want to do is go for a run, so it’s just kinda part of my personality.

K: Do you tie that into other aspects of your life, like other things that you’re into?

A: Honestly I think it really helps me- I’ve been told, I’ve done a lot of work on this- is that I’m a very patient person, and I liken that a lot to my journey as a runner for helping teach me that. I don’t know if it’s a chicken or egg thing that I enjoy running and have success with it because I am patient, or it has made me more patient. Haven’t figured that out yet. I think it makes me a better sport psychology consultant, because I know that it’s not always going to be an easy process, it’s sometimes going to be messy, but I’m less likely to give up on who it is or what I’m doing.

K: Because you’ve had that experience, do you think about that in the moment? Like, do you draw on that when you’re in a difficult moment? And if so, how do you do that?

A: Absolutely. I think whether it’s a race or doing this really intense session with somebody, it’s stepping back and actually looking at lessons from it, because sometimes it’s the things that are the most difficult that you learn from. So looking at, okay, what do I think I was successful with, you know, kind of reflect on a couple things, and what would I change? And then incorporate that into your next experience.

K: Do you feel like you take that outside of running, outside of work, just in your experiences in life and with other people?

A: I think so. I really try to get to know people and understand who they really are. One of my values has always been authenticity. I found that once I embraced that, it’s you know what, I really appreciate people’s quirks. I appreciate my own quirks.

K: Well I think, too, the more confident a person is in themselves and the more authentic they are, the more it gives other people permission to be authentic around them.

A: Absolutely.

K: What’s a good way for you to make sure that you’re that person? Do you have situations where you become nervous to be authentic?

A: I know when I was younger, imposter syndrome was no stranger to me. I was one of the first people in my family to get an advanced degree, and here I am putting myself out there in a field where there’s still not a lot of people in it, and trying to network and collaborate with sports medicine physicians, with professional athletes, with people in universities. So I really had to push through the question of, who do you think you are? What do you have to offer? And I had to really change that dialogue around to, you know what? I have a lot to offer.

K: How did you change that?

A: One person at a time. One workshop at a time, one experience at a time. I’ve really found that the way I work, the more I simplify things, the better I do.

K: Kinda like running! Everything relates back to running.

A: I know, right? How do people not run? I mean, ultimately it’s something we do, it’s not who we are. But it sure as heck helps.

K: Is that hard for you, the- it not being all you are?

A: It used to be. I struggled a lot with confidence as a kid and you know, that was the first time that suddenly I was the fast kid, and I was interesting because I could run fast. Yeaaah, because that shows so much about my personality. But I got a lot of confidence and value from that, until it didn’t work anymore, when I was in the thick of it. I guess you could say I raced at the elite level, I had several major sponsorships, stuff like that. suddenly I just felt like I had to perform for everybody else, not me, so there were a lot of pieces missing. Getting hurt, back to that…That actually was probably one of the best things could go through, because it taught me so much. How to take care of myself, how to slow down, how to- oh, wait, I can do other things good beside run! People still want to hang out with me, even if I don’t run! It was a good experience.

K: Anyone who’s been injured I think can agree. Do you think there’s something to be said for the qualities you do develop from running? Like, your endurance and your strength- how do you embody those qualities when you are injured?

A: Well, for example an athlete that’s injured- even though you’re injured, you’re still an athlete. So you want to approach the recovery process as you would training. So, you may not be going out and doing base mileage or anything like that, but you can do your rehab exercises. You can focus on nutrition, you can focus on sleep, but actually on the flip side of that, you can focus on other parts of yourself too. If there’s a project you’ve been wanting to do, like, I became a better writer from being injured. I had more time and more energy to focus on it. And you know, getting closer to other people, and even if they’re runners, learning more about them outside of the running context. That’s also helpful.

K: So do you think it would be advantageous for people to take more breaks in general?

A: I’m a fan of it. A lot of times we feel like, if we have some success it’s really hard to stop. But we have to realize that training and you know, I think everything else we do is a balance of stress and rest, whether that’s academics… that’s why we have vacations. Or professionally, that’s why we take vacation, because we need to physically and mentally recharge. We can’t, you know, we can’t keep going at the same speed.

K: Do you incorporate rest into your training?

A: I didn’t used to but again, failures, learning from mistakes… I may not like taking time off, but you know what I like? Running fast and running healthy. So, we’re going to pay to play in this aspect. It’s okay- you don’ have to always be on. It’s okay to sit around a little bit more. It’s okay to gain a few pounds. It’s okay to rest.

K: Do you find that people ever go overboard with it, too far? Like, how do you know if you’re slacking or resting?

A: Well, here’s the deal- put some structure around it. Like, for this time period, I’m not going to worry about it. I know some coaches who’ll put “eat ice cream” in their training plans. You build it in. To change the subject a bit, it comes down to- why are you doing this?

K: Do you see a lot of variety in that, like people’s reasons for running?

A: I see quite a variety. Some people do it for sheer enjoyment. Some people lose sight of that. And it depends on where you are in your running, because I know like, say I’m talking to a group of high school runners. Why do they run? They want to win State. They want to run fast, or even with collegiate runners, it’s very outcome-driven. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I think the athletes who’ve had the longest-term success, there’s some intrinsic motivation behind it. That’s something I try to instill in athletes I work with, is, looking at the big picture and guess what, if we want these outcomes we have to be having fun. We have to be taking care of ourselves and we have to actually want to run. We have to want to train in order to get there, it’s not going to just happen.

K: So in terms of your practice and working with clients, how do you find the balance between being authentic and trying to sort of, match what you’re doing with clients?

A: I always try to mirror the clients’ preferences. First and foremost, listen. Instead of talking- which is hard for me- listen and find out where they’re actually at, what they’re like, what they value. I really like to have conversations about their values, and help them get more clear on that, because I think ultimately the more in touch we are with that, the better we’re going to do in other areas of life.

K: How do you help people find values? I feel like that’s a really tough thing.

A: It is! Well, a lot of it is just, okay, what’s important to you. And say you have this big goal, what will it mean to you to accomplish? I’ll sometimes give them an assignment and be like okay, if you were to give a hall-of-fame speech, who would you thank? And what would you reflect back on? Just kind of finding that north star a bit. I mean for me part of the reason I still run is, it is an outlet for me but it is a way for me to be able to express myself, and for whatever reason I’ve been called inspiring. One of my values is perseverance and this is one of the ways I can demonstrate it without saying anything. Some people think I’m nuts, but that’s okay. Circling back to authenticity, the more touch I got with who I was, and the more comfortable I got with it, the fact that- I don’t always have to have the right things to say. I don’t have to be the coolest person in the room to be effective and for people to like me. That’s when I started really making some traction. And that it was okay to make mistakes.

K: It sounds like you learn a lot of things and just keep going with that- how do you find that continued inspiration?

A: In a week’s time, I encounter so many different individuals… with so many different background, and I’ll be honest, I learn probably as much from those I work with as they learn from me. And I see myself down the road, I think about what are some of my goals, and that kind of stuff. It goes back to that- one person at a time, one group at a time. Because I do have goals- I want to write more, once I reduce my client load. But I know in order to get there, it’s just one step at a time, what can I learn from this person, stuff like that.

K: Do you have one final thing to say to the readers of this interview? What lasting impression do you want to have- in life, in this interview?

A: I think the biggest thing is that, I’ll tell anybody I work with and anybody I come across, is guess what? Learn and know yourself. Learn to appreciate your own unique talents. We’re all so different.

Thank you so much to Adrienne for this phenomenal discussion! For more ordinary people doing awesome things, click on one of the links below.

(interview 1) Isabella Taylor

(interview 2) Greg Adams

(interview 3) Vito Cortese

Do you know someone who’s doing awesome things? Shoot me a message here!

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