When it was doubted whether Shaun could even finish a Spartan race, she went out and became one of the top racers in the world. Hear Shaun's story and learn how her meteoric rise is all a matter of mindset.
We all have voices that tell us "no." Sometimes this is our own fear talking, and sometimes the voice is external, but they all serve the same purpose: To tell us something is not possible.
When this cynic rears its head, how do you overcome the doubt? What are tactics you can use to persevere?
Today, we talk with Shaun Provost of Live Unbreakable , as she shares how she became an elite obstacle course racer, and delve into the mindset she's cultivated to help her reach ever greater heights.
Shaun Provost is a 25 year old athlete and sexual assault survivor who combines her zeal for coaching, volunteering, and personal challenges through the sport of obstacle course racing (OCR).
She fell in love with OCR after being dared to run a Spartan Race in 2012 (read: the doubter didn't think she could finish the race). Shaun abides by the motto, "and though she be but little, she is fierce," so naturally, she had to prove her naysayer wrong.
Shaun successfully completed the race, and many more since, including the Vermont Ultra Beast - an ultramarathon-length obstacle course race, and one of the toughest challenges Spartan offers up. She finished the 2013 race season ranked fifth for Elite Women at the Spartan Race Worlds and 17th overall in 2014, despite having a broken foot for much of the year.
When facing adversity, the hardest part of overcoming an obstacle is often just taking the first step. Shaun is a believer that "t he only real competition you have is [with] the 'you' from yesterday," which we highly endorse as a way to break down a looming challenge because it means you only have to push a little harder than you did yesterday to make progress. This simple tactic is critical to Shaun's approach, and one of many valuable insights she shares:
CogniTea: What were the biggest takeaways from your first obstacle course race? What did you learn about yourself?
Shaun: “My biggest takeaway was... 'that was so much FUN!' Haha.
I was pretty girly growing up, and I never really liked to get dirty. So the fact that I even went to this race was beyond ridiculous: Barbed wire, tire flips, and rope climbing alike. I absolutely loved the fact that OCR seemed to combine both mental and physical challenges with an amazingly positive atmosphere [where] everyone was different and everyone was accepted. No challenge was too big or too small."
It seems every race you face a fear or learn something new about your capabilities; what have been the biggest hardships you’ve faced either in races or training?
“Oh man - every single race I face a fear and learn something new!
In racing, some of the toughest times have been when I got injured on a course and continued to push through the pain… like during the Spartan Ultra Beast in 2012, a 28+ mile obstacle course up and down Mount Killington in Vermont on a cold, rainy day. I finished in just under 11.5 hours, hypothermic and severely dehydrated with three of the best friends… This race taught me more about myself and my capabilities than any other time in my life."
How do you overcome these challenges?
“I think it is the “never give up” attitude that my mom instilled in me from the womb! Haha. She never took "no" for an answer in anything she did in her life. She’s my biggest role model and my best friend. I aspire to be as strong as she is every single day.”
Loving What I Do
“I genuinely love what I do in these races: I love the mental and physical challenge and I love seeing the new obstacles they come up with, the terrain that we get to cover, and the insanely awesome athletes that I get to compete against and call friends. They all help me overcome any fear I have.”
Racing For A Cause
“A lot of the strength I have also comes from when I volunteer for my charities ( BARCC, Irun4 and Family Reach). Meeting and working with both assault and cancer survivors makes me appreciate life in a whole new way, every day. Whenever I lose focus or feel like I am about to give up, I think about the families who battle cancer every day, the men and women I bond with as a survivor, and my buddy, Conner, who I dedicate my runs to. Every single person has their own story, their own struggle that motivates them, and they all motivate me, too. And then all of a sudden, that race seems pretty easy to conquer.”
What have been the biggest lessons learned from your years of OCR?
“Never, ever, ever give up. Pain is temporary - giving up is forever, and you only have yourself to answer to. The only real competition you have is the you from yesterday. And there is no such thing as failing, so long as you learn from your journey. It’s important to reflect back on how far you have come and embrace lessons learned, but keep your sights on the future because that’s the direction that you’re headed in.
I’ve been through a lot of pain in my life, physical, mental, emotional - and if my determination ever wavers during a race I bring all of that pain back to the front of my mind and tell myself that if I could push through that whole mess, then this race, this terrain this OBSTACLE has nothing on me.
I also learned that it’s super important to love what you do. I genuinely love to race. For fun or for competition, being out on an OCR course makes me happy, it’s my go-to space. I’ve learned that without that love, the sport and its athletes become devoid of passion - and without passion, the sport loses meaning.”
What advice do you have for others in tackling their own fears?
“Never doubt yourself or limit yourself in anyway. In OCR especially, it’s a mental game of tenacity and fortitude. your mind wants to quit far before your body is ready. Don’t let your head talk yourself out of finishing or accomplishing an obstacle, or the race. You CAN do it, just go for it.
If you’re nervous about your first race, or even training for one - take it one step at a time. No matter how big or small that step is - it’s one step further than you took yesterday. Put down your goals in writing and look at it every day - DON’T share it - just repeat it to yourself until you get there. Then write your next goal and do the same thing.
Know that everybody that you meet has their own battle to fight. They’re just as scared, intimidated, or nervous as you are - and they want to support you as much as you want to support them!”
What advice do you have for others to take action?
“Step one: Believe that you can. Be honest with yourself. What is something that you’ve been wanting to try? A goal you’re trying to reach? Write it down. Write down what needs to happen for that goal to be surpassed. Break it down into baby bites, and then take one step each day to get closer to that goal.
It doesn’t matter what your goal is - what matters is that it is your goal. Stop worrying about what other people think and worry about what YOU think. Change your mentality, and you’re 80% of the way there.”
What’s next for you? What do you need / what can people help you with?
“I think I will start branching out into other OCR and endurance/adventure races. I have a 50 and 100 miler on the schedule, some trail marathons, Boston 2015, and some BattleFrog and Spartan races for sure - and some triathlons (AH!). Keep your eye out - never know where I’ll be next!”
People can help me by…
Getting up and moving! Just go try something new, do it for me, your family, for yourself. Do it because you want to. Just go get moving! Share your experiences with me. Ask me questions. Tell me that you need help - and I’m right there.
Helping me spread awareness for my Boston Marathon charity, the Family Reach Foundation ( https://www.crowdrise.com/familyreachboston2015/fundraiser/shaunprovost). Helping families with the emotional and financial struggles that come along during their fight with cancer, Reach Athletes like myself race to raise awareness of their struggle. We compete and push ourselves to the limits so that they don’t have to. I would really appreciate any support that people can offer! I have a $10,000 goal to reach - and I can’t wait to present it to the families in need - but I need your help first! Thank you!”