Pro Focus: Fawn Dorr

Twitter has given us access to the minds of some great athletes. Any of you following US track and field star Fawn Dorr on there most likely already know that her feed does not disappoint. It has helped us here at Spikes HQ get motivated for training many-a-day, so we thought we’d like to get her know her more. In this interview, we learn what drives her, how she pushes herself relentlessly and her hopes and dreams for the future. There are some real gems in here that we can all take something from. Step inside the world of Dorr.

You’re a track and field athlete – what events do you compete in and which do you prefer?

My primary events are the 400m and 400m hurdles. I was the 3rd place finisher at the 2010 USA outdoor championships in hurdles. I personally prefer the hurdles for many reasons. You need the endurance of a distance runner, speed of a sprinter and the technique and skill of a hurdler. There are so many pieces to the 400 hurdles that its a never ending learning process.

Back in the day, I dreamed of being the best woman miler. in high school I read Allen Webb’s Sub 4min Mile book, competed in State championships numerous times in the 1500m, steeple and cross country. Those were the years I fell in love with running, but I had a series of very serious head injuries in high school and started having seizures when I ran long distances. The longer the distance, the worse the seizure. I was an OK hurdler, because of steeple, so my high school coach Nancy Bennett decided to start trying me in the 400hurdles and I started having fewer seizures.

What made you decide to go pro or was it a natural progression?

No one wakes up one day and says, “You know what? I think I wanna go pro today.” I transferred schools after my freshman year and had dropped nearly 5 seconds in both my 400m and my 400m hurdle. It seemed there was nothing that could stop me. Going pro wasn’t something I dreamed about. It was beyond what I dreamed. All I wanted was to qualify for the Olympic trials.

In my senior year, I didn’t train like a college kid anymore. I trained like a pro. Often I ran with Shana Cox because I was leaving all the college girls in my dust. My junior year at indoor NCAA’s (National Collegiate Athletic Association) I raced the 400 and got dead last. My senior year I ended up getting 4th with a 52.5.

NCAA’s outdoor was a difficult time for me. I was failing classes and didn’t care. School was something I could come back to,  track was now or never. I lost NCAA’s under a lot of stress. At one point a few weeks before, I called my coach at 6am having a panic attack. I voiced to him how afraid I was. Afraid about not going pro, afraid that no matter how many times I was an All American, it wouldn’t matter. I was horrified. Not just horrified of perhaps not going pro but scared of the unknown. When all you have done for the past 11 years is run, to think of the NCAA race, that final most important race, as also being your last ever. If you don’t do things right all your dreams die in the 54 second time frame, that’s a lot of pressure. I didn’t know who I was without running. I wasn’t ready to give up on my dream of really being someone.

I was a wreck at NCAA finals and ended up getting 4th, losing to women I had never lost to. It broke my heart. I had to hold it together because I was running the anchor of the 4×400 relay, but I was dying inside. I ran like shit. All my dreams were fading and fast.

I thought any career after college would be a direct result of NCAA’s. but two weeks after that awful race, I had an agent and endorsements lined up.

At the 2010 USA Outdoor championships, I ran my first round of the competition in a Penn State jersey, and literally, overnight I had gone pro. My hotel room filled with boxes of gear, contracts, and shoes. Shoes everywhere! The next day, I showed up for the final of the 400m hurdles in a bright yellow Brooks jersey. My coach said “alright, whats your plan?” and I didn’t even hesitate. “I’m gonna run as hard as I can until my f*cking legs collapse.” He stopped dead in his tracks, “well, alright then,” and I was off. I ended up getting 3rd that year. Those were some of the happiest days in my running career that I can remember.

Somehow, signing that contracted validated the last 11years of running. It supported that little distance runner girl with a nervous system disorder, having doctors tell he she can never run again. The Brooks jersey was a middle finger to anyone, and there were many, who doubted me. Most importantly I learned that one bad race does not define you.

What’s been your career highlight to date?

Going pro was obviously a huge highlight. My career highlight to me, is coming back from a rough first year as a pro. I never stopped believing and this year I went into training like a whole new woman. To run like crap for a year and still love to race and come to practice means I triumphed over a heart break not many people can understand. When I think of my accomplishments, coming back from that means a lot to me.

Talk us through a typical training day

To be honest, there isn’t one. Training changes with each season, each event, race plans etc. Right now I get up at 7:20am, go to the track for 8am practice, do a hurdle workout then eat lunch, come home around 11am, catch a nap (usually i have a difficult time sleeping between session because my adrenalin is still pumping away), then off to practice again  at 12:30 – 4pm then recovery stuff, either massage or ice or pass out on a high jump matt – ha! Then lift sometime in the evening when I feel together enough 2 trek my sad butt back to the gym.

What’s your hardest session of the week?

Actually, this may be strange to some people but we don’t receive our workouts until we have already warmed up. I don’t know my workouts in advance. But usually our roughest workouts are on Mondays and Thursdays. We say those workouts put hair on your chest! We typically have at least three legitimate workouts a week. Sometimes more.

The spirit of Spikes & Heels is about being badass. How do you channel your badass on a daily basis?

I’m a goof at practice, always laughing and joking but when it comes to hitting the times coach tells me to, I don’t play around. I don’t like training with people who mess up my workouts. I can be very intense at practice. After all, I don’t think I’m talented, all of my accomplishments come from hard work and hard work is done at practice. If I don’t feel I worked hard enough, I ask coach for more or I will do another workout with his second session practice. I don’t often say negative or demotivating things. I don’t allow for people that I’m training with to say things like “I can’t” or “it’s too much or too hard.”

What motivates you?

I often wonder myself what brings me to the track and makes me run with the intensity that I so often do. Honestly, I think I have always felt inadequate. My sister was smart and musically talented – she was the pretty one growing up. My older brother was world class in archery and I was the skinny little awkward thing that everyone made fun of. I never did well in school and I grew up a very depressed young girl. I was always trying to just make people laugh to cover up how horribly sad I was. I was diagnosed with depression when I was in tenth grade but the truth is that I had a lot of really devastating things happened to me in my life and I think running was the only thing good I had left.

At one point after the seizures started in high school, doctors tried to tell my parents I should no longer run. So in the middle of the night I’d sneak out of the house and do workouts on cornfield lined streets around my house. I’d see how fast I could run street lamp to street lamp. I lived in the middle of nowhere, street lamps were sometimes miles apart. Eventually my parents figured out what I was doing and afraid I’d have a seizure in the middle of the night on one of my runs, instead of stopping me, they would take turns, get in their car and follow behind me as I ran. Years later, I asked my mom why she didn’t just stop me and she said “Fawn, you were a very unstable child. Running was the only thing keeping you in school, it was the only thing keeping you alive.”

So I guess that’s it. In order to feel like something, in order for life to feel worth living there has always been running. I loved my long runs in the dark where I didn’t have to sit up late at night having boxing matches in my room with my inner demons. Running set me free. Running let me forget and feel something beyond depression. There were many nights I cried myself to sleep. Sometimes I still do, and the only thing i reached out for that comforted me was my dream of something greater, that one day I wouldn’t be so inadequate and worthless. Running saved my life back then in more ways than you could ever imagine. You know that saying “Live to run, run to live.”? That saying has never been so true for an athlete as it is for me.

What are your goals?

My first and most important goal is to first hit Olympic A standard. You have to hit A standard before you can go to the Olympics so I’d like to hurry up and do that and get that out of the way. Then everything else is just leading up to trials and then hopefully, off to London.

With such a hectic training schedule, you must cherish your rest periods. How do you spend your down time?

I don’t have much down time. The only day we don’t practice is Sunday. I love to read and write, but also I love to shop and have fun and go out with my friends. I’m just a regular person hiding behind a big dream.

Any top training tips?

Every time you hear yourself thinking negative thoughts or doubting yourself, say 3 things out loud that are positive. Repeat them until you mean and believe them. The mind is the most powerful tool you have. Never underestimate it. You’re not going to be 100% every day. But you can give 100% of what you’ve got everyday. Effort is always more important than outcome. Don’t focus on the bad part of races. Always take something away from each race and let each race change you, always for the better.


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