Below you will find an essay written by junior Joe Miscimarra. Joe’s title for this piece is “Running with Guts” but my unofficial title for it is “Sisu Revisited” as he delves into a concept I once wrote about on this blog. Joe has been an incredibly valuable member of the team, seeing huge time drops from when he joined us as a freshman, having a work ethic second to none, and, perhaps no less important, being the league commissioner for the team’s leaf-catching contest! What follows is his inspiring essay, which I will be reading to team members at our pre-conference meeting this afternoon, but would also like to share with a wider audience:
This past summer, my family and I made the journey north to the “U.P.” or the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where we stay in a log cabin that my grandpa built. The U.P. has the largest percentage of people with Finnish ancestry in the entire country, and it is common to see Finnish flags hanging on porches when driving through towns.
Although my grandpa didn’t have any Finnish blood in him, both my grandma and his friends did, so he conformed to the culture of the Upper Peninsula by naming the cabin “Rauha Maja” which, translated into English, means “peaceful cabin.” Additionally, despite an absence of plumbing and electricity, he felt compelled to build a Sauna right behind the single-room cabin, a necessity for any true Finn.
At Rauha Maja, before a day of preparing food on the campfire, doing yard work, and throwing rocks into Lake Superior, I kept my summer training up by running on the peaceful roads that lead to the cabin. The dirt path was lined with seemingly endless trees, similar to the trails at Waterfall Glen. Like any run, it was difficult just to focus on the workout itself, and with the tranquil setting and lack of cars contributing to the monotonous serenity, my mind wandered to other things. My thoughts revolved around an idea that was familiar to the cultural background of the region. This idea, wrapped up in a single word, is of Finnish origin, and helped me get through my 12 mile long runs and tempo miles. It is called Sisu.
Sisu (pronounced see-soo) is a word that has no direct English translation. I first learned about it a few months prior, and summed up, it is the Finnish spirit of constant bravery, resilience, and strength, and it completely applies to distance running. It contains all of the traits that athletes aspire to harness, including discipline, strength over a long period of time, and the ability to push beyond what you think is possible. Although the word itself does not have an English correlative, the closest translation is “having guts.”
This isn’t just a word that comes from Finland– their country lives, breathes, and exists because of Sisu. In World War II, the Finnish army defended their country against the Soviet Union in a three-month-long battle called the Winter War. The Soviets outnumbered the Finns 3-to-1 and possessed 6,000 armored tanks, overpowering the mere 32 Finnish tanks. However, using guerilla raids on the Soviet line at night, the Finns managed to repel the invasion by the end of the winter. In fact, the Soviets suffered more than four times the losses than Finland did. The Finnish army fought through -40º Fahrenheit temperatures in 18-hours of darkness a day, and attributed their victory to Sisu.
Although this might be the first time you have heard of Sisu, I am not the first one to apply it to distance running. In the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Finnish runner Lasse Viren tripped and fell halfway through the championship 10k race, separating him from the front pack by 20 meters. However, Viren got up, returned to the front pack, and ran his way to both a gold medal and a world record. In an interview with Running Times, Viren described his interpretation of Sisu as “don’t give up.”
Personally, I’ve always struggled with finishing hard during races and workouts. When I was a freshman, I heard a motivational piece of advice for 3 mile cross country races: “The first mile is adrenaline. The second mile is training. The third mile is guts.” Even though I’ve learned through experience that this isn’t entirely accurate, I believe that in the end, the race will be decided by guts. Finding that drive has been my biggest area of improvement, and I’m sure that there are others on the team in the same situation. So, as we are all ending our seasons, I implore all of my teammates to run their final races with guts. I entreat everyone to be willing to endure more pain than the guy next to them, because that guy is in pain too. I challenge you to “Finnish” the race with Sisu.