Millie Paladino gets her World Champs qualifying mark! photo by Michael Scott, copyright 2022
I will let you in on a secret. RunBlogRun is one of your favorite sites for many reasons. One of the biggest is because we take chances, as we have since 2007, with new or emerging writers. Caitlin Chock is a fine example. Caitlin has written for us for nearly a decade. Her thoughtfulness and her attention to detail are due to her life experiences as an elite athlete. Caitlin gets it, and because of that, she communicates her appreciation of the athlete and their development with you, our readers.
This is a powerful piece. Millie is competing at the US Champs in Spokane this weekend. We will be there.
Millie Paladino – Learning to Listen to Herself
By: Cait Chock
For Millie Paladino, crossing the finish line of the Boston University David Hemery Valentine Invitational 5k in 15:02.63 was more than a win, more than a PR, and more than a World Standard. It was a statement to the power of listening to yourself. Something that, for Paladino, even just six months ago was a challenge, yet today was the true victory.
Like most driven, dedicated, and stubbornly mentally tough elite athletes, Paladino spent the 2021 outdoor track season chasing her goals, while simultaneously trying to ignore the injury that just wouldn’t go away.
She knew she was fit, knew she was ready to pop PR’s, but her body was screaming at her and finally, her coach, Mark Coogan, intervened. “Mark and I really wanted to do it the right way – i.e. end the season early and take the time I needed to get healthy,” reflects Paladino.
Just another reason why having the outside perspective of a coach is critical, and his confidence in the call, knowing it would see her coming back stronger in the long run, finally instilled in Paladino the confidence to at last listen to her body. “I could feel confident in that decision because Mark was,” explains Paladino, “Ultimately listening to my body then, helped me be confident in the future to trust what my body was telling me.”
Millie Paladino, 2022 Boston University Valentines Weekend meeting, photo by Johnny Zhang / @jzsnapz
Isn’t confidence a funny thing? Confidence isn’t the roaring showmanship when you toe the line, it’s the ability to trust in yourself enough to make the hard calls and know patience wins out in the end.
That patience and confidence shined through and is perhaps even more meaningful than the 5k PR. Simply because, now with confidence, Paladino will soon be lowering that PR even further.
In learning to listen to the nuances of her body, learning when to push, and when to ease back, Paladino has also redefined the term ‘discipline.’ Paladino was shocked when she received a low score for discipline in a USATF personality assessment; in her mind, discipline was something she had in abundance, she would do anything in training no matter how unappealing or difficult it seemed.
Only after discussing the score with the sports psychologist issuing the study did she finally understand, “She was like, ‘Well if your foot was hurting in a workout, would you have the discipline to stop running?’ To which I answered, ‘No.’ It shed light on what it meant to have the discipline to do the right thing for yourself. Listening to my body now really means trusting myself and my ability to know what’s the best for me.”
The mind of the elite athlete is a bit like the möbius strip, the very qualities that allow them to excel, when taken too far, double helix and can leave one on the dark underbelly side, where your mind turns into your own enemy.
Only with age and wisdom, and often a few lessons learned the hard way, are the true best of the best able to navigate and keep their assets working for them. Paladino has demonstrated the keen ability to do just that.
A shift in mindset isn’t the only new addition to her training. A major part of her healing the injury cycle that forced her to end her 2021 outdoor season was addressing her imbalances. For the first time, Millie stepped into the gym, overcoming her own fear, “The gym always intimidated me, I never wanted to get hurt. But working with a strength coach who approached it from a supplemental standpoint to my running made all the difference.”
In overcoming that fear she only further instilled in herself this new version of confidence. Her newfound strength physically and mentally is already shining through, and the season has only just begun. With confidence, nothing can stand in Paladino’s way.
Through all of her growth, Paladino is quick to point out just how much of a difference her coach and her team’s dynamic has made that possible. “The other aspect of what makes such a huge difference is having the right people around you. I feel so lucky every day to have the support that I do- just people that are invested in me and believe in me.”
Her team of fellow kickass female Fatales not only elevate their fitness but keep even the grueling interval sessions fun, and something Paladino looks forward to. “They really are my best friends and family. I think we all value each other and are invested in each others’ success and happiness as people, even outside of running. I think that is honestly at the heart of why we work so well together.”
The quiet suffering of the distance runner is uniquely special in its ability to bond teammates and cement friendships, often without even having to share a word. Further, the light chit-chat and inside jokes eliciting smiles on the recovery jog between intervals is what makes our sport something truly magical. These friendships have an understanding that no one outside of the bubble could ever ‘get.’
And thus, with her team and coach at her side, and a new level of confidence in herself, Paladino is on track to smash all her PRs, and even tackle new events, “I’m running a 10k soon, which I’ve never done.” Having had breakthroughs in every sense of the term, she’s excited to compete at USA Indoor Championships with a renewed outlook, “I just want to compete. Stick my nose in it, and trust that I’m as good as anyone else out there.”
Therein rests trust, confidence, and the wisdom to know that she still has many years ahead of her in the sport she loves. Paladino simply loves to run and understands the process is to be savored just as much as the PRs, “I want to enjoy, and be present, in the process along the way.”
Paladino crossing the finish line at the BU indoor track was quite simply much more than a 5k PR, she was introducing the world to the new, much more confident version of herself. And this updated version, well, people better get used to seeing Paladino breaking that finish line tape.
Cait Chock previously ran for Nike and set the then National High School record for 5k (15:52.88). Today she is just as addicted to running as it keeps her sane(r), and she chronicles that on her YouTube Channel. You can also follow her on Twitter and Instagram @caitchock.