Beyond the Stats: Bobby Curtis
Wednesday, 19 October 2011 13:08
Written by David Powell
One Monday night in 2004, when Bobby Curtis was a 19-year-old runner at Villanova University, he was unable to sleep. So he went to bed early the next night, but still no sleep. Or the next night. "Within two or three days I was a wreck with school, my social life, and running," he recalls. He was forced to withdraw from an indoor track meet in New York that weekend as he continued to experience what he describes as "acute, horrible, horrendous insomnia."
It went on for three months, eased off, then overpowered him again. "I went through the wringer as far as seeing doctors and experimenting with different medications," he says. "Then my coach, Marcus O'Sullivan—who's still my coach today—said I should take a break, so I ended up taking off spring semester of my sophomore year."
Curtis tried everything: sleep hygiene, sleep scheduling, even getting drunk. "I don't want anyone to paint me as a desperate alcoholic, but I did that one night—and I was not only hung over the next day but it didn't help me sleep," he says.
From 2005 to 2008, Curtis followed a discipline of sleep hygiene and sleep scheduling. "One important thing in the manual of sleep hygiene is to get out of bed if you can't sleep. With sleep scheduling, you give yourself less time in bed than you require, so you sleep better because fatigue builds up," he explains.
Having returned to running, telling himself not to be upset if he was unable to train intensely, Curtis started setting personal records. In 2007, he ran his first sub 4-minute mile, and in 2008, he won the NCAA 5000 meters.
"My sleep was pretty good at that stage," says Curtis. But in March 2009, a trip to Amman, Jordan, for the IAAF World Cross Country Championships triggered a relapse.
"The sleep scheduling stopped working," he says. "That sent me down the whole same path, where I was seeing sleep specialists. But no new information was available. For a few months in 2009 I wasn't running at all."
Curtis found his own solution: No matter how badly he'd slept the night before, he'd go for a daily run. He also stopped sleep scheduling and lifted his self-imposed ban on evening socializing. "The less I focused on sleep, and the more I focused on the rest of my life, that was when things got better," he says. "I won't say I'm sleeping normally, but for about two years now it's been really good."
This year, Curtis, now 26, set an impressive 10,000-meter PR of 27:24.67 and finished fourth at the USA Track and Field Championships. The ING New York City Marathon will be his debut at the distance, and his goal is to finish "between fifth and 10th place, maybe something better."
Now that he's sleeping, Curtis can dream big.