What defines you as a runner? Is it your finish times in races, or placing in your age group? Could it be your mileage totals, or the number of races you’ve completed? Are you a runner who meticulously logs workouts to see if this week’s speed intervals are faster than last week’s?
During a conversation between two runners, you can bet at least one of these topics will come up, because these are the most common ways we use to measure our worth as a runner. When was the last time you opened a conversation with another runner by asking, “Hey, which workout did you enjoy the most last week?” What’s the first question we ask after a friend completes a race? For me it’s usually, “What was your time?” I don’t think I’ve ever asked if it was fun, or if my friend was smiling as she crossed the finish line. Runners seem to live and die by numbers, whether those numbers are on the clock at the finish line, on our Garmins, or in our training logs.
Have you ever wondered what will happen to your self-worth as a runner when the numbers are no longer your friend?
Sooner or later, those PR’s are going to be harder to get. The speed of your intervals is bound to get slower, and your ever-increasing mileage totals will eventually stop increasing; they might even decrease! The number I’ve most often seen associated with running improvements is 10 years. From the time you start running, you supposedly have about 10 years to reel in those PRs. I don’t know that I buy into that exact number, but I do know that at some point what used to come easily isn’t going to be so easy anymore. Is that when we stop running, or is that when we choose different ways to define ourselves?
For me, stopping isn’t an option, and I refuse to feel like a failure at something I love so much. Here are a few suggestions for looking at success through different lenses:
- Rather than a time goal for a race, focus on running a negative split.
- Leave the watch at home and race by feel. Let your pace be the outcome of your effort rather than the goal.
- Social media friends don’t need to know your finish times. In fact, they don’t even need to know you raced unless you want them to. If you keep your times to yourself you won’t feel the need to compare your performance to anyone else’s, or feel like you’re being judged.
- Spend a season doing a lot of races, and choose them based on their fun factor. The more you race, the less you’ll feel like you need to go for a PR every time you toe the starting line.
- On training runs (when you’re not training for a goal race), run for time instead of distance, and let the day dictate the pace.
- For a week, or a month, or longer if you dare, don’t record your mileage. Just run whatever distance feels right for that run.
- Remember that each run is a gift, not a certainty, and find something to be grateful for in every run. Keep a log of thankful things, and never finish a run without making an entry.
In The Little Red Book of Running, Scott Douglas says:
“Relax, it’s just running. Of course it can be the most intoxicating, captivating, meaningful part of your life. But it’s still just running. Nobody’s making you do it, and you’re not going to save the world doing it. So find what you enjoy about running, and then follow your bliss.”
Have you slowed down by the numbers? If so, how have you changed your approach to running and racing?