On Comparison, Coaching and Unlikely Mother’s Day Gifts

Shannon Rowbury in the Women's 1500m finals of...
I’m not elite like Shannon Rowbury. And…I know I probably never will be.  But if I take my running seriously like she does, what will people think? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Everyone asked me what I got you for Mother’s Day,” my husband said the next morning. He’d been at work when most families were treating mom to a lovely late afternoon lunch. “I guess they thought I had a deficit to make up, leaving a 9 year old in charge of making the Mother’s Day dinner.”

“What did you say?” I asked, hoping he’d made up a story about flowers and jewelry.

“I told them you asked for a running coach. They thought I was joking, like that was as bad as giving you a vacuum or blender. I tried explaining that you wanted to take your running to the next level and be elite, but they didn’t really get it.”

I swallowed the knot in my throat before the embarrassment filled up to my ears. Elite! You told them I wanted to be an elite? No! An elite version of myself, maybe. But I’m not so delusional as to think I have any business calling myself ‘elite’! Now all your colleagues will think I’m ridiculous and weird and full of myself! What if they find out my times and see what a poser I am? They’re all going to mock me for hiring a coach!

Thankfully my husband isn’t a sarcastic jerk; when I expressed my dismay he resisted the urge to reply, “Yeaaah, they’re all gonna think you’re ridiculous and full of yourself….for hiring a coach, not because you just imagined everyone going straight home to look up your times and taking to Twitter to publicly mock you. Hashtag nobodycares.”

I’d been struggling for months with insecurity about my running, feeling silly for taking it so seriously when I wasn’t really all that fast–nowhere close to being a local elite.  I hemmed and hawed about hiring a coach because frankly, I felt ridiculous. I was certain that when people found out, they’d laugh and say, “She has a coach? Oh, isn’t that darling. That washed-up old lady ran a couple of races and now she thinks she’s a real athlete.”

But now I only feel ridiculous about feeling ridiculous.

I’ve always been paralyzingly afraid of failure, a master hedger and sandbagger. Growing up, I was quite adept at avoiding any academics, activities or sports where I might fall short of an A+ or outright success. There was very little I feared more than “putting myself out there,” be it socially, academically or athletically. So keeping with tradition, as I grew to love running and racing, I downplayed how much I cared about reaching my goals and was quick to add self-deprecating caveats whenever the subject came up.

But somewhere around mile 7 of last month’s half marathon, I had a moment of clarity.  It went something along the lines of this: I don’t give a $#*% what anyone thinks anymore. I do this for me and I belong here, suffering mile after mile and calling it fun!  That moment of clarity was followed by many more moments of agony, but that’s what I get for thinking deep thoughts while trying to run my guts out.

So I’m putting myself out there and admitting it. I’m a 40 year old mid-pack runner, and I hired a coach. I want to push myself to be as fast as I can be, and I need some help to get there. Given the choice I’d rather have a real running coach than a real Coach handbag. And when I want to feel young I turn to the track instead of the spa. It’s okay if other people think that’s a little strange. And it’s okay if I’m a mediocre athlete compared to the local line-up, because the only comparison I care about is how far I’ve come and how much farther (and faster) I can go.

My old legs may not have a prayer of ever making it to the podium, but they can still take me places. And with a lot of hard work and a little help from my coach, they might even get me there in record time.

Do you train with the help of a coach? If not, what is preventing you from taking that leap? Have you ever felt embarrassed or silly for taking your running seriously?

This post was originally published on August 26, 2014.

Recovering corporate hamster-wheeler turned Alaskan hausfrau, mother of two and running enthusiast. Kind of a June Cleaver in tempo shorts...minus the makeup and vacuum. Will run to great lengths to get a moment of peace.

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  1. I think it’s great you hired a coach, and I’m sure you’re going to go far, and fast! I’ve thought about getting a coach before, but there isn’t room in our budget for one, and I’m so bad about following plans that I wouldn’t take full advantage of it.

  2. I wish Louisiana was closer to Alaska…we could sit down with coffee/tea and talk all about our past sandbagger-ness! 🙂 That was TOTALLY me growing up, and still is a lot of the time. I was terrified of failure, and I stuck to things that guaranteed a high-ish rate of success. Even now, I rarely put myself out there with running goals…I’m currently doing it with a January marathon, and I’m already feeling nervous that I’ll fail!

    I’ve always wanted a running coach but, for a lot of the same reasons, I’ve never pursued one. I don’t want anyone to think that I’m being silly/overly ambitious with what little running talent I might have. You’re right, though…at the end of the day, we do this for ourselves. Who cares what other people think?? And really, they probably don’t think ANYTHING about it. We’re just really good at projecting our own negative/anxious thoughts onto other people. So, way to go you! And thanks for sharing…I can totally relate.

    1. Me too Aimee! Too bad I’m closer to Russia than I am to Louisiana. 🙂 But seriously, for way too long, fear of failing kept me from trying and pursuing opportunities that I wish I would’ve….and I’m determined to grow out of this crippling tendency even if it takes me until I’m 50! The great thing about setting scary stretchy goals with running is that (a) truly, no one cares or is really paying that much attention, so there aren’t any terrible agonizing embarrassing defeats (as opposed to falling off the beam 4x in one freaking routine and then promptly sinking into the pit of despair). And (b) even when you fail to meet those stretchy difficult goals, there’s still such a rush and feeling of accomplishment from being gutsy and TRYING. Seriously, it’s way more fun than sandbagging!

  3. If your husband told his coworkers you ran 60+ miles a week, were 2nd in your age group, have a coach, and have run a marathon, they would think you were elite. Most non-runners really have no concept, so we might as well trick them into thinking we are better than we really are. 😉 I can’t wait to see what you are capable of!

    1. Haha, good point! And I can’t wait to see what’s possible too….I’m ready to have this hip limitation behind me so I can start training hard!

  4. I work with a coach and it is one of the best running decisions I ever made. I started working with him 2.5 years ago and he totally got me over the plateau I had been stuck on for years. And yes, when I hired him, I felt more than weird about it since I too am far from elite. I also felt guilty for spending money on that when, again, I am not going to be elite. But so what? I love running and I love investing in myself and my favorite sport. He makes me try new things and approach training differently. He puts crazy workouts on my schedule I would never attempt (or follow through with) on my own.

    So, excellent birthday gift choice, Mr. Basil! Can’t wait to see how it this coaching stuff works out for you. 🙂

    1. Thanks! I’m not regretting it at all….I went from feeling like I was floundering to feeling like I have a really solid plan for going forward–one that will challenge me in new ways for sure!

  5. I have a coach too and without her, there would be no way I’d be setting PR after PR and getting on the podium or in the top 5 so consistently. I know our situations and goals are different, but like Mint pointed out, it’s an investment in yourself and the sport you love. Getting faster and stronger and most importantly, more confident, makes running that much more fun!

  6. Most of us will never be elite, but we can still set the bar pretty high and be shocked at how fast we have to move it up again. Figure out what the women faster than you are doing right and what you are doing wrong. You’ll be amazed at how far you can make it in one season with a push in the right direction.

  7. I recently started working with a personal trainer, and I felt the same way… sort of embarrassed to admit it and maybe a little diva-ish. I discovered that most runners totally understood – any many had even worked with a trainer previously. As for non-runners, well, many ask me how far my marathon is, so who cares?! I am excited to hear how it goes with your coach.

  8. Well done! This is, by far, one of the best Salty Running pieces I have read. I think we as women need to hear that there is absolutely nothing wrong with success, happiness and being ourselves. We ( or at least I) buy my husband autographed NFL football jerseys he can hang on the wall because football is one of his hobbies and pastimes. That is what is messed up. Everybody thinks that is a great gift but they scoff at hiring a running coach. I think a running coach is far more useful.

    1. I’m always saying how I cannot believe how much of our country’s resources are poured into watching other people play sports! Seriously! At least we are actually participants in our hobbies 😉

  9. Can we be friends?! I often feel silly and telling myself “who am I kidding?”. I hire a coach to write me training plans (I can’t afford the personal one-on-one coaching – wish I did). The whole age thing bugs me too. I’m 37 and can’t help but think “I’m too old to get better as a runner”. But I love running and I love what it does for me. I know I’ll never be elite either – but I’m sure gonna try and become the best runner I can be – even if it’s a little later in life. I’m a mommy to 3 little girls (2, 5, and 6) – I want them to see that mom has goals and works hard everyday to reach them.
    Great post!

    1. YES! I am so with you on all of this. “I love running and I love what it does for me.” Exactly!
      And I hear you on the budget stuff too–although my current coach is also a running friend, so I get a little more than my money’s worth since she comes out a spends time with me “for free”. 🙂 (A little plug in case you’re interested–she is taking new clients and will coach and write training plans from afar and is super accessible with email and phone….and she only charges $85 a month!)

    2. I am with you too! HOWEVER, age-grading is your friend – to make you feel a little better about being an “older” athlete, check out this book: “Mastering Running”, by Cathy Utzschneider (who happens to be my coach, who I hired and I am a fellow mom-of-three, past my prime, also trying to be the best runner I can be). You never know what’s possible, and kudos to you (and of course to my buddy Basil too) for striving to excel and be a great example for your kids!

    3. I ran most of my PRs at 36 and after another baby and 3 years I still think I have many more big PRs in me. There are so many examples of women runners logging huge lifetime PRs well into their 40s and beyond. Believe it!

  10. I was a very average, on-again-off-again runner when I decided to run my first marathon last June. I hired a coach (Nichole Porath–see Salty Running’s poll for best running blog, March 2014) with the hope of qualifying for Boston (3:40:00) and running Beantown for my 40th birthday next spring. It was wonderful having the expertise of a professional coach during the experience; plus, I had someone to keep pushing me. I ran a 3:15:09, after she had mentioned a week prior that I may be capable of that. Since then, I’ve been PRing in every race I enter, usually winning my age group, and sometimes even taking first place. It’s been worth the $125/month–I never would have been able to do it on my own. Get a coach and see what you can accomplish!!

    1. It’s a small world, Amy! My coach Michelle happens to be one of Nichole’s athletes too (at least she was until she go far enough into her pregnancy that she put her training on hold). That’s AMAZING about your 3:15 marathon. So will you be in Boston 2015? I too set a goal to BQ before 40, and will be (hopefully) be running it this spring. Part of why I hired Michelle was to help me get ready for Boston in hopes that my first marathon as a masters runner will also be my fastest!

        1. Sorry–my comment was confusing. I actually already nabbed the BQ last Jan. But I said “hopefully” because I’m still coming back from some annoying little injuries. Stay in touch and I’ll see you in Boston!!

          1. Ah, I thought I had read a post of yours about your BQ–was it a California race? I’ll be excited to read about your training for Boston since I know that running in Alaska in the winter is pretty similar to running in MN. See you in April!