On the 5th Day of Christmas Running Gave to Me: Hu-mil-i-ty!

snow-leadAfter dabbling in my younger years, I immersed myself in competitive running as an adult. But as anyone who has been running for a long time knows, running is like a model for the rest of life. So, while I was 29 years old when I started running, I was a 29 year-old baby runner. When, at 31, I raced my first marathon, there I was smack-dab on the precipice of my running adolescence. And like those teenaged people are wont to do, as a runner I vacillated between self-loathing and cockiness with metronomic precision.

I’m impossibly slow! One day later: I’m going to qualify for the Olympic Trials!

Without knowing how the real running world works, how not all progress is linear, how shit happens, at the point I qualified for Boston in my first marathon, I thought I could achieve anything with running. Shoot! It was a foregone conclusion. Baby, I’m going to be great!!!

And I was … for a while. With each success, my goals became more and more dreamy. That’s fine, but my goals weren’t just goals, you see. They were expectations. Because I, like any good regular teenager, was that awesome. I was destined to succeed!

And with each failure, I wrote a new excuse.

Well, I was stressed out.

Well, I just had a baby.

Well, I just had another one.

Well …

All of these things getting in the way of my destiny, none of them, conveniently, had anything to do with my greatness, you see. All of them were caused by someone else (yes, I know where babies come from, but bear with me). Once I got over this hurdle and that hurdle, you’d see how great I am. I’d prove it to you!

As the excuses/reasons/circumstances mounted, to the point of being insurmountable, there I stood with all my greatness and no way to prove it. I think I threw a year long tantrum about it.

But once I settled down, that’s when this adult-onset runner became an actual adult.

A defining characteristic of immaturity, of childhood or adolescence, is an inflated sense of self-importance, that everyone is fixated on you. Immature runners like I was imagine their peers firing up their laptops every Sunday afternoon scanning race results for the distinct purpose of judging us. I wanted to knock their socks off every time. But it suddenly occurred to me, standing at the foot of that insurmountable pile of excuses, feeling the frustration of seeing all my big dream running goals slip away, that no one worth their salt had those socks on to begin with. Nobody cared.

That sounds harsh, but I realized that they did not care about my running. People who mattered cared about me, who I am, what I do, who I help, or what I create. No one really cares if my 5k PR is 17:59 or 18:15. Or that I never did run a sub-3.

snow2-2

With new found humility, I reassessed running’s purpose in my life. Instead of stubbornly adhering to my training schedule and continuing to aim for all the arbitrarily oppressive deadlines I set for my running goals, I did the simple math that demonstrated how foolish this was. I could focus exclusively on running and maybe log PRs, or I could run when I felt like it, not be in pain, be present in my relationships, and direct my energies into something constructive.

Practically speaking, that was very adult of me. But on a more personal note, this come-to-Jesus moment with running revealed something even more profound: despite my life-long belief to the contrary, I have nothing to prove. I don’t need an OTQ to feel at peace with my messy house or to make up for my lack of professional achievements since leaving the workforce to raise my kids. I don’t need to fit into the club of fast runners or to have some tool box full of impressive accomplishments to fix me. It was time to strive for self-acceptance instead of striving for another achievement to hide behind.

This isn’t to say that pursuing big running dreams is in itself foolish. I don’t think that. I’ll be the first to root for you! GO! But a running achievement is only worth so much, and when the price of the sacrifices that training demands exceeds the value of the achievement itself, that’s when we need to grow up and make the wise investment in ourselves. And for me, as a runner I cared far too much about what others thought of me and, during the rest of my life to that point, I used quantifiable achievements to cope with feeling insignificant or to make meaning out of my life.

It was always and still is important for me to be the best that I can be. But, far more often than I realized, being the best I can be requires that I simply be.

Has running humbled you? Tell me about it! 

Salty Running boss and mother of 3 little ones with PRs of 3:10:15 (26.2), 1:25:59 (13.1) and 18:15 (5k). I love to write about running culture, mental training, and fitting in a serious running habit with the rest of a busy life.

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35 comments

  1. I love this, and could have written it (though my PR’s are a tad/lot bit slower than yours)! I put so much into running certain times, the joy of it completely fell away. There was always an “excuse” at the ready. Why did I feel I needed to provide one? Sure, I still say I could run faster if I gave up beer and sweets, lost weight, and trained harder … but life can be so fleeting – I want to enjoy it, not spend it chasing some arbitrary goals. It doesn’t mean I won’t put my best foot forward on a given day (why even race otherwise?), but my best that day might be slow for me … and that’s ok. Running doesn’t define me, or control my happiness. It’s just something I do because I love it. 🙂

    1. I think I had and so many other runners have so many weird beliefs. We tend to think that running performance corresponds with character or that more sacrifices for running is absolutely better than less. I think we should let go a little and enjoy the ride and if it takes us to huge PRs, great! If not, then that’s ok too. But getting there is most certainly easier said than done!

  2. I love this post. I think I’m finally coming to adulthood. Better late than never, right? I think – and really hope – I’m at the point of letting go of expectation and thinking I will let others down if I don’t PR, or hit a certain time. I know that the people who care about me only care that I’m able to run because I love it, not because of the time I cross the finish line. Why is self acceptance so hard, lol 🙂

    1. I think it kind of stems from when we’re kids and we’re trained that we are responsible for making our parents proud or happy by performing well. So I think we place way too much power into our performance’s and their role in how other people feel about us. Especially something like running – seriously, unless you’re a pro, I promise no one cares and they feel the same about you whether you have a “terrible” race or a “great” one 🙂

  3. While I’ve never really given a shit what anyone thinks of my times. I was humbled this summer with training for Akron and realizing I was just burned out. So I just didn’t run it. I also got so tired of seeing the letters PR in posts from run clubs I belonged to that I deleted myself from the clubs. Every run doesn’t need to be a “PR”. I actually hate racing anymore and just enjoy my runs and I’m taking that attitude with me to this next training cycle.
    Someone I know ran Chicago marathon and when I congratulated her she said she was embarrassed of her time??? She said people were going to think she was not good/fast. I told her who cares what anyone thinks, only she knew how she felt during the race and there was no need to provide a litany of excuses. Which made me happy I run alone and enjoy whatever pace I run.

    1. Yeah, it can be tiresome to see other people struggling with these feelings – like when someone clearly is insecure. I’m sure people felt that way about me … ALL.THE.TIME back when I was in the middle of this stuff. You just want to shake them and say “NO BODY CARES! YOU DO YOU!”

  4. Great writing, Salty! I also struggle with feeling like I have something to prove to others, when really no one cares. I ran a race last weekend purely for fun, with a friend who was returning from a long injury, didn’t pay attention to my place or my time, ran and walked when I wanted to, and it was pure joy. But a little part of me struggled with this because I knew it would affect my race results and I didn’t want anyone to see them! Clearly, something to work on…

    1. I feel you! I still cringe a little at my results now. I won’t lie. It’s an ongoing struggle. But I’m in a much healthier happier place running way more slowly now, so it’s worth it 🙂

  5. I feel like this post is the epitome of Salty Running and perfectly displays the growth of the site, you, and all of us writers. I can totally relate! And by being a part of Salty Running, this has been the greatest lesson of all, so thanks!

    Also, the ending! Be still my heart (and I never say that) – SO MINDFUL, AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!

    1. I feel like over the last 5 (FIVE!) years I’ve spent it trying to put running into the context of a broader life. Wisdom is a process. I can’t help but wonder if I’m exceptionally bad at it and that it takes me a looooooong time to get there or if that’s just how it is. Hmmm.

  6. Sigh. I love reading this blog- it’s my moment of zen in a crazy (but good crazy, usually) day. This post is so helpful to me, as I am in my running toddlerhood, and I am definitely on the very of the adolescence (Don’t you all care that I’m slowing you down? What’s your PR? When did you start?). I hope this will help me get through this stage a lot more gracefully than my real adolescence!
    Thank you.

  7. Love this post and can definitely relate. I think the biggest slice of humble pie I ever got from running was my second marathon. I had run my first earlier in the year, off minimal “training”. I registered for my second on a whim and even less training thinking that I could you know just do it…and expected the big PR and BQ. While I still PR’d I blew up HARD and had a miserable race and walk/ran the last few miles in tears. It was the slap in the face I needed to respect the distance, but more so respect the training and time it takes to go into such things.

    1. Yes, I look back on my “failed” races and admire myself for how well I did. I couldn’t appreciate how hard I worked, how tough I was, etc then but I sure do now!

  8. Running has definitely humbled me hundreds of times. My first race is a good example: I started running to manage weight when I was 13 and didn’t race until 16. I entered a 12k trail race in my local, upper peninsula Michigan town and thought I would win because I felt so fast when I ran the roads and trails around my house. I took off at about 6:00 pace and was with the male leaders for a little bit then started to fade about a mile in. Three miles in, we entered the trail and I was like “You’ll be done soon, pick it up!” You can imagine how badly the next four miles went! It was so bad that I removed my ill-fitting shoes half way through to run barefoot, staggered off the trail a few times and desperately asked two women that passed me “Are we almost done?” My final pace was in the high 8s and I was shell shocked with how far a 12k actually was. Then people offered to take up a collection because they thought I couldn’t afford shoes…nope, just completely clueless!
    You make a good point that no one, at least no decent people, care about your prs. I’m always interested to hear about people’s running journey but can’t even imagine judging them on their performances. The only exception to this is professional runners who I only follow for their athletic achievements, like Galen Rupp or Eulid Kipchoge. Certain professional runners I follow based on other qualities, even ones like Shalane Flanagan. I would never judge her for a bad performance. Sub-elites who have full lives and most likely sacrifice time, money and family time to pursue their passion…definitely not going to judge them by their running!
    To flip the coin slightly, I make sure that I never apologize for the sacrifices in daily life that I make to train. I don’t justify it with running for a charity or for a certain person or helping others with it or even with health (I train too hard for it to be healthy). I train to see just how fast and how far I can go and that is it. It’s calculated risk and could blow up on me but I’m fine with that. Some people who I’ve encountered have judged me based on this but I don’t back down. Blame fierce independence and a razor focus on what I’m obsessed with! Perhaps in a few years I will feel at peace with what I’ve done with running and turn that focus on another project. Hopefully coaching!

    1. I’m a fan! Go for it!

      Yeah, I don’t think you have to justify those sacrifices to anyone but yourself! I got to a place where my body and brain were so broken that it was no longer worth it for me. Maybe it will be worth it again someday, just not now. There’s no one-sized fits all answer and it’s just something that we all have to figure out for ourselves. What’s grown-up/evolved/best for you is different for anyone else.

  9. Amen. Whether you are gearing up for an OTC, running a race for a cause, or attempting a BQ, when running loses its joy and becomes a dread, you need to be grown up enough to reasses. This is so important in the age of social media where everyday you can see medal Monday and Track Tuesday, work out Wednesday and tempo Thursday posts and feel inadequate. I’ll admit I sometimes look at race results and see where I could have placed but that is to inspire and assess. Yes I feel bad when I don’t PR but I don’t let it get me down anymore. I try to figure out why when I felt like I was giving it my all, I didn’t have it all to give. I started later, my life is busier (single working mom / corp exec that travels frequently), and I had to grow up fast as a runner.

    What I do love about running vs other sports where success is measured by wins and losses is that there are so many ways to “win” in running. When you realize that, you have grown up.

    1. Yes! I realized that every meme ever created is not meant for someone like me who is already so driven. I’m over-motivated if there is such a thing and have to remember that!

  10. Praise be! This hits home right now. I’m 7 weeks post partum and feeling quite humble. Most if my runs are four minutes slower than my marathon pace from a year ago. You’re right, though. No one cares but me. Just enjoy the gift of being able to run.

    1. Oof, postpartum running! That first postpartum jog was probably my most humbling running moment as well.

      Love the post, salty!

    2. I’m with you Kathy! I normally “run by feel” anyway, so don’t know my daily training pace, but definitely don’t want to know it when working back post partum. The effort compared to the humbling pace would be quite discouraging if I actually knew what it was!

      1. Speaking of post partum running, and totally off topic of this post – can you get a Saltine to do a post on the importance of the pelvic floor?

  11. In 2015 (Was it that Long Ago!) I ran a marathon on what became a broken tibia. I was the fastest I had been in years. I started out ignoring the signs of the impending injury during the weeks previous. I mean, heck, I was in the best shape of my life! The knee pain was just a little thing. And I was the strongest mentally and had a nutrition plan that worked. And then at mile 24 I couldn’t go on. I mean, not one more step. This was not a wall, this was the freaking Great Wall and the Mongols were throwing fireballs. Angels, in the form of runners, carried me to the finish. I know I didn’t need to finish the race, but I wanted to and these ladies did that for me. Talk about humility. My BQ attempt ended up being a 6 hour race. (I think. I’ve never checked the time.) Like all great running moments, lessons learned transferred to real life. I learned that no matter who we are, we don’t finish this life alone. There is always someone there to carry you, help you, or just cheer you on. We all run with assistance. No matter what we think is happening, actually we are in dire need of this help or we won’t run this race of life well.

    1. Yes! I think it’s important to understand that while we’re hard-charging and focused, those around us are making sacrifices too. And they might full well be justified and ok and awesome, but they are and they must be included in the calculus!

      PS WHOA! OUCH! That is one hell of a story! Glad you’re ok!!!

  12. Wow. This post. Speaks directly to my heart, my soul, my life stage right now. My story has a lot of similarities to yours – recovering lawyer, running to fill a void, this question of what do i have to prove/I have nothing to prove/but I have to prove! For me it has led to a beaten down body that hates running – for the moment (my soul is still a runner) – but a body that is working in fits and frustrating starts to re-balance. I am so thankful for your honesty with your own situation, which helps others feel not alone in similar struggles (and isn’t that what all great writing is for anyway?). Thanks for this post!

    1. I think we must be an archetype: recovering type-A lawyer turned competitive runner! It will get better and will make sense eventually. Hang in there!

  13. I loved this post. I think when I initially began running marathons and half marathons, it was so exciting and new, and I felt like I had so much opportunity for growth. Of course, it’s easy to PR your first few marathons because it takes that long to finally get the hang of it! But when it comes to really getting to those bad-ass PR’s that you deep down want so badly but kind of know you might never obtain… it’s difficult. You need to decide between a life, and well, running. I think the majority of us, who don’t have the mere talent to grab those PR’s, chose a life. But it’s so hard to ‘give up’ those goals–even though we aren’t really giving them up per se. I think running for the sake of running is so cool. It makes us runners for life–those runners that will be running until we need knee replacements. And then we’ll keep running after that 🙂

    1. Yeah, I think running big PRs requires consistent focus and sacrifice for all of us. There might be a little luck involved, particularly if we’re measuring ourselves by the marathon, but anyone who makes a big breakthrough in running gets there the same way. It’s doing it day in and day out and overcoming disappointment and setbacks and getting out there again. Over and over. Some of us have lives that are more conducive to this and, I suspect, if we’re young we can get away with a lot more. But when we throw in big life things like career, relationships, businesses, pregnancies, illness, parenting, etc. that ups the stakes, and for many of us, makes those sacrifices and that focus and that consistency just not worth it. But we can enjoy running without being so type-A about it and we might even run well! That is something that’s so great about it, for sure 🙂