Lately I've been reading a lot of running-related articles that have really boosted my self-esteem as a runner. As I've mentioned in the past, at one point I was very, very hard on myself, and the result was that I didn't enjoy running as much as I maybe should have.
Over the last couple of years I've come to grips with that kind of stuff, maybe it's getting older, but it's also a realization that if it's not possible to enjoy something, I shouldn't waste my time doing it. You know?
Make no mistake, I want to get better, and given my goals over the next few years, I'm planning on it, but in the here and now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with who I am as a runner. Today I read a great story on Competitor.com called If You Run Slow, Who Cares?. In it, the author, Jeff Gaudette, talks about how it seems like so many people he encounters say the same thing: "I'm a runner...but I'm really slow".
I find it kind of weird -- and maddening, because I do it myself -- that we put in all this work and build something we should be proud of, but then end up tearing it down because we have some sort of fear as to what people think. It's so self-defeating, and it so affects our running, not only in how we view ourselves and our accomplishments but in our performance as well. And, it seems like running is one of the few areas of our lives in which we do it.
It's like when someone asks you what you do for a living...you just tell them, right? When I tell people what I do I don't add something like "...but I'm not very good at it", to the end of the sentence. It sounds silly when you think of it that way, doesn't it? It's just a blanket statement: this is who I am and this is what I do. Running shouldn't be any different.
But yet it is. I was reminded of that recently when I was thinking about maybe finding a coach to work with. You know, someone I could discuss my goals with, tell him or her where I would like to get to mileage-wise and work towards that. I feel like after 15 years I have a lot of knowledge about the sport and how to get better and faster, but coaching myself is definitely a challenge. I do better with structure and accountability -- whether to a coach or other runners -- than I do just arbitrarily trying to plan myself.
Without fail, though, as soon as the word "coach" hit my thought process, the second thought was, "I should probably wait until I'm faster before I get a coach". Crazy, right? But that's how we think as runners, isn't it?
I found it crazy to think that way because I just finished coaching my son Kevin's 8th-grade basketball team. We were a B team that played a mostly A team-type schedule and finished the season 1-19. Yes, you read that correctly. Despite our struggles, we still practiced 3-4 hours a week, I still taught them plays and defenses, and we still prepared for every single game, even games against good A teams that we knew we weren't going to win. I coached my team exactly the same way and with the same expectations that the A team coach did, and his team has won 20 games!
Using the theory above, just because we weren't as good as other teams I should've said to people when they asked about the basketball team, "...we aren't any good". It was quite the opposite, in fact. I told people that we played a tough schedule but we had a few good players and that we often received compliments as to how hard we played and how well we represented our school by the way we conducted ourselves.
I tried focusing on the positives, like the fact that we were sixth in an 11-team league in points allowed, then looking at our record and just tossing us away because of what the numbers said. If we do that with our running, how much better would it be! The fact is, as the story above referenced, no matter how fast you are, someone is probably faster.
If you put a person who runs a 16-minute 5K into a 5,000-meter race with elite runners, that person would be more than three laps down when the winner finished. It's all relative, we should all just learn to be happy with ourselves. In the world of marathoning, my main man Meb Keflezighi is, well, "slow". His PR is almost five minutes slower than the world record, and when he toes the line as the defending champion at the Boston Marathon in April, his best time will be 14th fastest among the men. Yet somehow when the race ends he always is somewhere up front ahead of those guys.
That's because Meb isn't hung up on it, and we shouldn't be either. We need to learn to toss our negativity aside. I'm going to try to do that, from now on I'm just going to tell people, "I'm a runner". If I do find a coach I'm just going to say "I want to accomplish 'X' and I want you to help me get there", instead of, "I don't know if you want to work with me because I'm slow".
You know why, because of course they want to work with us! That's what coaches do! And as a coach myself, I should know that more than anyone! But strangely enough, until an a-ha moment a day or so ago, it had never crossed my mind that way.
In fact, most coaches love working with athletes who are enthusiastic and show a positive attitude, regardless of talent level. I had one boy on my team, Sean, who two years ago could barely dribble and was too weak to even make a layup. This year he became one of the best on-ball defenders in the school, scored in most of our games and in our last tournament was named to the All-Tournament team. Sean just wanted to learn and he did everything I told him, which was why he was a pleasure to coach.
I realized if that's what I look for in a coach, that's probably what someone who would be coaching me is looking for too. They are looking out for my best interests, and they will try to guide me to where I want to go.
The rest is up to me. If I want to get the most out of my running and my experiences, I (well, we all) need to stop with the negative self-talk. I need to focus more on why I run and why it makes me happy, and promise myself there won't be any asterisks, no "yeah, but's", you know, like "yeah, I'm a runner, but I'm the slowest runner in my group".
So repeat after me: "I'm a runner." And stop there! Keep repeating that mantra until after you say the word runner you have a smile on your face, that you feel proud of who you are and what you do, and how hard you have worked to get where you are. If I can do that -- and we can all do that -- there is no telling what I can do!
I'm ready! Are you?