Running is 80% mental, and comparison is the thief of joy

And sometimes, I feel 10 feet tall

I’ve been in a bit of a slump lately. I haven’t felt much like posting about my meager runs. I’ve been letting the insecure kid in me sit in the driver’s seat. Thankfully, I took a little time to reflect on what’s been irking me, and it all makes sense now.

It’s grind time. Fall marathon season is on, and whether you’re training for Chicago, Hartford, or Wine and Dine, you’re running right now. A lot. And you know what, it’s not easy — for anyone. We all have our dragons to slay… PRs… my first race … my last race… sources of anxiety for races in the next few weeks abound.

The reward at the top of the hill

A lot of us turn to social media for support and inspriation – but what a double-edged sword that is. Everyone posts their runs and paces, which is great! I finish a long run and I want to shout it from the rooftops. But secretly, I’m looking at their distances and their paces and comparing myself to their performance. My inner critic whispers lots of questions in my ear… Are they worried about the balloon ladies? Are they feeling positive? Are they freaking out? If they’re freaking out, should I be freaking out?

Like many of you, I am registered for Dopey in January. I’ve done it before, but it’s nonetheless daunting. I love running, but my body was clearly not built for it. I’m short, my weight fluctuates from average to plus-sized in fairly regular cycles, and age is starting to be a competitor as well, as I have passed that mid-century mark. I have never been an elite runner. Hell, placing in a race never crossed my mind. To be 100% honest my goal is usually to be able to cross the finish line before it closes. Bonus if I’m not last.

Sunrise at Horsebarn Hill

So Dopey is still a few months away, but my “home” race is coming up in 2 weeks – the Hartford Half Marathon. The last time I did this was just before the pandemic. It was a crappy weather day, I was ill-prepared, overweight, and just barely scraped a finish. I was technically over time by a couple of minutes, but the finish line stays open for a while for full marathon finishers. I finished, got my medal, and should have been happy. But knowing I was a few minutes over the official course limit has been a thorn in my memory. Even a couple of years later.

I didn’t give up. I went on to complete Dopey (maybe not spectacularly) later that season. But I finished the damn thing, BEFORE the time limit expired. And with that, I found the courage to lace up my shoes again. And that’s what makes me a runner. Not my PRs. Not my Instagram photos. Not my public triumphs. It’s the small ones. The ones the world doesn’t see or appreciate. It’s the knowledge that despite all odds, despite my doubts, despite the fact that I will never ever earn anything more than a (beautiful) participation medal, I rise to the challenge. And that participation medal means the world to me.

Mirror Lake

My run last week kind of sucked, but this week I went out and did it again, on a much more challenging route. And my time wasn’t great, but I am proud of every step. There were so many beautiful things to look at that my mind didn’t wander to the dark side much. I hope you enjoy the pics from the beautiful New England morning as much as I enjoyed taking them.

An ode to the turtles

Sometimes I run “with” a tall male friend. I say “with” because he can literally run circles around me. I could no more speed up to stick with him than he could slow down to stick with me. But we work out our scenarios. He’ll run on ahead and then come back to find me, or he’ll walk his giant steps beside me while I trot along.

What I’ve come to realize, is that we slow runners actually have to work much harder than the fast runners. Our strides are shorter, and we’re on the course for much longer. I don’t want to take anything away from the “Corral A” runners – they’re amazing and deserve all the praise they get. But those of us in the back of the pack deserve just as much praise. In the course of a marathon, I might take tens of thousands more steps than the fast runners. And maybe I’m moving for 3 or 4 hours longer than the fast runners. And you know what? That’s totally badass.

When I realize the effort my pace represents, the fact that I finished my long run, as miserable as I was at the time I’m so proud of myself. Sometimes I wonder if an elite runner could actually put up with the extended period of anguish that we turtles endure every time we start our Garmins.

No longer will I be comparing my times to other runners and passing judgment on myself. Insead I celebrate each and every one of us who gets out there and tries. Some runs suck, but they are all victories.

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