Writing and running in Austin, TX.
A good friend recently started a new job for an athletically-oriented company, wherein she is expected to regularly take part in a number of endurance events. My first impression: This sounds like a dream come true! As someone who consumes a positively unhealthy amount of caffeine to survive 8 hours of work post-4:30am wake up call and 6 miles of speedwork, the idea of having the workout actually count as your job sounds amazing.
But then we started to hear the truth – co-workers who think nothing of dropping you on a 50-mile bike ride, or commenting on what you’re eating.
“So, are you supposed to win all these events?” I asked her.
“Well, no. But I’m supposed to pick a sport to focus on and consistently podium in it.”
Uhhh…thank God this her job, because I would be screwed!
This is just one of many recent events that have left me to ponder the significant leaps between “normal person” and “runner”, “runner” and “real athlete”, “real athlete” and “winner”. I’ve long been the type to tell any person that they can become a “runner”. You just need to lace up your shoes and head out the door. In retrospect, I think I’ve been neglecting the fact that once you head out that door, there’s a gaping chasm to leap.
It is so so so hard to start a new, healthy habit like long-distance running or cycling, that I don’t think you really can ooch into it. You just have to wake up one day and decide to do it – no looking back. (It helps if you spend a large amount of money on equipment, so guilt will carry you when motivation does not.) And I haven’t been exaggerating this part: There are great rewards on the other side of this leap.
In an effort to lower health costs, our company has taken to requiring all employees to complete regular Health Risk Assessments. These are mini-physicals where they check your height, weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar, activity levels, nutrition, etc. etc. As a vegetarian marathon runner, these annual exams are a minor annoyance (what do you mean I have to FAST for 12 hours??). And getting the results is like getting your report card when you’re the smarty-pants in class. Five minutes of positive affirmation to make you feel superior to the “average American”.
In short, because of running, the HRAs are no big deal for me. In fact, they tell me that I’m the paragon of health!
And then I meet my group at Rogue, where on a good day, I still finish the workout dead last. Where I sit on the bench after my 12-mile run and watch the 20-milers come in, looking peppier than I felt at mile 5. Where I look at those women in butt-hugging shorts who appear to be made of solid muscle and try not to think about the fact that I purposely buy my running shorts a size too big so they won’t ride up my inner thighs. The gap between me and these women is clearly just as big as the one between me and your average couch potato. Possibly bigger. How are you supposed to go from doing “everything right” according to modern medicine to, well, whatever they do?
Rogue has made me a slightly faster runner, but it has also made me a more ashamed runner. It’s hard to always finish last, and while I try to give myself brownie points for still showing up to workouts that I know will be demoralizing, I’m still ashamed when people ask me what my goal for my next race is. (Coming off of a bad training season, 112 degree temps, and a slew of illnesses, I’ll be thrilled to finish under 5.)
Sometimes I wish I could go back in time to the day I just decided to start running, just to check on what my mental state was. Could I somehow recapture that to jump from dead last to “back of the middle”? Could I ever be the type of person who could “podium” in ANY sport?
I’m honestly not sure. I waver back and forth between wanting to hang up my shoes and spend my days watching bad reality TV like a “normal” person, and wanting to hop on my bike for a quick 30 miles before my run. (Because maybe the secret to become a “real athlete” is to become one of those people who just works out all the time.)
Anyway, I’m going to try not to do anything crazy this week. After all, at this exact time 7 days from now, I’ll be (hopefully) nearing the end of the Chicago Marathon. But after Chicago, I think it will be time to take stock of what I want from this running thing. Stay where I’m at, so I can drink a bunch of beer, eat pizza and gelato, and still pass my HRA with flying colors? Or clean up my diet, get my butt in the gym, and give those muscle-ladies a run for their money? This might sound crazy to a “normal” person, but I honestly can’t decide which sounds more fun…
Opinions welcome =)
I can empathize with you. I spent my senior year running cross country in college. After we all move beyond the romantic idea that it takes something special to run at the college level, DIII at that, we can settle in to the fact that I routinely finished near the end of every field that I competed against. And, I was running faster miles than I do now. I often remind myself that it is about perspective. I have goals, and that is what keeps me motivated, but in reality it is more about the experience of pushing myself than what happens at the end of the race in my age group or overall field that reminds me why I run. I gain far more satisfaction from giving everything I have in a race than not and doing well; there simply aren't any nagging wonders about what could have been when that is the case.
I heard some wise words this past weekend: "There's always someone faster", and there will always be those super humans out there at some seemingly unattainable level. Be sure to run for yourself. It's fun comparing how you do to others, but at the end of the day it's about how you feel about you, and not how others feel about you or you about others. And if those speedsters still get you down, just make something up in your head about how they probably run 20 hours a week and are terribly boring people. Helps me :)By the way, the runners at Rogue *are* super human, so you're not alone in being in awe of their speediness.See you at the Chicago finish line. I ran Chicago in 2009 and I'm excited to run it again this weekend. Can't wait!
I had an awesome comment and it got deleted. Bottom line, as a slow person myself, there are many benefits:1. Your finisher photo is better – not as many peeps around! It looks as though you have run the race!2. You get more out of the experience and get your money's worth! Calculate that time per mile in terms of cost and you've won!!!3. You get to drive home faster, with less traffice!And my personal fav:4. You get to eat more calories b/c it takes you more time!SO, totally have that beer and pizza, but most of all – HAVE FUN! 🙂