I ran my first 5K of the season this weekend, and shortly after I passed the first mile marker, I found myself falling victim to one of my old behavior patterns: negative self-talk. Or, in my case, mentally bashing myself.
I started the race strong: I shot out in front of most of the racers, and found myself keeping pace with some of the fastest runners for the first half mile. I finished the first mile at a perfectly respectable time of 8:30.
But, of course, my over-eager start ultimately cost me the rest of the race — by the second mile I was too winded to recover, and ended up crossing the finish line at one of my absolute slowest 5K times ever: 29:30.
Now, I’d really like to blame taking off too fast at the start of the race for my less-than-satisfactory time at the finish line. But as I tried to ignore my shortness of breath and the shooting pain from a side stitch, I was forced to tune in to my mental monologue. And what I heard really wasn’t pretty.
For the first time, I realized just how cruel I am to myself. And just how often I allow my inner critic to sabotage my success.
I’m fully aware that I’ve always been my own worst enemy. A perfectionist by nature, nothing I do is ever quite good enough, and I’ve always tended to shy away from any activity where I couldn’t be the best. So, naturally, when it comes to running — an activity that is so completely out of my comfort zone, and one in which I am nowhere near the top of the pack — I find that I can be especially self-degrading.
Meanwhile, I haven’t been training five times a week like many serious runners (I’ve been too busy with kickboxing, as of late), I definitely don’t have the body of a runner (the friction caused by large thighs doesn’t exactly bode well for your speed), and it’s an activity I’ve been doing seriously for less than a year, so I’m still very much a newbie in comparison to many of the other participants in the local races I’ve completed thus far.
But as I was sluggishly making my way through the second half of the race this weekend, I realized just how brutal my inner thoughts can be. After I realized that I blew my chances of setting a new PR, and that I wasn’t at all prepared to recover the way I could have if I had trained properly, I launched into a mental tirade of insults that I would never, ever say to someone else. Things like:
“See? You are too fat to run.”
“This is what you get for being lazy and not training enough.”
“You have no right to be out here with all the real runners.”
“Running is clearly not your thing.”
“Give it up already.”
Granted, I walked away with the second place medal for my age group (25-29), but it was only because each racer is only entitled to one award, and the first and second place finishers overall happened to be in their late twenties. I actually came in fourth…and don’t think it was lost on me that there were only a handful of runners in my age group participating in the race.
It’s always discouraging to fall short of your own expectations. Believe me, I should know. But I’m genuinely saddened that a matter of seconds tacked onto my finish time can make me feel like such a failure. I couldn’t manage to give myself credit just for participating in the race, or even for taking home a medal. I couldn’t see the situation logically, and realize that this was the first 5K I’ve run since last November, and yeah, maybe I’m a little rusty.
And maybe, just maybe, I let my negative mindset get the best of me this time.
If I’m going to be perfectly honest here, I’ll admit that I’ve thought of quitting running more than once. It’s hard. It doesn’t come naturally to me. There’s lingo to learn, from pronation to fartlek to cadence. There are intense, structured training programs to follow for everything from improving your per-mile time to building the stamina to complete a longer race, like a 10K or half-marathon.
I know I have a long road ahead if I’m going to work on getting faster and improving my performance on race day. There are plenty of other activities that I love, from kickboxing to biking, and I could easily just go back to jogging recreationally from time to time and never register for another 5K again.
I may not be “at goal,” but after nearly five years, I still haven’t quit on my new healthy lifestyle…and I will not give up on running.
There’s part of me that’s still overwhelmed with pride when I cross that finish line…even if my per-mile time isn’t worth celebrating. I often wonder if I’m drawn to running simply because it was never something I was physically capable of doing. There’s still that little second grader somewhere inside me who always came in dead last on the mile in gym class, or that high school kid who used to scoff at the athletes and wonder why anyone would choose to put their body through the discomfort of physical activity when they could be relaxing at home in front of the television.
I may never be the fastest runner. But there’s a part of me who wants to continue running simply because I can. Ever since that first time I hesitantly and awkwardly picked up my pace on the treadmill from a steady walk to a slow jog, running has always symbolized the end of the old me.
I just feel as though my key to becoming a better runner will have less to do with tempo runs and more to do with finally silencing my inner critic. I have got to stop berating and insulting myself. I have to stop tearing myself apart for failing to meet my own impossible demands — I mean, did I really expect to magically have the ability to run an eight-minute mile?
I have to find the strength to accept my best efforts.