Last weekend, I ran my first 10k since I was in my mid-twenties. It was so long ago, I can't even remember what age I was the last time I ran a 10k, let alone what my time was.
The conditions for this race were perfect, starting out in the forties and ending an hour later above fifty degrees. I didn't overheat, I felt strong and only the last mile push really was hard (I still haven't mastered the art of saving my energy and running at a good clip at the same time).
I crossed the finish line one minute under my personal goal time for the training plan I followed. Everything was awesome.
Well, it was awesome until that night, when I looked up my results on the race site and realized I'd placed in the back of the middle of my age group and the back of the middle of the entire 753-runner field heavily stacked with older people.
Then I started wondering if I was just a slow runner despite increasing my pace quite a bit while training for this race versus training for my November 2014 half.
I closed the iPad and reminded myself for the millionth time that comparison is the thief of joy.
At this point in my life, I have two things I do with my free time when I'm not zonked: writing and running. I don't have any other interests that leave me more energized after than before.
I have playlists for each. I prioritize time for each. And I don't feel like me anymore unless I do each at least once a week. Yet these two areas of my life are also my green monster's favorite hideaways.
As my psychologist always says, "Feelings are like dirt. They just are." The healthy thing to do is watch them like television. So that's what I try to do when I read someone else's race recap or training log and see their bad days are way, way faster than my best days.
Just like I try to do when another author's book shoots up the Amazon charts or appears in an industry publication. Watch those feelings like they're part of sweeps week. Pass the popcorn, baby.
It can be hard not to compare yourself to other runners. I mean, they do call them "races" for a reason. But running as a lifestyle choice is an ongoing, fluid thing, and it's your fluid thing, not anyone else's. You have fast days and slow days and pain-free days and slogging-run-of-death days.
I, of course, understand this intellectually better than I do emotionally. It's something that I work on. Otherwise, jealousy bleeds out running's joy.
Here is my advice for accepting yourself as a runner, no matter how gazelle-like you are (or aren't).
If you're training for a race, pick a training plan that's appropriate to your fitness levels and goals. I have been using Runkeeper's programs because I use Runkeeper to track my runs and I am lazy. In the past I have used Jeff Galloway's, which are also good. Stick to the plan. Don't question it. Just run, and don't worry about killing it if the plan says to run slow that day.
Pay attention to how the runs feel. Even though my times didn't change much over the past month of training, I noticed I definitely felt stronger and more confident when I was pushing myself than I have ever felt in my life. That's worth something, too.
Acknowledge your age if you're above 30. I recently read the book FOXCATCHER (same Foxcatcher story as the movie) by world champion wrestler Mark Schultz. Schultz talks about how impressive it was for his brother Dave, also a world champion wrestler, to make a comeback at age 33.
I'm 41. Although I definitely see myself as quite capable at this point in my life, I have to remind myself now and then that my body isn't processing everything the same way now as it did when I was 25.
As evidenced by how many older runners kicked my ass in the 10k, you can keep on improving as you age, but hey, I can cut myself some slack when I remember how effortless things were in my twenties.
Note how the weather impacts your outcomes. Sometimes a slow run is a slow run because you had to place your feet carefully in snow or because the humidity level was 97%. I started tracking the temperature in my Runkeeper summaries so I could try to figure out how it affects my running (and stop blaming myself if I dogged it on hot day, like I did several times during my last half-marathon training).
Ask yourself whether running with other people helps you or hurts you and proceed as applicable. Almost everyone I know prefers to do long runs with other people. I have only run consistently with another person once in my life, and I was totally uncomfortable the whole time because my fitness level wasn't as good as hers.
I realized after I started running alone again that I wasn't dreading my runs without that pressure. I don't like being pushed by other people.
I prefer to push myself if I want or relax if I want based on the training goal for that day and, I'll be honest, my mood. I figure it's better to get out there and run slow if I'm feeling off than to not run at all. I don't like keeping up.
Keep telling yourself your only measuring stick is you. This is the hardest one for me. I have trouble being all, "I'm good enough and I'm smart enough and doggone it, people like me." I've always wanted the validation of the world's opinion.
Writing and publishing have helped with this, because there are so many factors outside of my control that affect how my books do. But I'm still no Zen master.
But waiting for other people to tell me "good job" is fruitless. I'm not training for the Olympics, I'm a middle-aged never-athlete who took up running on a whim and figured out it's fun most of the time.
Nobody but me cares if I ever run another half-marathon or if my time when I do is faster or slower than before.
Case in point: My husband looked at me in shock when I complained my second half-marathon time was the same as my first. He spoke slowly: "You just ran 13 miles. What the hell are you talking about?" Right.
Do you run? How do you keep your green-eyed monster at bay?
Rita Arens is the author of the young adult novel THE OBVIOUS GAME & the deputy editor of BlogHer.com.
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