One of the heroes of the Runners World forums is Plodding Hippo. She is always there, consistently supportive and has a great dedication to her sport. But however generous she may be in her attitude to others she is unrelentingly harsh on herself. Always she describes herself as a crap runner because she is slow. That no one else agrees with her doesn’t seem to make any difference as she consistently downplays her achievements.
It takes tremendous dedication, determination and courage to run multiple marathons and ultra marathons and someone who can do that is an impressive runner, whatever the speed. But she will not recognise this and seems to think that what she does isn’t good enough. I would not like to speculate on the reasons for this; I don’t know her and can have no knowledge of her essential truth. However it has made me think about the internal models we all have and how they provide the criteria we use to judge our own performance.
The trouble is that mostly these models hide in the shadows, bound up with feelings self worth, our place in the world, and desires of what we would like to be. It is difficult to take them out, examine them dispassionately, see whether they accorded to objective reality and then alter them. Always there is a little voice saying ‘I should be better than that’. But with running there is no ‘should be’ there is only ‘you are’. You go out and you know how far or how fast or for how long you have run (sometimes all three + your heart rate, if you are really serious). That is it; that’s what you can do. You can get better, you may get better, but that is what you are at the moment.
It is one of the things I have always had to learn to accept. In running my particular moment of reconciliation came after my first (and so far only) marathon. I wanted to do under 4 hours, felt I should have been able to do under 4 hours and for 21 miles was well on schedule for that time. Unfortunately my quadriceps then decided that they no longer wished to participate in this madcap adventure and I could barely lift my knees. I finished in 4:09. Instead of taking pride from finishing in a reasonable time my feelings of satisfaction were mixed with a certain bitterness that I had failed to meet my target and I kept on asking myself why. The answer was blindingly simple: for the amount of training I had done, that was the shape I was in and those 9 minutes did not matter. The difficulty was accepting it.
I only managed to do that when I asked myself: who was I trying to impress? Why would I feel better saying I did less than 4 hours? There was no good answer. I am not running to impress anyone and nobody I talk to is bothered by the exact time. So I then had to ask why being a sub-4 marathon runner was part of my internal model? Again there was no good answer as I have not taken up running to run specific times. Targets are good for organising training and pacing – they do not define my running or me.
The model has now been edited and is back to what it was before Abingdon, when I ran races to reveal the shape I was in at the time. That is all they did then and all they will do in the future.
Reason No. 8 for running: It does not show you where you should be, it shows you where you are.