As a runner, I’ve always equated success with running further, working harder, and doing more. Recently, I’ve learned it can be really difficult to recognize when your definition of success needs to change.
I blame social media among other things. Perhaps this is ironic because I am equally guilty to contributing to this issue as everyone else, but it is undoubtedly a factor. The life of a professional athlete is filled with many moments of peace and quiet, but our brains do not stop running between sessions. Following a morning of workouts there is ample time to lay on the couch with the legs up to recover and unwind. And this is when the phone comes out and we flip through our feeds to see what is keeping our peers occupied during their own busy lives. Rather than marinating in the success and exhaustion of my 18-mile long run, I see a friend, who doubles as my competitor, share his run—he went 20. The pride in my own accomplishment wanes and the doubt creeps in. I could have gone further.
It is embedded into our DNA as distance runners to keep pushing until we find our limits, and then push some more. It is impressive to hear the tales of how fast and how long someone runs in practice. We place those individuals on a pedestal for doing what others were unwilling or unable to. Since being an overly eager high schooler sifting through the training logs of anyone quicker, I was obsessed with learning what it took to be the best. It broadened my horizon as to what was possible day in and day out. And weekly mileage has been the ultimate barometer by which runners measure training. But what if a single number isn’t the best way to measure hard work?
My body can’t handle what I want it to. After years of trying, I am finally beginning to accept this. I wish that I could run the high miles that I have been forcing for years. The issue is that part of me can handle it. There’s a rush of dopamine that hits my system when I see that big total at the end of the week. At the most basic level, I enjoy trudging along on the trails and so I want to spend more time doing what I am most passionate about. But I get addicted to the process rather than the results, and it’s a struggle to listen to my legs when they say they need to rest. While there have been injuries, there have also been countless times in which I step on the line with nerves and no confidence. My poise only stemmed logically from of a pretty journal. To me, it was an equation, ‘Work Hard = Race Fast.’ Except one of the main variables was flawed.
It is easy to run more. It is not easy to slow down when feeling tired. That’s hard work. To trust in your talent when training has not been perfect, that’s tough. To accept that your body needs to replace miles run with miles biked, that’s grit. Redefining my concept of what it means to work hard is a process. Rather than deliberating if I am doing enough, the question must become, ‘Am I doing what’s right?’ And the first step to achieving that goal is to stop listening to all the noise.
My phone isn’t being thrown into the river, but I am starting to put it down. I am taking less of an investment in what others have chosen to show. Context is everything. One workout does not define my fitness and I should not let it define others. This year my goal is to focus on myself. If I trust my talent and work hard, then I don’t need the miles to tell me how good I am. I’ll let the races do that.
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