February 2, 2011

I Feel Like A Running Fraud

This past weekend I visited my friend Krista up in Portland. It was an amazing, relaxing weekend. We went to the famous bookstore, Powell's, shopped in cute boutiques in funky neighborhoods, and even had a foot soak/reflexology session. I returned home happy and recharged.

One of the most fun things we did was go to a local running store, Foot Traffic. Krista recently expressed desire to run her first 5K, and I could think of no better way to help my friend than to get her fitted for good quality running shoes. I was determined not to leave Oregon without getting her set up. After all, I love running and participating in races, and am thrilled she wants to try it too!

When we walked into the running store, one of the workers immediately started to work with Krista, having her run on the treadmill to examine her stride, etc. The other worker started to chat with me. She asked me, "Are you a runner?" I immediately replied yes, started talking about the half marathon I had just run a week before, and began browsing the shop.

Secretly, I was waiting for the alarms to go off. I was expecting a voice to come over the loudspeaker saying, "This girl is not a runner. She is an imposter."

You see, I don't FEEL like a runner. I don't FEEL like an athlete. And I sure don't feel like a triathlete. I've written before how fitness hasn't always been a big part of my life. I was always the last-picked for teams in P.E. And I'm slow---good lord, I'm slow. I am one of the Penguins John Bingham talks about, plodding along in the back-of-the-pack while the Gazelles speed on ahead.

I know that my feelings are inaccurate. Here are the facts:

1) I run 3 times a week. I do two short runs during the week, and a long run on the weekends.

2) The other 4 days a week that I am NOT running I am either biking or swimming.

3) I frequent my gym roughly 4 times a week, not just to use their pool but for weight training.

4) I have spent enough on gear (shoes, Garmin, wetsuit, bike, fuel belts, iPod, RoadID, etc) and race entry fees to pay a mortgage payment. Or two.

5) I think about working out all the time. When I find someone who also likes to talk about it (in real life, on Twitter, or dailymile) I get super-excited.

6) Nothing stops me from getting my workout in, except being seriously sick or literally not being able to schedule it (like if J is away on a business trip and there are no childcare options). I've run in the rain, the heat, and the cold. I've swam in the cold rain. If the weather isn't ideal, I'll take my workout indoors at the gym (the treadmill, a spin cycle, etc)

7) I squeal when my new copy of Runner's World comes in the mail. Literally. Ask my kids.

8) This year alone I intend on completing 4-5 half marathons and 3-4 triathlons. In 2010 I did 2 half marathons and 2 triathlons (which was a new sport for me).

9) The night before a long run or ride (on weekends) I try to go to bed early. I've missed out on some fun events because of it, but I need my sleep and don't want to sacrifice my workout.

10) Some of my favorite books and blogs to read are running related. I like to read about everyone from my hero, Dean Karnazes, to the runner next door. It all motivates and inspires me.

11) For my birthday next month, all I want is new workout clothes.

Given all the above evidence, I KNOW I'm an athlete. Then why can't I feel it? Why can't I accept the identity, rather than just the action (for example, thinking "I am a runner" vs. "I am someone who runs")?

I need to stop comparing myself to those who are faster than me and accept that it's ok to be slow. I've never come in last (even though I once came in 3rd to last place) and even if I do, it doesn't matter. What matters is not giving up and crossing the finish line.

I need to stop comparing myself to those who do longer races (full marathons, longer triathlons, ultra-races, etc) and realize that everyone has their distance; for me, a full marathon is too long (been there, done that, and never want to again) and a 5K or 10K is too short. A half marathon is the perfect race length for me to train for and really push myself.

I need to embrace the athlete that I've become, and know that what I'm doing now is more than I've ever done in my life. At age 40 (almost 41) I've never looked--or felt--better. I am setting myself up to be healthy well into old age. I love to exercise, and feel "off" all day on the rare days that I don't get a workout in.

Yes, I'm a runner. I'm also a biker and swimmer.

I'm an athlete, regardless of what I think.


  1. Great read and very relatable - Thank you! I also feel like an imposter. I only just recently found my athletic groove. It took long enough!
    You are a runner though and I would be happy to put this on a billboard for all the world to see! ;)

  2. You know I think you're a kick butt athlete! I told everyone that my friend SM, the TRIATHELETE, was coming to visit me! I totally think of you as a runner, athlete, all around amazing woman. You're inspiring in so many ways and I feel blessed to be your friend!

  3. I took me about a year to stop calling myself a cyclist and call myself a runner. I can now call myself a runner without hesitating, but I still have that nagging feeling of not being a real runner because I run so slow. I'm more of a jogger, I guess. Perhaps when I get a more acceptable marathon time I will graduate from jogger to runner.

  4. I would only run if someone were chasing me, and even THEN I'd probably just say, "Fine. Take me." Or "Eat me." if it were a wild animal. Or a tame one.

    You are indeed a runner.

    I hate to get off topic, but have you seen "Portlandia" on IFC? It is a loving tribute to all things Portland.

    Keep up the good work, SM!

  5. This is a great post SM! I also have trouble calling myself an athlete - yet I do more than I ever have before. My struggle is like yours - I'm not fast, I wasn't an athlete in school - yet I've finished 8 half marathons, 1 full marathon, 2 triathlons and countless 5k/10k/15k races. I train 5-6 days every week. Yet I still don't consider myself an athlete - and whenever someone calls me one I look at them like they're crazy!

    Only recently have I been able to recognize the progress I've made - at 32 I'm healthier than I ever have been and plan to continue on this path as long as I can.

    We ARE athletes - don't let yourself think otherwise!

    (By the way, I finished dead last in one of the 1/2 marathons I did...and I was just as proud to cross the finish line as the others!)

    ...and sorry for the uber long comment!

  6. 1. I'm right with you ... I have trouble calling myself an athlete. I just feel like a guy who runs. When I think of athletes, I think of the agility folks who play basketball. I don't worry about any kind of label I may or may not have earned, though. I just focus on doing my thing and doing it as well as I can.

    2. DON'T compare yourself to others. No matter who you are, there is always somebody who has gone farther, done more, finished faster, whatever. That used to bug me, but I got over it and running has been a lot more fun since then.

    3. Portland, Foot Traffic ... I highly recommend the half marathon (I did the full, but you'd like the half) they do on Suavie Island on July 4. Great event, very nice/scenic course (and flat!).

  7. Aww!! You put down a pretty big list of reasons why you're a runner/athlete. And it's an impressive list! Wear your running identity proudly!

  8. HI! I just ran into you in #RunChat and you echo my words. I am learning to swim, for real, not just to keep myself alive so that I can do tri's this year. I did a half last year and I finished, but I don't go announcing my time. I feel like a fraud. I do 3mi on the treadmill during the week (because that is how long I'll let the kids watch tv or play computer w/o me around) and go long on weekends.

    We are on different coasts, but it sounds like we are one in the same.

    Keep going! We are runners. ~karey


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