Running can be a viscous sport… not in terms of contact but in terms of mentality and psychological strain. This doesn’t just come from training but also from comparing ourselves to other runners. Too often the stereotype of what a “normal” runner should look like or train like is planted into our heads. The problem with this is that there really is no “perfect” training regime or body type.
First year University was a struggle for me… when I got here I quickly realized that the way I trained was far from conventional and the way I looked wasn’t exactly like other runners on my team.
Differences in Training
I’d see my roommate and other girls on my team going out and running long tempo runs and completing high mileage weeks, yet here I was… not even being able to complete a 3 mile tempo at the pace that they were running for 10 miles. I was running maybe half of the mileage as everyone else and this very quickly got to my head.
I actually had to start doing my runs and workouts solo because running with others was just not possible. In my mind I’d quit before I had even started when running in a group. Running became miserable.
I remember sitting with some of the girls the night before my 15 minute tempo… yes that’s correct only 15 minutes. “Only 15, you can do that in your sleep”, and, “Oh my gosh that’s so easy, that’s not even a workout,” were some of the things being said. Yet to me that workout was a hard one.
I’d sit in my dorm room when I was alone questioning why I was here, why my coach had faith in me when I couldn’t do the workouts everyone else could and most importantly how was I going to do any of this. This was quite upsetting for me which ended up translating into my overall mood and outlook on life during that time.
It was so easy to overlook any progress I was making and even after getting personal bests in races I’d look at the success of others and immediately get down on myself. It was easy to compare myself to others and dismiss my own success. It took me almost all of my first year to be able to conceptualize how my training worked for me, and that was really all that mattered.
Before I was able to recognize the strengths that came from the differences between myself and others, I had to distance myself from my thoughts as well as put all of my faith and trust into my coach. (After all he has been doing this for a long time and he clearly knew what he was talking about.) I trusted that everything I was doing was for a reason, was meant for me and was going to help me become the best runner I could be.
After this I was able to realize that while yes I was doing less mileage, I was doing more speed workouts instead and in reality I was preparing for completely different races than others on my team and different races require different training… Duh
Finding love in your own training and trusting in yourself and your coach builds the base of a strong and successful program. It is so easy to compare your training to others but no two runners are completely the same. Everyone has different training strengths and weaknesses.
Some runners have more natural speed and power and others have natural endurance. Each of these two types of runner will be better at a specific type of training/workout and therefore training will translate into racing differently for everyone.
My own style of training works for me… I was able to achieve multiple personal bests and in the process fell in love with running again.
There is nothing wrong with aspiring to be able to be like someone else but never let it turn into a comparison game with yourself.
Stay positive with yourself and create goals which are realistically achievable. There is nothing more discouraging than making a goal which is unrealistic. Be honest with yourself.
Seek progress and not perfection… remember to always reward yourself. It is quite easy to achieve one goal and instantly make another before you have time to realize what you have already accomplished thus far.
Finally, there is nothing wrong with taking pride in your own training and progress! Let yourself know and heck let others know as well when you’re proud of a run you’ve done or when you’ve hit a personal goal! Let yourself be happy and DO NOT compare your own successes to others.
“Never underestimate the power that one good workout can have on your mind. Keeping the dream alive is half the battle.”– Kara Goucher
Differences in Body Type
As many people already know, body image and eating disorders are both things which are very prevalent in distance running specifically. Whether it stems from our perception of what a “distance runner” should look like, what others around us look like or even the uniforms we wear, many runners have these thoughts of self-doubt in the back of their heads. I know I did… and still do from time to time.
Distance running is a sport which makes it hard to accept our bodies, especially when there are such strong stigmas around how being smaller will help you run quicker.
Body image is something I still struggle with today, it is something that on some days rules my life… dictates what I eat, drink and even wear. It’s hard to see other runners around me with that body type, the one which I think to myself, “if I only had… how much faster could I run?”
Every person is different and we can’t compare ourselves to those around us because at the end of the day, our differences are what makes us who we are. Our differences allow us to be the runners we are and excel in our own ways.
Through this process though, I had some very eye opening moments and learned to love myself for the way I was.
In the past, I followed through with these thoughts, I stopped eating and started to drop weight and size. For a while yes, this dropped time off my race times… but your body can only sustain this lifestyle for a short period before it starts to break and ultimately shut down. In my case this resulted in an extended amount of time with a stress fracture which took me out of the sport I love so much.
Poor nutrition can harm your performance, energy levels, muscle composition (because believe it or not, your body will actually take from your muscles before it takes from fat storage) and even mood. Yes it effects you psychologically as well as physiologically.
While in the beginning it can seem like a good idea, it really just harms you in the long run and isn’t a lifestyle that any athlete can sustain. We need fuel to power us through workouts and help us recover and rebuild.
Just like you can’t take someone else’s picture and apply it to yourself, you can’t take someone else’s diet and apply it to yourself either. Everyone has different caloric and nutrient needs and paying attention to your own body is very important because it will let you know what it needs.
I’m not saying go and eat whatever you might be craving in the moment, but rather pay attention to your physical activity levels and coordinate food consumption to maximize recovery and making sure your body gets what it needs. This will differ from day to day depending what you’re doing as well.
We can be so quick to dismiss our wins and achievements all based on those of others. We can also be so quick to critique ourselves but are slow to recognize ourselves, if at all. This is an obvious problem.
Being a distance runner means that we will obviously be directly compared to others in our performance… it’s exactly what the sport is. However, just because someone may be faster than you that doesn’t mea their body type is better for you.
We all have unique body types that allow us to excel in different ways and just like in training, the same goes for racing. In my case, I don’t have the typical thin legs that some runners may have BUT that extra muscle gives me the power I need to perform like I do. Embrace your differences because at the end of the day, they make you who you are and no one else but yourself has gotten you to where you are today.
“Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakens.” – Carl Gustav Jung