I recently spent a week in the company of 12 fabulous runners on a retreat in the south of France. After our sunny days of running, relaxing and exploring, each evening we gathered for a coaching chat before dinner. The conversation one particular evening has stayed with me since our return. It all started when I asked each member of the group if they would consider themselves to be a “good” runner.
What is a good runner?
Before I tell you what they had to offer, let me ask you that very question – are you a “good” runner? Notice your initial reaction to that question. Could you answer instantly or did you struggle to measure your running success? Who comes to mind when you picture a good runner. How often do they run? How fast and how far? What do they look like? What expression is on their face? Is it someone you know, someone you aspire to be or could it even be yourself.
Defining running success
How you define a good runner is very personal but much of how we measure success comes down to the company we keep and our running experience to date. If you run with others, it is difficult not to compare with their achievements and pace, especially if you run in an environment that is competitive. If you are the strongest and fastest within your running circle, you might often be seen as the best runner.
But one could also argue that person at the back of that group is just as good a runner for working hard to keep up and always be the one chasing. We can indeed use the clock as a way to measure running success, but it doesn’t have to be the only way.
Different paths to success
Remember back to when you first started running. If you started as a child at an athletics club, you will have a very different relationship with running than an adult who nervously commenced a couch to 5km plan. If you were not sporty growing up, you may struggle to identify as a good runner even with many great running milestones now behind you. You may have heard of imposter syndrome from a work perspective where we feel like a fraud even though we are perfectly capable. I know many runners carry this burden – they don’t have a sporting history and then find it difficult to identify as a good runner.
Another way to measure
Let me take you back to France and our conversation over aperitifs. Some of the group struggled to identify as a “good” runner when asked to say it out loud. This is a group of people who have chosen to spend their time and money on a running holiday. They are healthy runners who have family and friends that are in awe of their dedication and consistency.
They have full-time jobs, family responsibilities and are busy, successful people in their lives outside of running. They have inspired friends and family to take up running, they volunteer at parkruns and events, they motivate each other and they all have achieved goals they once thought impossible. Yet still, some have their doubts that they fit the title of a good runner.
But why does it matter?
Our opinion of ourselves can determine our future. If we measure our value or running success purely by one attribute such as speed or distance travelled, we risk getting disillusioned as the goals gets harder to achieve as we age. When we lose confidence in our running, we can also lose motivation. Once motivation dwindles, consistency can be harder to maintain and with this fitness declines.
Those who have suffered running setbacks or injuries know how difficult it can be to rebuild self-belief and reignite the passion. But if we believe we can do it, and know deep down we are a good runner, we are more likely to move onwards to the next challenge with determination and enthusiasm. If you see running in your future, believing you can do it will be a huge asset down the line and will make you open to more opportunities and challenges.
A pat on the back
Two runners can finish a race with exactly the same time on the clock but have a completely different reaction to that result. One can be overjoyed, another can be disappointed. Behind each race time there is a story, a life outside of running that influences our performance and our perspective.
We all have different goals and different paths to follow. We can spend our days comparing ourselves to others or recognising when our achievements are worthy of a pat on the back. Striving forward is great and having others to push us along is wonderful, but there is also time for acknowledging the effort we have put in and obstacles we have overcome to get where we are now.
Fake it til you make it
If you keep telling yourself that you are not a good runner, you risk believing it and limiting your potential going forward. Notice why and when you dismiss your running achievements and the efforts you have made to get out the door on days when you could have stayed indoors. Do you feel this way because you are always comparing yourself with other runners you know (or even runners you don’t know)? To close off, let me ask you one final question. If one of your “non-running” friends was asked if you are a good runner, what do you think they would say? Sometimes our friends know us better than we know ourselves.
Sign up for one of The Irish Times' Get Running programmes (it is free!). First, pick the eight-week programme that suits you. - Beginner Course: A course to take you from inactivity to running for 30 minutes. - Stay On Track: For those who can squeeze in a run a few times a week. - 10km Course: Designed for those who want to move up to the 10km mark. Best of luck!
– Mary Jennings is founder and running coach with ForgetTheGym.ie. Her summer running programmes in Dublin and online are now open for booking.