When I was a kid I went on a fairground ride with my sister. I can’t remember how old I was, maybe 12 or maybe younger. The ride was called The Zipper and from the ground it looked like a lot of fun. There were these buckets spinning around this long oval wheel which was also spinning and the whole thing didn’t look too bad. I was tall enough to ride it and my sister was older than me so into a bucket we hopped.
It wasn’t fun; it was terrifying. I was terrified. We were being spun around and around and up and down at the same time and it wasn’t stopping, it just wasn’t stopping. The bucket spun around without warning and without any rhyme or reason. It flipped every which way while spinning around and around. The sky and the ground rushing towards and away from me, the screams of other people on the ride. It was terrifying. It seemed to go on forever. I screamed and screamed for the ride to stop but of course the only person who heard me was my sister and she couldn’t do anything about it. I don’t remember getting off the ride but apparently I was crying and I yelled at the ride operator because he didn’t stop the ride. I was so scared and upset at being so scared.
What scared me the most was the complete and utter lack of control I had. Fair rides were never the same for me after that!
I’m sharing this story because it’s the only way I can describe what happens to my thoughts sometimes. It’s like my brain hops on a certain thought bucket and then this thought just spins around and around in my mind, always spinning, this way and that with no control. Sometimes I can take hold of these thoughts and stop the ride, other times I just can’t. Sometimes the thoughts are benign, sometimes it’s an idea or a question or a plan. Other times, it’s a dark, nasty and negative thought; usually about myself.
What does this have to do with running? Today; everything.
Today I was out for a 16 mile run and today my brain took hold of a thought and ruined everything.
I spent the majority of the 16 miles feeling like a complete and utter fraud of a runner. Not because I was running badly; physically I felt fine for the run. My legs felt good, I was hydrated and fuelled, my breathing was fine and my form good.
I just felt so intimidated by all the faster, fitter runners out this morning. And there were a LOT of them. Every time someone passed me, a little voice in my head told me I don’t belong on the same footpath as them. I don’t belong in the same park or on the same road. Every. Time. Everyone was running along, breezing around the park like running was no bother to them and there I was, lumbering along, big and fat and clumsy and slow. I felt so out of place. I felt like a fraud.
I ended up cringing, literally cringing away from runners when they passed me. Trying to make myself as small as possible so they wouldn’t notice me. I think one runner even copped on to how I was feeling. She was running behind me and the footpath was narrow with a lamppost cutting off half of it. I stopped running so she could have the footpath and said ‘Sorry, I’m sorry’ (which I hadn’t meant to say out loud, honest!) and she just said something like ‘It’s fine, you’re alright’ as she ran past me.
I wasn’t alright though. I struggled so hard with these thoughts and feelings of contempt for myself, struggled not to project those feelings onto other runners, struggled to NOT assume what they were thinking about me.
It was exhausting! The mental dialogue I was engaging in was more tiring than the run itself!
I was well prepared for the 16 mile run, physically. I was NOT prepared for my own mind to sabotage me the way it did. In hindsight, the sheer negativity of my thoughts today is breathtaking. I even, almost, very nearly gave up at 12 miles and went home. I wanted to, I really wanted to. I wanted to hide under my duvet and be invisible to the world and all the other runners in Dublin today. It was a choice…turn right and go home, or turn left and keep running my route.
I turned left.
I carried on, despite feeling like I didn’t belong, and finished the 16 miles; slowly, very very slowly.
And I can’t believe I did that. I can’t believe I allowed my thoughts to affect my run so much. I wish I had been able to take those thoughts and put them in a box (as a friend of mind advises). I wish I had been able to shut the negativity off much sooner so I could concentrate on my running. Instead, I wasted much of my run, cringing and wishing the ground would open and swallow me up every time a runner came near me.
I’m glad I completed the 16 miles. I really am. It’s good to get the miles in the legs and I’m getting more confident about part of the marathon course I’ll be running in October.
If I could just nail getting rid of these negative thoughts of inadequacy and un-belonging. It’s something I’ll be working on. I don’t like that I allowed these thoughts to affect my run. I don’t like that I allowed these thoughts at all.
I realize that I’m being really open and vulnerable with this post. I just feel that these things need to be shared because I know I’m not the only one who sometimes feels like a fraud of a runner.
I want to tell you that you are NOT a fraud. You got your gear on, put the shoes on and got out the door to run. That makes you a runner. No matter what anyone else was wearing or how fast they were going or how fit they looked; YOU run, YOU are a runner.
And yes, I’m telling myself the same thing. I DID get the gear on, and put the shoes on, and got out my door for a 16 mile run. My first run of that distance. Yes, a RUN.
I RUN. I am a RUNNER.
Now let’s see my brain get on that thought bucket and take it for a spin!