You may not need 20 minutes – just the right mind set to put everything into perspective.
I have this „anti-talent“ of negativity, where I put myself down, and drown in self-pity. Challenge me in complaining and you’ll have a hard time keeping up. I wonder to what extend this is part of my German identity, as we are known for being very critical. You wouldn’t know about my so-called „anti-talent“ if you believed I’m this always smiling, #nevernotrunning sports enthusiast collecting one finisher medal after another, sharing kudos and throwing confetti around the endurance sports community.
I’m not proud of this talent. Not at all. At the same time, it’s there. It’s still part of me.
It bothers me and oftentimes keeps me from doing things. It keeps me from meeting people. It keeps me from being a better friend and making the next career move.
Gladly, I am gradually learning to acknowledge my behavior and finding ways to deal with it and even more, actually finding ways out of those dark moments. This learning process isn’t easy, but every time I have an epiphany I’m learning to be proud after all.
One example – and I’ve thought back and forth about sharing it. But here we go:
I sometimes feel extremely unworthy of my running skills, especially when I start to compare myself with others. Running a marathon used to be something fun – I never took it too seriously. Overall though, running and being active felt good and made me feel better about myself. When I made new friends and new connections in the runner’s community this changed. Everyone seemed so much butter – some were for a fact undeniably faster! Running a marathon soon became a very frustrating topic for me and last year I told myself that I would never run a marathon again. You may think: why run a marathon in the first place? True – but maybe you have something in your life that makes you think and feel somewhat similarly. So, Dublin marathon in 2017 was my seventh and last 42k race. I did my first in April 2013, in Hamburg. Back then, I was happy when I finished and proud I did it. I learnt to be satisfied with my finishing time though I had hoped to run faster. I still wish that at some point I had been able to run this distance a lot faster and I’ve even developed a terrible jealousy of everyone who is able to run their first and every further marathon in less than 4 hours. 4 hours is a magic benchmark in „my marathon universe“. I’ve only managed to run sub 4 twice, barely. But I also know that everyone is different, every runner is different. Everyone trains differently, faces different circumstances and has different experience. Back in 2013, I wasn’t as experienced as I am today, I was a rookie. Still, I managed to finish and even signed up for my second big race the same year.
Is refusing to run a marathon ever again and being depressed when comparing myself to others an actual solution to jealousy and feeling bad? We all know the answer: No it’s not. So what could help to a) accept the facts, b) be satisfied with my own performance and c) genuinely feel happy for others and their accomplishments?
I realized that I can’t change how others run and how they finish a race. There will always be someone running, swimming, cycling, thinking faster then me. I can change the way I feel and think about that though instead of wasting my time and always thinking about them. It’s not easy. It’s a progress of one-step forward, hold, several steps back to the old behavior, denying, awakening, waiting, hoping, hesitating, admitting, breathing, lots of breathing, kicking my ass mentally, finally laughing, finally stepping forward again. Also, I can’t expect for others to hold my hand, have my back and galvanize me – all the time. There are people who are able to do so, but I also know it’s me who has to act to really change the status quo in my head.
For my marathon perspective I tried the following strategy and discovered a funny coincidence:
I looked at all my marathon finishing times since my first and last marathon. And while I’ve been shy to share them even with my close running friends, in the end and thanks to the internet they are archived in the event results and open to the public. So if anyone really wanted to know, they could find out easily.
#1 Hamburg Marathon 2013 (April): 4:12:20
#2 Venice Marathon 2013 (October): 4:03:43
#3 Hamburg Marathon 2014 (April): 3:57:26
#4 Stockholm Marathon 2015 (May): 4:00:19
#5 Hamburg Marathon 2016 (April): 4:05:31
#6 Berlin Marathon 2016 (September): 4:00:48
#7 Dublin Marathon 2017 (October): 3:52:50
I’ve had my share of explaining why I felt that Stockholm, Hamburg in 2016 and Berlin didn’t go that well. I’m not going there today again. What I want to focus on instead is the following: 4.5 years of marathon running and a total finishing time improvement of nearly 20 minutes. TWENTY minutes! And Dublin was tough, believe me. The course is a biest compared to Hamburg’s nearly flat course. Also, considering the recent world record in the marathon distance set by Kenyan running legend Elliud Kipchoge: He finished his first marathon in 2:05:30 (apparently also in Hamburg and also in 2013). And just last Sunday, he set the new record at 2:01:39 in Berlin – nearly 4 minutes faster. He ran super fast already in his first marathon, yes. It’s what he does professionally – obviously he’s also very gifted – and yes, comparing our improvements between then and now with another doesn’t make any one in the running world raise an eyebrow. Yet each one of us is running every km on our very own. He has pacemakers (if they can keep up), a huge sponsor, a coach, a team, a family, the running DNA – I don’t. See: different! Comparing is useless, a waste of time. I’m left with amazement though that any human can run so fast and I have nothing but respect for his achievement.
In 4.5 years I’ve also…
…experienced several job changes,
…a little time-out/sabbatical in Colombia,
…fell in and out of love,
…made new friends,
…got older obviously,
…dyed my hair from brunette to blond,
…got into CrossFit,
…started with triathlon,
…changed my diet from vegetarian to vegan,
…and who knows what else has happened in all this time besides the daily routine of life.
Yes, 20 minutes is a fraction of 4.5 years, but in marathon running and especially my marathon universe it is a significant leap. And yet, so many rookies may run a lot faster, also, so many may not – in the end everyone still runs somehow. So my jealousy may even feel like an insult to all those who run slower, but that was and never will be my intention. I get that! When you’re only running for yourself, for pleasure and not for making a living when you’re a professional athlete, then running a marathon very quickly becomes a side note. It should though become a side note to boost your confidence and foster your will power and not one to make you feel weak. I get that, too. If something bothers you so much: fix it or leave it. I chose to fix what bothers me, at least in this case.
Today, nearly 5.5 years after my first marathon, I am even more experienced (and older…) than I was last year, both in terms of running as well as dealing with my inner demons. I am also learning a lot from my running for my professional life and vice versa. ROI (return on investment) is true in both worlds after all. I have learnt to focus on the facts first and not the feelings.
Putting facts into the right perspective can make a difference. I realized that it won’t get me anywhere but frustrated if I compare myself to others (I’ll never run as fast as Elliud). What matters in the end is that and how I have made a change compared to my previous self.
I mentioned a coincidence earlier. I also had a look at my finishing times in the half marathon distance since 2012. It’s now been 6 years and 10 half marathons – funnily I also improved my overall finishing time by nearly 20 minutes. I have gathered so much aerobic capacity and improved my technique that I’m about to attempt a half marathon close to 1h30. It will mean that I need to run 5 minutes faster than my current PB set in July 2018. It will mean hard, very hard training and full commitment. It will mean that I will have to follow a tough training schedule. And it will mean the world to me. Does it mean I will succeed? Who knows. Does it mean that I might run a marathon again after all? Who knows.
For now it means I am making progress in dealing with my anti-talent and turning it into something good, turning it into a new goal, and feeling motivated and confident. Finally, when I see pictures of me after races I usually see a happy person. A person with a happy smile, someone who looks confident and powerful, sometimes even silly. If I didn’t know it was me, I might think she’s pretty cool. Yes, she has her story and view on life, but that doesn’t keep her from going out there and living it and even cheering for others.
Being active has become part of my identity and I am glad I found this passion even though it can be demanding both on the body and my mind. What I get out of it, for myself and even for others through cheering, coaching and exchanging stories, is beyond awesome.
I am sharing this today to open a up a bit more, trying to put all the learnings into words and a right order and hoping that I can also motivate someone else (whether you are a runner or not) to find their own way (back) to feeling valuable and good about themself!