Christine wrote, â€œI just started really getting into running last year. I’m currently in week four of training for my first half-marathon (and first race ever). I’ve been getting pretty discouraged when I have to take walking breaks during my runs, especially since one of the friends I’m doing the race with is a powerhouse and it seems like she just doesn’t get tired and can run forever without stopping, even though we are on similar fitness levels. I try to remind myself that I’m still completing the miles whether I walk a little of it or not, but I’m definitely a perfectionist so I get frustrated with myself and scared that on race day I wont be prepared if I’m not training myself to push through. Do you have any insight on this?â€
Iâ€™m excited to hear your feedback for Christine. But first: Iâ€™m going to riff on something that seems unrelated to the issue of walking and running, but I promiseâ€¦ itâ€™s not.
What is the yardstick by which you measure yourself? How do you know if you are smart enough, popular enough, fast enough, wealthy enough, successful enough? If youâ€™re worthy? If youâ€™re happy? Is your yardstick defined by emotions, by numbers, by moments? When you think about your yardstick, youâ€™ve got to ask who created it, too. Did you create your own standards? Was it your parents? Your partner? Society at large?
Because of Operation Beautiful, Iâ€™ve spent a great deal of the last four years of my life ruminating on this very topic. The yardstick. Itâ€™s such a complicated issue, and itâ€™s one that continually morphs and evolves. As every year passes, I look at my yardstick with fresh eyes â€“ â€œOh yes, I remember that time that so-and-so said this-and-that to me, and now I can see how it shaped my expectation about money, marriage, friendships, etc.â€
I think we can all agree that self-improvement is a great thing. What is the point of life, after all, if we arenâ€™t seeking new answers and uncovering deeper layers? And perhaps we can also all agree that, inherently, humans are competitive. If you think about the yardstick, itâ€™s pretty obvious that there are two types of standards: ones you create for yourself, and ones you create based on other peopleâ€™s expectations, accomplishments, and beliefs. Two ways to improve yourself; two ways to craft your yardstick; two ways to be competitive.
I donâ€™t know about you, but I really struggle to think of a single point in my life when being competitive with others was helpful. My yardstick gets fifty degrees of crazy when I become competitive with others. I end up wanting things I donâ€™t need; I ignore the great things that I already have. I feel like Iâ€™m not doing â€˜enoughâ€™ and falling behind. Iâ€™m not saying that self-competitiveness is always rosy, either â€“ any type of competitiveness can really go too far. But I think that relying on others to define our yardsticks is a very slippery, and potentially very dangerous, idea.
Itâ€™s hard to do, but when we manage to look at at yardstick in a vacuum, without all the influence of outsiders, we can see a path to true balance, joy, accomplishment. So the first thing that I would say to Christine is: Stop worrying about your friend. Stop eyeballing her yardstick and borrowing her definitions of a successful race. Define your own success, trust your training, and know that you can do this.
Because the truth is that there is no single definition of a runner. Runners come in all shapes and sizes. Runners do 5Ks and ultramarathons. Some runners never do a race at all. Runners run without stopping and runners take breaks to walk. Runners sprint and runners jog. Being a â€˜runnerâ€™ is about getting up and pounding the pavement, day after day, because it makes your heart sing. Most of us run simply because we love it â€“ not because weâ€™re trying out for the Olympics. So why hold yourself to a standard that doesnâ€™t fit your needs?
Iâ€™m a runner. Iâ€™m a runner who wants to do her personal best and loves to take walking breaks. Maybe some peopleâ€™s yardsticks wouldnâ€™t deem me a runner, but I know that I am one. After all, walking and working hard arenâ€™t mutually exclusive! Heck, I often end up faster overall because of regular walking breaks. And I approach the finish line with a little extra gas in the tank, allowing me to do the â€œWhoo hoo!â€ sprint to the end â€“ thatâ€™s always nice.
But much more importantly, walking calms me down and allows me to regroup. I breathe deeply during my walking breaks and think about how Iâ€™m doing something great for my body and mind by exercising. Itâ€™s hard for me to think about that while running because Iâ€™m exerting so much physical energy.
But with walking â€“ I can think. And I like what I think about when I walk. Walking means that I enjoy running more, and therefore, I go running more often. I run happy when I walk. It doesnâ€™t feel like a chore when I donâ€™t force myself to measure up to someone elseâ€™s yardstick for what â€˜runningâ€™ is all about. Running feels like a joy when I do it from the heart, by my rules, following my standards for success. And truthfully, so does the rest of my life.
Iâ€™d love to hear your thoughts, too.