Have you ever felt like maybe you’re not a “real” runner? Like… oh I only run “X” miles per week, I’ve never broken “X” time in the mile, and I don’t look that great in spandex… so I’ll let the real runners take care of that? At some point, I think a majority of runners have felt this way. We’ve all had a little voice that says “you’re not reallyyy a runner”. You may even feel guilty even calling yourself that because then people will ask your PR’s or weekly mileage and then the cat will be out of the bag that you’re not the hot shot after all.
Well, I’m going to call this feeling “Runner Imposter Syndrome”.
My good friend Lily shared her running story of becoming a runner by becoming more consistent in her training and racing after high school. She lived with another CU Cross Country runner and myself in college while also dating a runner guy on the team. Though she got into running everyday, she admits she struggled with feeling left out, and not feeling like a “real runner” because she wasn’t on the team or didn’t have the experience that other runners did.
Despite making lifestyle choices that reflected a commitment to running… and having possibly more passion for the sport than many more experienced and elite runners; she still felt like she didn’t belong.
This isn’t just true for recreational runners. I think this feeling of having to prove yourself as a real runner resonates in the collegiate atmosphere too. We set goals for ourselves not just in the interest of self-development, but to reach a standard of having “made it” into a group of real runners.
For some, this might be becoming an All-American. Or making it to NCAA’s. Or making the varsity travel team. Whatever it is, there’s always some barrier, just out of reach, that you think would magically bestow a feeling of belonging and worth. We all know the feeling that comes with getting a PR in a race. It’s a rush of excitement and joy, but also an overwhelming sense of relief. Like WOW. Thank goodness. I knew I was capable of that but now I am finally the runner I thought I was.
And we really needed a time on a piece of paper to validate our training, dedication, passion and love for the sport. It’s like the relief of being accepted into college or getting a job. You finally ARE that college student or professional you thought you were all along. In running, it’s not the same. We don’t need (shouldn’t need) external validation to tell us we are real.
Why is it that we feel this way?
- Because we define ourselves by our PR’s.
- We define ourselves by the way we look.
- We define ourselves by our past performances.
- We compare ourselves to people that have run faster, that look fitter, that have raced more.
- We listen to negative and toxic opinions of those around us.
- We are often type-A perfectionist sorts that are too critical of ourselves.
What is it that makes a real runner?
Someone that likes to run, maybe? Someone that runs often, or that runs not so often. Someone that has run in the past. Someone that plans to run in the future.
The funny thing is…. we define ourselves as runners by the opinions or even just the anticipated opinions of skeptics and negative people around us. There are trolls on the internet and there are trolls in real life, judging and criticizing and making it hard for the real people to even try to improve, because they’re scared of what others might say if they were to fail.
How do we get over it? Do we make an effort not idolize people by their PR’s, do we stop idealizing those that are faster than us and just run because we like it?
Like with all injuries, we get to the root cause (Runner Imposter Syndrome) of the issues (anxiety, insecurity, poor body image) to prevent the inevitable downfall or consequences (overtraining, burning out, injury, depression).
P.S. I love this guy’s videos on marketing, but stumbled upon his video about imposter’s syndrome. He proposes that people with imposter’s syndrome use their work to prove themselves wrong about being inadequate. Meaning, prove to yourself by working really hard and producing something awesome (for a runner, maybe that means running a PR or signing up for a race) so you have cold-hard-proof that you’re not an imposter after all.