There’s a mentality that comes with being a highly competitive runner and ambitious person. The belief is that unless you’re a professional or going to the Olympics, there’s no real use in spending any more time on running and you should probably walk away completely and find something else to do.
It’s the “all or nothing” mentality that often comes with being a “type A” sort of person. We want to be the best and we want to reach our potential, so we’ll be damned if we give up before then. BUT if it seems like we may come up short of these goals, we think we should walk away completely.
One of my first posts ever was about the decision to keep running or not after college, and I’ll keep writing about because it’s a weird and confusing and stigmatized thing. I also know that many runners have the “imposter runner syndrome” that keeps them from believing they’re a “real runner” or that their goals are legitimate. These all play into the confusing navigation of running when you’re transitioning from college to real life.
I’m going to suggest some sort of compromise on the issue. A compromise that allows us to keep chasing our running dreams while advancing life in other ways too. And get rid of the idea that if you’re not going to get paid to run, you should give up.
Should Going Pro Be Your Goal?
In college running, there are many runners who believe that after graduation, they will sign a contract and become a professional runner. This is the dream of so many, and in many ways; seems to be a stamp of approval or legitimacy. In the case that you graduate without the option to go pro, you’re told (by others or by yourself) to move on completely and give up on competitive running aspirations. This is the “pro or bust” mentality.
I know I wrote about how it’s ok to quit running, which I totally believe, but that is in the instance that your body or mind is simply not capable of loving running temporarily or forever. That was about allowing yourself to walk away instead of pushing through injuries and psychological baggage.
BUT when it comes to runners who very much WANT to keep running and don’t need a break for physical/amenorrhea/lifestyle reasons; I wholeheartedly believe that you should find a way to do what you love and keep going, even if you KNOW you’re never going to be pro, never going to the Olympics and never going to make a living running (very few people actually make a real living running by the way).
Holding fast to dreams isn’t just for people that dream of being the best, or have ambitions to be professional. The idea that runners that aren’t going to sign a pro contract should move on is elitist and just nonsense. Would you ever go to up to someone playing chess and tell that that since they’re never going to be the best chess player, they should quit? Or go up to a physicist and tell them that since Einstein is for sure better than them, they should probably just go home and watch netflix? No. No no. No.
You don’t have to be a pro runner to have legitimate goals
I don’t know if the idea that we have to go pro or quit is pervasive in all collegiate running environments, but it does seem that there is a large number of runners attempting to extend their running careers after college by delaying career goals or educational goals further.
They do this because they want to see what they’re capable of, meaning that they know that with the right circumstances, they could be just as good as any of those other pros. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, because I had a similar thought after school when I worked part time and ran for a running club just trying to “meet my full potential”.
I’m simply saying that there is NOT such a sharp dichotomy between a “good runner” and a “runner that is so bad that they should quit and never do it again”. Running does have to be “pro or nothing” after college. And no one should feel like they need to walk away because the aren’t good enough. I’m suggesting we come to some sort of compromise. A compromise between valuing running goals enough to keep going even if you aren’t going to be the best, AND avoiding putting life on hold completely trying to become a professional.
Idea: You can run competitively WHILE chasing your career goals or furthering your education. You DON’T have to put everything on hold for the small chance of making it big.
Keep running, keep doing other things too
I can’t believe how cynical I sound, but I just want all runners leaving college to know that you don’t have to give up running if you don’t want to and you don’t have to put your life on hold to reach your full potential as a runner. Just like you did in high school before life got so running-centric, you can train and race and have a life outside of running.
It’s not out of the question. And you should do the best you can to keep your other life goals moving. Why delay the whole “building a career” thing even further? Start now so you don’t have to start when you’re 28 and realize you’re not going to be a pro and don’t know what to do next.
There are fairytale stories of runners “making it big” after years of determination and persistence and waiting. Those stories are awesome. But just like it’s ok to quit running, it’s ok to keep running as a normal person with a job to reach those goals. Not being pro doesn’t mean you’re not a good runner. It doesn’t mean your goals are dumb or don’t matter and it doesn’t mean you don’t have a long running career ahead of you with PR’s.
You can be a good runner even if you don’t reach your college goals. You can be a good runner if you don’t win the running lottery and go pro. There is no shame in continuing to run and invest in running and love running even if you won’t be the best. Show up at the damn Rock n’ Roll half marathon and crush everyone in the non-elite field!
just keep running if you love it
Run because you love it. Don’t stop running because you don’t think you’re good enough. And you don’t have to put your life on hold to keep running seriously. Because it’s just not “all or nothing”. Running can be part of your life no matter what your goals or circumstances are.