Peer Pressure & Running: the Good & the Bad

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Peer pressure is something we often associate with middle school or high school aged kids. As adults we like to think we have overcome succumbing to doing things or acting certain ways just because other people guide us in that direction.

However, we aren’t quite that lucky.  We are all subject to marketing (the biggest peer pressure around), co-workers and the ever-famous group-think dynamic that comes along with collaboration, buying our children items because others parents do so and, let’s be honest, signing up for races because our friends registered, among other things.

Peer pressure generally has an overall negative connotation and while it can be negative, positive peer pressure is a real thing. For the first few years of our lives, all peer pressure is considered positive since it is teaching us and helping push us to learn and do new things. As we age, of course, there are times we can be coerced into doing that are not altogether positive. How does all of this relate and affect our running?

Self-Unawareness

As humans we tend to get in our groove and go without looking up.  Running-wise, this can be our weekly mileage, our “comfortable” pace, the races we run or the diet we maintain. While often our goal is one that hopefully pushes us, it can often be not enough of a push. We underestimate what can really be harnessed with our talent and fitness level.

This is where positive peer pressure comes in. There are a million stories of people just trucking along in life maintaining their status quo until someone suggests a seemingly simple idea that catapults them to excel beyond any realm previously entertained. For example, we all know extremely strong runners that are always surprisingly racing a little slower than their capability or a runner that with just a slight tweak of training, could transform them to another level of running. Believe it or not, there may not be an awareness of that potential. The power of suggestion from someone can be a very powerful catalyst. Even a little bit of support and positive peer pressure can light a fire that generates a goal for a long time.

Opposing Goals

You know yourself best. You know if you really slacked on a workout or pushed as hard as you needed to during speed work. No matter the results to the outside world; you’re the expert on where you are mentally, physically and motivation-wise. Sometimes we just need a break from running; whatever that means to you at the time. The break can be for a valid reason, a frivolous reason or no reason at all. And our running crew might not always dig that decision.

Not that our running peers are out to get us, but a change in routine can be a tough pill to swallow for some especially if you are a source of strength or motivation.  The peer pressure to race a race you want to simply enjoy or to sign up for a particularly challenging race you want to skip is real. Often the negative peer pressure can come off as a joke. People are aware when they are trying to (admittedly or not) coerce you into something. There isn’t a runner who hasn’t had another runner try to make them run farther, slower, faster, hillier or just off training needs.  During the (hopefully) good-hearted attempt, you must hold your ground. Your goals and wants are paramount.

Pushing Through Fear

There are few things people will admit to fearing, if they will admit to fearing anything. Public speaking, sure, most people hate it and won’t do it, and for others it’s flying.  The one fear that most won’t admit to having is the fear of failure. It’s the grown up version of being afraid of the dark. So many of us toe the start line with fear, but there are some people who will not. Setting a goal and trying to achieve it is the crux of life; why place that pressure on your hobby and the thing you enjoy? People are fearful they will not attain their goal and thus be a “failure”.

Constant positive comments, support and gentle pushing can steer even the most timid of us to believe that “silly” goal we have is possible. Watching those around us set and hit, or even miss, their goals can be a positive motivator for those fearful of setting and trying for a goal to do so. Even if they are fearful, the inclusion they feel focusing and training is enough positive peer pressure to seek out pushing themselves.

Mutual Peer Pressure

Mutual peer pressure is a humorous beast. Sometime being on the fence is a group effort. Is your whole running group running low on motivation? Do you all have an annual race that happens to have horrible weather 50% of the time and you all delay registering? On occasion, it’s not only fun, but it’s necessary for you to have someone tell you what to do and why. Really good running friends are a constant second conscience. Having someone who can off-set your mental thought process when it’s not working correctly is helpful. On the flip side, having someone that allows you to guide and pester them reciprocally, rely on and trust your advice can be its own confidence booster.

Peer pressure is a fact of life and as we have moved beyond school years we have learned how to move past it being a large issue in our day to day life. Being able to separate out the positive and negative is crucial in being able to utilize our relationships as supportive motivators for the things we want to accomplish. Truth be told, there are probably a lot runners out there that would have attempted half their feats without a little pushing, and they are happy they fell victim.

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