Run Like No One’s Watching

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a look at the secret to running great as a competitive runner Run Like No One’s Watching

I’m not the kind of person who does something halfway. I’m either in or I’m out. That work ethic landed me in the top 10 overall finishers in my first big half marathon two years ago, and it exposed me to my potential of qualifying for the Olympic Trials someday.

But no one noticed me as a talented runner until I had the courage to race. Suddenly all kinds of running opportunities presented themselves. I joined a competitive team, got a coach, and signed a two-year contract with a sports agency. These new additions to my life felt exciting, but it also exposed me to an entire community of runners who spend a lot of time competing. As for me, I’d always just run alone, competing with only myself. But I realized if I want to reach my goals, I need to get out there.

As races suddenly started to fill up my schedule, I felt overwhelmed. Being fast was a secret weapon I only used when I wanted to— it couldn’t be forced if I just wasn’t feeling it. Having my ability measured and studied left me feeling exposed; what had always been intuitive seemed to fly out the window. So I started running harder when I didn’t want to, pushing myself in a way that took all the enjoyment out. I showed up to races and looked around wondering why I was even there. I went from dreaming about my career as a runner to worrying about every single workout and questioning my ability.

Just as people started paying attention to my body in motion, my body retaliated. A string of injuries made racing impossible. I had to put my fitness photoshoots on hold while I let my body heal. I was in pain physically but it was far worse emotionally. I was so regretful that I had stopped listening to my body just long enough to have so many things go wrong with it.

At an all-time low, I knew that I needed to distance myself from my craft to rediscover how I got so good at it. I went on a personal investigation to understand the psychology of the sport in an attempt to figure out how to attack running when my health returned. As I splayed out with ice packs strapped to my limbs, I interviewed a bunch of elite athletes. What I learned was groundbreaking– talent is meaningless without desire.

Desire is something I have a great deal of, but it’s important to recognize where it comes from. Some people work better from internal motivation versus being pushed externally. I am definitely one of the internally motivated individuals with unyielding determination day after day to test my limits. But as soon as someone tells me what to do, I lose interest. I have to run for me and no one else.

When I run I often feel like I am on a solo mission. I was initially drawn to the sport for all the alone time. What started as an internal desire to run fast turned into a desire to compete in the public forum. This transition is definitely a challenge— putting myself out there— mainly because of the pressure to live up to expectations.

But that’s the thing… Even though I must compete if I want to reach my goals, I am still just competing with myself. And even though I don’t feel fast right now, I want to be getting out there and testing myself. One of the most valuable lessons I picked up as I reconnected with my love for running was meeting other athletes who share similar goals. Instead of feeling judged or pressured, I just feel like I have a solid network of friends who know what I’m trying to achieve and want to help me.

Getting back up to speed is taking time— a lot of time. But in order to prevent myself from running too fast too soon or worse, getting injured again, I know I need to remember what fuels me to go fast. My training log is telling me that the time is coming to race again, but I’m not going to fret. Here are a few mantras I’m telling myself as I prepare:

  1. There are always other races.
  2. One race won’t make or break you.
  3. No one really cares how fast or slow you are.
  4. Run with a smile in your heart.

It’s a good practice to get comfortable in the process of getting there. Approaching each day of training as something I’m choosing to do instead of anyone else forcing me is the only way to dig into those intense weeks ahead. It’s also key to shake out any feelings that running is life or death. While I am working on keeping my goals in sight, my focus is clear— just run like no one is watching.