The Number One Skill Every Runner Should Master

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The Number One Skill Every Runner Should Master The Number One Skill Every Runner Should Master

The last month of the year has a way of shaking up some nostalgia and reflection in many of us. As we start to fill our calendars with goals, races and places to conquer in the year ahead, we inevitably have to reflect on what was and what was not to be in the year gone by. Did we achieve all we set out for a year ago? Did we miss a few marks? Were we dealt a hard blow or two? And if so, did we learn and grow from it?

Through a kind of intricate and very fortunate course of running-related circumstances, this past year has been one of quite significant personal growth for me . And yes, no change or growth can come from always sailing smooth seas. A big old DNF during an overseas marathon shook things up a bit and set the scene for quite a while of soul-searching.

After a humbling response to the account I wrote of my DNF experience, something was sparked. A realization was born but it wasn’t my “own truth” yet. Many beautiful runs and a few good races later, and a muddle of emotions and thoughts epitomized into one simple, yet beautifully encompassing conclusion. There was something that runners weren’t talking about. None of the conversations we were having about training, diet, races and goals included reference to this vital aspect. A skill, you could say, for mastering this is as important and hard as striving to achieve that most coveted running goal.  

I had to learn to keep it real.

What Is Real?

To return to “real” we first have to identify all the false, the illusive, the untruths and all ‘other people’s reals’. And then dump it. Like peeling the layers of an onion, what you are left with at the end is hopefully what you started out with. Those things that running signifies to you as individual.

In this oversharing day and age we constantly feel like we have to report and rationalize our every choice and later its consequences. And instead of internalizing the analyses and growing, we are guided by others’ opinions. And often the discussion ends prematurely and fruitless.

We anticipate and preempt these conversations. And what better time to do it than when I am spending time quality time with me, myself and Irene on a two hour long run?! It is the constant mind conversations that wears one down, not the running! And I found that none of these “conversations” I had were with pretend people that even liked me or knew me a little!

Keep Our Running Goals Real

Blame it on my age or perhaps on my geographical location on the rim of the grid, but the epiphany I had hit me like a proverbial brick wall. Only it was liberating and not painful. I realized that my running goals, my training plans, my choice of races (or the lack thereof), my diet (okay, fueling!) and my aversion in strength training was mine and mine alone. I didn’t have to justify any aspect of it. I didn’t have to adapt it to make someone else comfortable.  I didn’t have to explain it and I didn’t even have to discuss it. I just have to keep it real. For me.

For this place in time and phase of my life, this is what I love, this is what I have, what I am and what I can and cannot do. Come next month, next season or next year and all this may change for me. And that too, will be my choice and my prerogative.

Keep a Real Self-Image

Luckily there are some incredibly inspiring people out there who’s already keeping it real. One of them is runner and blogger Kelly Roberts. In 2013 Kelly’s Instagram feed went viral after she posted various hilarious selfies with “hot guys while trying to survive a half-marathon”. At the time, Kelly was dealing with weight issues and consequent self-image issues. She decided to turn her self-proclaimed “five seconds of fame” into something positive to inspire runners with similar issues.

Kelly Roberts runner for Strava Athletes Unfiltered campaign
Kelly Roberts, featured in Strava’s #AthletesUnfiltered campaign. Photo credit: Strava

Through the #SportsBraSquad and #BadAssLadyGang movements she initiated on social media  she became a strong (and humorous) voice for body acceptance and inclusivity. Ladies were challenged to shed their shirts and their beliefs that strong runners came in a specific shape or size. In this light she  also supports the Strava #AthletesUnfiltered campaign. This is a space where “normal” athletes are encouraged to be real, to share equally their highs and their lows, without curation or fear of criticism. From “I hate running” to completing the 2016 Chicago Marathon in 03:41:09, this remarkable lady is working toward qualifying for the Boston Marathon and sharing her journey on her website “She Can and She Did”.

Be Real About Accomplishments

Along with owning all our running related choices we have to  the realize that we, too, are responsible for being our own cheerleaders. This would mean frequently taking stock of how far we have come on our own journeys, and not in comparison to anyone else. Also that we shouldn’t depreciate personal victories but celebrate them for what they are. As often as necessary. And as cliched as it may be, to realize that everyone of us is an experiment of one. 

Keep It Real When It Sucks

Yes, there is such a thing as a bad run. There are even horrible runs. I am talking about those where you feel you are awake in one of your nightmares. You try to run but your legs are heavy and you bob about like a puppet missing some strings. Yes, the next day you may feel THAT run was better than not running at all. But during the run it can really, really suck. 

Sometime things go wrong. And we should own that too. If we are real about our accomplishments, hopes and dreams, so we should embrace the fact that we are human. And that running isn’t the only aspect that your human body has to deal with. Instead of focusing on how our bodies can ‘fail’ us, we can choose to acknowledge the myriad things our bodies accomplish every day and though our lifetime. Delivered a baby or two? Fought a cold or worse recently? Stayed up late for work or a relative in need? Neglected to eat well? Our bodies are our best allies and deserves much more credit and praise than we are willing to admit to.

The Bottom Line

Reflect on how far you have come this year. Was it a tough one or did you totally rock it every time you laced up? Besides running, what did you deal with and how did you cope? Now give yourself a great big slap on the back or a long hard pep talk, whichever is more appropriate. 

Think of goals for the year to come. Your goals. Not what you think will look acceptable on Facebook  or fit in with your running club friends. Yours. That elusive PR that you are aiming for, that pace that you strive to nail, that race that you plan to enter (again) next year. Are you keeping it real for YOU?