Perception of Self

It can be easy to forget that not everyone knew me before I was a runner.  It’s easy to forget that about other people too.  I am so immersed in the running community that that’s how I see everyone.

Talking to a couple of women who I run with recently I was reminded that a) we all have perceptions of ourselves that can differ from how other people see us.  They’re not often positive, and b) that means that many people have no idea of what my journey to call myself a runner was.

I started trail running about six years ago.  Growing up, I was not athletic.  I was artsy (went to art school for college), a band nerd, and an academic.  I loved being outside, hiking and camping.  It never even occurred to me that I could run on hiking trails.  I wasn’t in terrible shape or particularly unhealthy, but I never viewed myself as strong.  Certainly not physically.  I had tried to run for fitness some in high school, some in college, a little as an adult, but I never really clicked into it.  It was an odd relationship that I kept going back to.  I felt like running had a special place in my life, but because I didn’t really click with it and never particularly felt successful with it I didn’t know why I kept returning to these uncomfortable attempts.  Somehow the idea of trail running was presented to me.  I remember it being explained that it was hard.  As in, you may not like it, it’s really hard.  I was drawn to the idea of running in the trees and started looking for a way to get into it.  It didn’t feel the same kind of approachable that just heading out from my door did.

I looked online and found the running group the Mud Babes.  I decided to do something completely outside of my comfort zone.  I picked a Monday that I was going to go.  I was going to go run (something I had a small base for and was therefor worried I couldn’t keep up), with a group of people that probably knew way more about what they were doing.  When that Monday rolled around it was raining and dark.  I showed up in road shoes (not great for mud), a crappy light (I mean horrible), and something that vaguely resembled running clothes.  I slid around in the dark through the dog park trails in Shawnee Mission Park with three other girls.  One of the girls was super pregnant.  That was a level of amazing to me that I still think about.  She has no idea how much that influenced me to continue trail running through my pregnancy a couple of years ago.  It was a ridiculous run for a first trail run.  I was immediately hooked.  Pretty much every Monday the past six years I’ve run in that park now.   I’ve taken a leadership role in that group of amazing people that if you’d told me I’d be doing six years ago I would have never believed you.  I run on a team, I coach people. I lead workshops and retreats, I’ll occasionally teach a strength class.  Running is a huge part of my identity.  That being said, I still carry a lot of pre-runner me around.

When I started running it took me years to refer to myself as a runner(n.).  I would say that I run, not I am a runner.  The term athletic or word athlete came much later than that.  I had run two marathons and a 50k, and still struggled with those terms.  I couldn’t break old self talk and self identify as athletic.  I am a long distance runner.  I love running ultras.  They are so mental as well as physical that I feel a strength in those distances.  I think that those short distances are incredibly challenging and do not play well to my strengths.  When I started running trails I truly felt like there was an ultrarunner buried in me somewhere just patiently waiting for me to build up enough strength and base to run those distances.  Years into running, finally identifying with the term runner I started checking ultramarathons off.  Though I still didn’t feel like I could self identify as an ultrarunner.  Each race felt like a fluke.  I’m six years into running trails and I finally identify as an ultrarunner (kind of).  This year has really been the first year I’ve been willing to say that out loud.  I’ve got two 100 milers under my belt now and I’m still struggling saying I’m a 100 mile runner.  It’ll probably take at least one more before I feel situated in that identity a little more fully.

Last night I was talking with a fellow runner who I’ve known for the last couple of years and mentioned something that was anecdotal to me.   I am in by far the best shape of my life, and though it’s not a huge weight loss story, I still picture myself in my head as a much softer person.   I was shopping at Lululemon, where I am fortunate enough to know the girls at this point handing me clothes.  This is key, because they are goofy and kind when taking away what I pick out and bringing everything back in smaller sizes.  When I mentioned this I got one of those looks, the oh I didn’t realize that was a struggle for you look.  I could of course be entirely reading into this but I’m sure that was the look.  Last year was the first time that I ran in public in a sportsbra, and this year is the first time I’ve done so consistently.  This is less a yay I’m rockin a runner bod and more of a it is so freaking hot I’m going to manage this how I want and screw what other people think.

In general I lead with an air of confidence.  I lead our Mud Babe runs (6 years ago me is still shocked and excited) and can’t stand up there as people continue to join and grow without that.  The same for clients that I coach and workshops that I teach.  A lot of it is true confidence that I have worked to build.  A lot of it is fake it till you make it.  Either way it’s there.  I hang out with badass women, which is quite the understatement.  When you surround yourself with amazing people it can be easy to see yourself as a piece of that group.  It can be easy to see yourself as an outsider surrounded by people who are much more qualified to be in a space or a sport than you.   My confidence in both my running and my ability to be a leader or voice in this sport has taken time.  I’ve put in a lot of work reading, studying, learning through running, talking to runners, and building relationships; yet that perception of self as a leader or runner still comes and goes.

Part of what I strive to maintain is not just positive self talk, but positive and encouraging talk with other runners.  I run with amazing people, and some of them hold so closely some of the mean and negative things that they’ve heard from in the past.  Things that aren’t true and hang with them.  Strong runners who shouldn’t feel that way.  People that I see and think of as amazing members of our community whose self perception can differ from reality.  There’s a difference between meeting yourself where you’re at and not acknowledging your strength.  It’s ok to need to continue to build a base before running longer, or to want to get faster, and it’s amazing to have goals.  Those goals should not discount the work that you’ve already put in; all the work that makes you strong now.

A friend mentioned having been given help with a mantra:  The difference between a flower and a weed is a judgement.    Well I’m a freaking flower, and so are you.

***ok really I’m a freaking magical unicorn birthed from sparkles and glitter, but today I’ll go with a flower (don’t think there hasn’t been some glitter knocked on that flower either)

unicorn

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One thought on “Perception of Self

  1. I (the super pregnant trail runner who ran in the dark and muddy woods) am not sure how this
    works exactly, or how long the comments people leave are supposed to be. But I am happy to
    report that at a group women’s run Leia had the thoughtfulness to tell me in person about how
    much it meant to her to have seen me running on the trails as the very pregnant version of
    myself all those years ago. It was the most genuinely nice thing a women close to my age has
    ever said to me. Maybe the most genuine and specific nice thing anyone has ever said to me.
    This was no mere casual compliment or cliché supportive statement.
    When I came across this post about how she saw me, I immediately thought, “this is going in my
    folder.” I have a folder where I have saved letters of recommendation that were written by my
    mentors (mostly much older men in the field of work that I am in). The letters are from different
    times in my life, but they overwhelm me with disbelief (in a good way). How can these people
    that I respect say such nice things about me? How can they see me as the person they describe
    in the letters?

    I have long struggled with self-hatred/self- loving. As Leia describes “faking it till you make it” in a
    positive way, I am guilty of utilizing a more negative version. I try to pretend to be someone else,
    a person people will “like. 1 ” This concept grew from circular reasoning: “Who would like me? I
    don’t even like myself?” Anyway, this post is not only going in the folder, it has inspired me to
    upgrade the folder. I am open to suggestions for the naming of this folder. I think that before I
    was using the folder as proof, that people, credible people see greatness in me, believe in me.
    Now the folder is something more, it is proof that I am not the negative thoughts or stories that
    the $^!* talking monster in my head tells me 2 . The folder is now proof that people see me,
    maybe not the me that I see, but their versions of me are real. I have the proof. It is in the folder.

    (If I were to sign this, it would be as: The Once Very Pregnant Trail Runner)

    Footnotes:
    1. Why is faking positive and pretending negative, they are the same thing? True, it is how
    you use them that is positive or negative. Leia is saying I’m working towards being a
    better version of myself. I use it to say, “I am not enough for people. I am broken, I have
    to put on an act so I don’t bring everyone down. I can’t let people see my real
    brokenness or they will reject me.” Living as a pretend person is confusing and
    exhausting. You never trust anyone to not use your faults against you. “Faking it” lays all
    the cards on the table. It is honest with yourself and others. It says, “This is where I’m at
    and this is where I want to be. How close did I come? What could I do better? Please be
    kind, and don’t be critical or judgmental if possible.” One says I trust you the other says I
    am afraid of you.
    2. I’m big into analogies, I understand that I am the one letting the monster speak, it just
    helps me to picture the negative self-talk voice as a super hideous monster versus as a
    part of who I am. Don’t get me started on the “who I am” part, totally lost.

    References:
    I should give credit to books I read and things I listen to, these are so not all my Ideas. My
    complete list of books I’ve read is on goodreads. I used HeadSpace the daily meditation app for
    help with footnote 2. Top 3 books that influenced me in this response to “Perception of Self” are:

    1. Amanda Palmer’s memoir (on being real and seen, her connections to the Velveteen
    Rabbit are beautiful)
    2. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote for Chaos (specifically the chapter on honesty, when you
    are “pretending” being honest with yourself is very difficult. Is the negative self-talk being
    honest, or the self-loving voice telling the truth? When they contradict eachother, it
    stands to reason one of them is lying. That is why I had to create the $^!* talking
    monster. I was starting to get confused. I have also created a self-hatred hole, but that is
    a long story.)
    3. Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How it Can Help You Find and
    Keep Love (super helpful for seeing why I am so afraid of people.)

    Like

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