the psychology of athletes

Yes, I’m still running… some. But this month has not been one of my best running months. I’m only squeezing in two or three runs a week. That’s still a lot, I know – but I hate that I can’t do more.

Christmas seems like it really snuck up on me this year! I know, I probably say this every year, but it’s true. I’ve been working like crazy this month to accomplish all my Christmas-related duties on top of work.

The weather has been relatively warm this month. Quite peculiar. I don’t think I have worn long pants at all this winter, and I’ve worn short sleeves surprisingly often. Sheesh, today I wore a tank top!

Yes, on December 22, I wore a tank top with shorts.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a runner, or an athlete, or even just a human. I suppose it’s because I haven’t been running as much. What is a runner? Is it a person who runs a certain number of miles, or trains a certain number of hours, each day/week month? Is it a person who runs at a certain pace? Is it a person who wins races?

Over five years ago, I subtitled this blog, “My Journey to Becoming an Athlete.” Here’s my strange truth: After running with remarkable regularity for five years, I still don’t feel like an athlete.

Running has been good for me, no doubt. There’s the obvious benefits: I’m healthier, I’ve lost (some) weight, I feel stronger. Then there’s the mental benefits: Running has given me a way to unplug from the world, a time to reset my mind, a way to ward off the insanity of life. Distance running has given me successes during the seasons when the rest of my life hasn’t gone so well.

It’s been bizarre, in its own way. As a kid, I avoided running (and exercise in general!) like the plague. That attitude wasn’t exactly discouraged by the teachers and adults in my life. I was an academic. For the most part, I don’t think those adults were actively discouraging me from participating in athletics. It seems like it was just assumed that I would excel in academics but that I would be too busy to excel at sports – an implied understanding that I didn’t need to waste time with sports. I certainly NEVER imagined that I would be a runner as an adult.

I suppose that childhood attitude had its own negative effects, though. I never considered myself an athlete, and even though I started running, that didn’t really change. I run, and I love running, but I’m not fast. Not by any objective measure. When I read blog posts written by runners who complain about “not really running” because they “only” ran a 12:00 pace, I want to slug them. I’m not fast… I just get out there a lot. Even on a crazy busy month like this, at least I’ve gotten out there a couple times each week.

I know I’m hard on myself because of my pace. There’s so many running blogs and magazines out there, and it seems like they’re always writing about 8:00 or 10:00 paces. Too often, I feel like the slowest runner out there. I’ve put in a LOT of miles in the past five and a half years, yet my pace has only improved slightly.

I’m not even sure where this train of thought is going right now. It’s 10:30 at night and I’m waiting for family to arrive from the airport. It’s time for Christmas to begin. I think I’ll shelve this thought for now. Come January, I can begin focusing on training for my race in May. In the meantime I’ll let my subconscious dwell on the psychology of athletes…