Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Truth About Effort

I read an article recently on social media and the effect it has on running. For the most part, I think facebook, twitter, this blog, and DailyMile keep me motivated and accountable for my training. But there's a weird phenomenon created by social media, and that's a false sense of knowledge of the inner workings of peoples' lives.

I read all kinds of articles that explain studies that show facebook depresses people because they never feel as popular as their friends. That looking at photos of parties/weddings/vacations of which we weren't a part causes us to feel our own lives are lacking. Of course, the studies also show that people only post photos of the good things in their lives, so what we see is completely incongruent with reality.

But this isn't just about being popular. Posting about workouts can be motivating to yourself and others, but it can also be misleading. I realized that recently as post-Thanksgiving guilt has friends seeking running tips. I've received multiple messages asking for tips/advice, and many of these friends seem to be under the impression that running is easy for me. They talk about seeing my runs on DailyMile, or the photos from my races, and they are both admiring and intimidated.

Both of these are silly reactions. Running is not easy for me. It never has been and never will be. Even my "easy" runs take effort. Even runs that go well and leave me feeling unstoppable are difficult. No matter the distance I'm running, a little more than halfway through I feel completely defeated and exhausted; it takes a lot of effort and self-talk to keep me going. If any factors are off, no amount of mental coaching can keep me going.

Couldn't even bring myself to 20 minutes
Today's run is a good example. I meant to go three or four miles at 7am, but I didn't get going until 8:15. It was still cool out, especially in the shade, but was warming up quickly in the sun. K had a race this morning that I wasn't feeling up for, so I was running alone for the first time in months. Because M had my car for an early-morning paddle-boarding adventure, and because it was late, I decided to just run from home, taking a well-worn path that is a constant mental battle because it bores me. All this week M has had a nasty cold, and it has finally rubbed off on me, so my breathing has been off and my head has been tight with congestion. Basically, I had a bunch of factors working against me, and three miles quickly became 1.8. Every step of this short, rather pathetic run was difficult. (On the bright side, my groin and knee felt fine!)

Considering this is our first week back after taking two weeks off, 14 miles for the week isn't bad (and I'm still going to try for a longer run tomorrow in much cooler weather), and my pace on this short, sad little run is perfectly good to me. I'm not letting this run get me down. But the point stands: running isn't effortless.

I think people new to running don't give themselves a chance to get better when the running itself doesn't get "easier"; if they don't start out at 8-minute miles and the ability to run for 30 minutes straight, they feel like they've failed. But running is about slowly building up and improving at your own rate. Friends may look at my running and see that - when in the midst of training - I'm hitting 20+ miles a week, but viewing those miles altogether is a lot different than running them one by one. A final weekly report shows the miles, but doesn't show the strain, sweat, and pain that goes into them.

What I'm trying to get at is that we all start somewhere, and we all have our off days. Running isn't about getting to a point where it's easy. Most runners, when they start to feel it's too easy, set a higher, more difficult goal to meet. Easy isn't what makes it worth it. I don't want people to think training is easy for me. It's a struggle. I have to force myself into it. I'm always glad I've gone once I'm done with a run, but I don't do this because it's effortless. Anything worth doing is going to be hard.

We shouldn't fear effort. We should embrace it. Running isn't easy; I do it anyway. I don't consider myself a good runner, a strong runner, or a fast runner, and I don't really want other people to think of me that way, either. I'm not proud of being "good"; there's less to be proud of if you don't have to work for it, in a way. I'm proud that, despite how hard running is for me, I do it anyway.



  1. "I'm proud that, despite how hard running is for me, I do it anyway." What a great attitude. What a terrific life lesson.