I started running regularly about six months ago, moving slowly from the “Oh My God I Hate This So Much” stage to the “Hey This Is Kind Of Cool” stage to the “If I Go More Than 2 Days In A Row Without Running I Miss It And Get Really Aggro” stage, which is where I’m at now. As someone who was always the slowest runner in gym class, whose favorite workout has always been “anything but running,” learning to enjoy my almost-daily jogs has been something of a revelation. The craziest part? Realizing that the cliche about running being 90 percent mental is totally true. As I slowly build up my mileage on the treadmill, it’s the mental obstacles, not the physical ones, that intimidate me most. Self-doubt, insecurity, body image issues: these challenges are invisible to everyone but me, but they’re real, and finding ways to conquer them has been one of the most rewarding parts of my running journey so far. Here are five invisible obstacles I have to overcome every single time I run.
Invisible Obstacle #1: Excuses. At any given time, I can think of a million reasons not to run. I can pluck one out of the air at random any time I want an excuse: I’m too tired; I’m busy; I’m on my period; my muscles are sore; the gym is too crowded; I didn’t shave my legs; my sports bra is in the wash; I ate too much pasta last night; I don’t want to have sweaty hair; I’m super behind on “Scandal”…and the list goes on. Before I even take the first step of my run (before I even get to the gym, in fact), I have to overpower every single one of these tempting excuses to stay on the couch instead. I have to put my faith in the fact that running will make me feel good, and I owe that to myself.
Invisible Obstacle #2: Self-doubt. After I’ve successfully made it past the excuses and committed to a run, I face my next obstacle, self-doubt. Can I really do this? What if I can only make it one mile today? God, I’m so slow. Is it even worth it? I brush aside all these questions with one answer: Who cares? Just run.
Invisible Obstacle #3: Insecurity. A minute or two into my run, another obstacle rears its ugly head: insecurity, specifically about my body. You see, running as a soft, curvy lady can be a bit…uncomfortable. As I start jogging, I look around and realize I don’t look like most of the lean, toned figures sprinting with perfect form around me. I’m a bit jiggly. Even in my favorite sports bra, my boobs bounce. I wonder if my breathing sounds too heavy or if other people are judging the way my thighs look in spandex. This thought process can easily spiral into a body image crisis that would force me off the treadmill, but I don’t let it. I make a concerted effort to quash any negative body thoughts, to replace my old script that says, “I’m fat and slow” with a new one that says, “I’m strong and determined.” I conjure up gratitude for a healthy body that lets me run, and slowly but surely, all my superficial body insecurities fade into the background.
Invisible Obstacle #4: Ghosts Of Gym Teachers Past. Closing in on the one-mile mark, like clockwork, my 7th grade gym teacher’s voice enters my thoughts. “Hurry up, Dimeo,” he yells, “I brought a stopwatch to time you, not a sundial!” My obstacle here? I have to find a way to tune him out. Honestly, I have my junior high gym teacher to thank for my lifelong belief that I hated running. He made it seem like a competitive, intimidating, and mean sport — “mile day” in gym class used to give me such bad anxiety that I’d throw up before class. Even now, the mere sight of a school track gives me a stomach ache. I still haven’t been able to fully extract my crappy teacher’s insults from my running monologue, but I’ve gotten fairly good at shutting him up. I shut him up by running.
Invisible Obstacle #5: Impostor Syndrome. This obstacle probably makes the least sense of all (yes, even less sense than my 7th grade gym teacher mocking me from the ether), but it’s also the toughest one to deal with. Every time I pass the two or three mile point — distances that are a pretty big deal for me, since I couldn’t even run a mile just a few months ago — another voice pops up in my head. This one isn’t my gym teacher though, it’s me. The message: What do you think you’re doing? You’re not a real runner. This message is rooted in the idea that running is some kind of an exclusive club that I don’t have the credentials to join. By pushing my endurance, I’m pushing up against a boundary of my self-identity, the part of myself that believes I’m never going to be a “real runner,” that I don’t have what it takes to join that club.Whenever I’m approaching a new speed or distance milestone, I hear those five words, drowning out my excitement: You’re not a real runner.
But that’s bullshit.
A runner is anyone who puts one foot in front of the other at a slightly faster pace than a walk. A runner is anyone who runs a little farther today than they did yesterday. A runner is anyone who stares down all the invisible obstacles in the path of their run, and then conquers them one by one, until they’re just tiny specks in the distance. No matter how hard I huff and puff, how much my thighs jiggle, or how little faith my P.E. teacher had in me, I am a runner. A real one. And every time I conquer the mental obstacles that say otherwise, it makes me that much prouder to say it.