Back in November, I ran the Philly Half Marathon and for the first time in my life, I set a time goal. It was a time that I had been dancing around but this time, I explicitly said that I was going to go after it and break that barrier. It scared me. But I was training well and I could see from my training log that I was running faster and stronger.
The week of the race, I received my race plan from my coach. I was excited and nervous. The pacing strategy was one I’ve used successfully in other races—Don’t go out too fast. Run by effort. Start to pick up the pace. Sprint like hell. The end.
But I also asked for a time check for mile 10, a mental marker to gauge where I should be and how I was feeling. I looked at the time and thought, “Huh. That’s interesting. Does coach really think that I’ll run 10 miles in that time? And what does she mean don’t freak out if I find myself running faster and arrive at 10 miles under that time?”
To most sane people, this would mean that my coach had full confidence in me and my training.
But to me, it was an invitation for self-doubt. The first thing I did was calculate what my average pace per mile needed to be to make my time check at 10 miles. And my eyes proceeded to bug out a little.
I can’t run that pace. I can’t run that pace for 10 miles. How can I run that pace for 10 miles and still have enough to run another 3.1 miles and finish strong.
No. No. No. No.
And there my friends is where my half marathon unraveled. Even before I got to the start line.
In my mind, I’m a solid 10-minute per mile runner. Always have been, always will be.
When I saw the faster paces, my brain literally did not compute, despite having run those paces (and faster) during training. This new runner identity (based solely on pace) was rubbing up against my preconceived and pre-determined notion of what I’m capable as a runner.
And it wasn’t comfortable.
There are so many stories that we create and tell ourselves about who we are and what we’re capable of. Much of that narrative is based on our experiences growing up, the opportunities we may or may not have had, and the things that other people tell us. But it also has a lot to do with what we chose to believe about ourselves and how we choose to evaluate that story.
I will admit, I’ve been struggling with that last piece a lot lately—in running, in writing, in life. I realize that too often I look to external markers to validate my story and how I should feel about myself, whether that’s a PR, pace or byline instead of tuning into how I feel and what makes me happy. Throw in a good dose of imposter syndrome and it’s a real cluster of emotions.
While I don’t want my pre-determined limit to (duh) limit my potential and what I’m capable of, I also don’t want some preconceived notion of what I should be doing or achieving thwart me either. Living that way has been robbing me of joy, which—you guys—is totally not worth it.
And yes, it’s a lesson that I keep coming back to and (hopefully) one of these days will finally stick with me for good.