Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Someone Who Thinks You Can't

Reason to exercise #101: Because there is someone out there who thinks you can't.

I can't take credit for this little gem of wisdom, I saw it on Twitter and re-tweeted. For each one of us athletes who trains hard to attain specific goals, there is likely someone, or several people, out there questioning us or doubting us. So instead of letting that person bring us down, let them fuel our fire to work harder and smarter in pursuit of our goals! 

Any psychologist will tell you that people who doubt you or who project negativity onto you are actually just exhibiting their insecurities. The ones who tell you that you can't attain your goals, or you'll get injured, or you're aiming to high-- instead of buying into their negativity, you have to question why it matters so much to them. Some of them may even be fellow athletes who disagree with your approach, your philosophy or even the statements you make about yourself. They put you down because underneath it all, they believe it invalidates their approach or their achievements.

Most of us already struggle with self doubt and our own negativity at times that we certainly don't need others questioning our goals and aspirations as athletes. (As a side note, I believe anyone who trains for a race is an athlete and I don't like categorizing runners vs. joggers or competitive vs. amateur.) We all need to respect each other as athletes no matter how different our capabilities are. Even the folks who run/walk their way to a six-hour marathon deserve respect because they have a goal. What they are doing in no way undermines what I am doing. 

Why do I bring this up now? I have personally encountered folks both online and face-to-face at races who have blatantly belittled me and scoffed at my goals. These aren't people I'm in direct competition with, but people who disagree with my philosophies on running. And it's often under the guise of them "just trying to be helpful," but sometimes it's less masked.  

Personally, I consider myself to be someone who takes a realistic and conservative approach to training. Even more so within the past two years. But there will always be someone out there who "thinks I can't" no matter how reasonable my goals may be. Maybe I'll attain my goals, and maybe I won't. But nothing is going to stop me from trying and putting myself out there and using this blog to do so. I started this blog as a way to document my reflections on my training and racing and I'm not asking anyone to agree with my assessment of these things. If someone doesn't agree, then they don't have to read. It was my decision to make this blog open to the public so I realize I have opened myself up to criticism and negative comments. Along with all the wonderful support I get from 95% of my readers, there will inevitably be those who "think I can't". 

Why blog about my races? A finish time at a race doesn't tell the story and I don't want that to be my only takeaway years later. For example, a 1:46 half marathon, which is 5 minutes slower than my PR, looks like a regression in my abilities, but it was actually on target with what I wanted to achieve in that race. By the same token, my marathon PR from 2009 was actually one of my worst races, as I ended up in the medical tent with hypothermia. As runners, we tend to get obsessed about numbers and times, but we must remember that the journey is far more important than the destination. 

Before I even started running marathons, I had a boss who ran them. He told me that he really liked looking through the race results and seeing everyone's splits. He could tell who had a good race and who didn't based on the difference between their starting and finishing paces. I didn't know much about running back then, but his thinking made a lot of sense. 

I apologize if this blog is vague, but I'll use this post to remind me of what's most important and not allow others to project negativity onto my running or diminish my achievements. 


  1. Isn't it frustrating that we can have 100 people tell us how awesome and proud they are of us and then 1 or 2 make a snide remark - and THAT is what sticks with us? Oh well. Just one more thing that makes us stronger!

  2. I dunno.

    On the one hand, I think that you can make an analogy to pacing. In the early stages of race, you need to set your own rhythm independent of what others are doing, rather than let yourself be drawn out to fast. And similarly, your training and goals need to be established in terms of what is best for you, which may not match what works for others.

    On the other hand, I've found that, for myself, sometimes the advice that gets under my skin the most is exactly the advice I needed to hear :) The key is to find people that you respect, and then listen to them when they tell you what you don't want to hear.

  3. Jessica- exactly!

    Cris- constructive criticism is always appeciated, which is why I am a fan of RWOL. But being negative without having anything useful to contrubite isn't cool! FWIW, you are someone I can always count on to be both supportive and honest, and I always look forward to your perspective!

  4. Great post. I will never ever forget the day my ex (a non-runner with a spare tire for a waist) told me that I would probably never run a Sub 3. His explanation was, "You've just reached your plateau." Just like Jessica said, one negative comment can shine, even within a hundred positive ones.

    Count me as one that says YOU CAN DO IT, ELIZABETH!

    Ps. Sometimes I do enjoy people critiquing my training. I think devil's advocate and hearing other approaches makes me a better runner. Either I change things to improve or become more confident in what I am doing. Critisizing a race, though, is not cool.

  5. L.A.-- I am SO glad you are rid of that jerk. I don't mind folks critiquing my training at all if it's well-intended. But sometimes it's obviously not.

  6. Elizabeth you'll never BQ so just get it out of your system now.

    ... I'm kidding of course. :)

  7. This is a great post! I've had non-athletic local strangers who've seen me run, stop me at my grocery store to make snide remarks. I don't understand (a)why they think their opinion is worthy, who are you to me? (b) you are you, I am me, you, me, you. me. different. Why can't they see that?

    I agree with Jessica, and I also 100% agree with your statement, "They put you down because underneath it all, they believe it invalidates their approach or their achievements."

    Everyone has taken a different path to get to where they are. I really think that giving your mind a carrot to chase is what keeps you motivated. Sometimes the carrot may be too far away, but sometimes you may grab it and keep going. The thing is you'll never know if you don't try.

  8. Thank you for this post. I have heard the "you can't do that" my entire life about sports and running. Throughout the years I have weeded out everyone who was negative and only hung on to those positive folks.
    But sometimes it feels awesome to use that person's negative words as fuel for your fire, accomplish your goal, and shove it in their face afterwards and say, "So I could, I can, and I did. Take that." :)
    Thank you again, it really perked up my mood. :)

  9. i love this post so much, you are so right! for me, right now i am setting really big goals for myself but the reason i'm setting the bar where i am is because i BELIEVE i can do it. i don't believe it will be easy for me and i know it will take a lot of hard work, smart training, intelligent racing and determination and guts to get there. the last thing i need is someone to plant negative thoughts of self-doubt in my head. the importance of positive thinking and believing in ourselves cannot be underestimated! i love reading your blog and learning about your training and racing! i blog for the same reasons :o)

  10. totally true. i still remember the guy who said 'wow, it tkaes you 5 hrs to run a marathon, i think i'd die, you need to speed up' THREE years ago but have no recollection of the countless friends who are proud I even wake up on rainy am's to sneak in a run!!

  11. All wonderful comments!

    One of my biggest frustrations is that I haven't run a good marathon in over three years, although I have trained for quite a few of them. My marathon times over the past three years aren't reflective of my training. But I've had people tell me that the training doesn't matter-- just the finish time. Most of my bad marathons were due to unseasonably hot weather, but I've been told I was just making "excuses" for not being able to execute on race day.

  12. great post! THANKS!

  13. Great post! It is really hard to shake the negative comments, especially since we all tend to have some negative thoughts too. And,as others have said, there's definitely a difference between constructive criticism and those negative comments that really aren't meant to be helpful. It's hard, but we need to shake off those strictly negative remarks (and use the constructive ones to our advantage).

  14. Great post, Elizabeth! I think all of this is really true - at the end of the day it doesn't matter what other people think as each person is different and is motivated by different things. Thanks for sharing!

  15. I like this post A LOT. Things like this need to be said from time to time.
    One thing that drives me nuts is the Monday after a race when someone says, "Well I didn't see your name in the paper, guess you didn't win". It's just plain rude, and I take it as a backhanded compliment.
    I'm reading through your other comments, seems like a lot of people have memories of those kind of comments.