Friday, December 9, 2011

Running, Empowerment and Finding Yourself

I often get asked why I run. I could honestly write a novel on this topic because there are so many reasons why I run as much as I do. I sometimes even find myself asking why I care so much about a race goal, but I usually can't articulate an answer.

I'll circle back to the topic of why I run, but to do so I'm going to first provide some context.

As I have mentioned in previous posts over the past 6-8 months, I have had a lot of stress in my life recently. Not the type of stress that I had in 2010 when I was planning a wedding, buying a new house and making all kinds of life changes. I'm talking about internal stress. I've been spending a lot of time inside my own head, asking myself some challenging questions and searching for the answers.

The word "stress" has a negative connotation, but stress can be good too! It's how we grow, change and learn about ourselves. My life hasn't changed very much over the past year, but my perceptions have changed drastically. I apologize for speaking in vague terms, but the specifics aren't appropriate or even relevant to this blog. The important point is that our perception of our world IS our world and when our perception changes, WE change. Or more likely--  as we change, so does our perception. I'm getting very philosophical now.

As humans we all need external validation and we all struggle with self-worth in some form of another. No one is exempt from this need. However, understanding this need for approval from others and how it plays into our self-worth requires a great deal of introspection.

For me, the transition from college to the "real world" was a difficult one. Looking back, I think it was the lack of structure that presented the biggest challenge. Until that point, I always knew what I was supposed to be doing, and it was very easy for me to get the external validation I needed. Study. Get good grades. Participate in extra-curricular activities. Have an active social life (ie. go out drinking with friends frequently). I was able to do all of these things relatively well, so my life was easy.

Once I graduated, things weren't as black and white. I needed a goal-- something tangible that was mine and that I could succeed at. Having a job wasn't enough because of stability issues that came with the burst of the DotCom bubble. I also wasn't used to living alone and having to "commute" through traffic to see my friends. This is when I turned to exercise and fitness. It was a very simple solution to filling that need.

About five years later, I discovered racing, which presented me with another opportunity to succeed at something tangible and measurable. I won't go as far as to say that running defined my self-worth, but it was by far the biggest element. It's not that I didn't think there were other valuable aspects about me-- it's just that those other qualities weren't objective. It didn't matter how great I thought I was, because I didn't see myself as a qualified judge. Was I truly intelligent? Was I truly a good person? I thought so-- but I had no way of really knowing that because such things aren't measurable.

When you have something measurable providing you with your sense of self worth, then you don't have to do the real "work" of truly believing in yourself. It's HARD to believe in yourself. It sounds easy, but to truly believe in yourself, you often need to defy what others think. You have to go out on a limb and know your worth even when you think other people might disagree. People who dream big and accomplish great things don't get there by setting "reasonable" goals. They go out on a limb, believe in themselves, and don't listen to people who tell them they can't do something.

I run because it's where I find my power. When I feel that other people are dragging me down and walking all over me, I go for a run and I feel strong again. With running, it's somewhat "safe" to dream big, because there will always be another marathon, another chance to achieve my goals if one race doesn't go my way. And when I do set a new PR or meet a specific race goal, then there's no doubt that I succeeded and nobody can take that feeling away from me by giving their opinion.

Many runners say that they have found themselves through running. I find this to be very true of myself. But it's not an endgame. In fact it's just an opening into many other possibilities for me to unlock my potential.

What's changing in my life is that I'm starting to find power within myself that isn't necessarily measurable. Don't get me wrong-- running is amazing and wonderful and I love it. But I'm finding my own power in terms of knowing what I am truly capable of, even when people around me think I am not. It's one thing when there is just one negative voice among the many other voices of encouragement and praise. But it's another story when it seems like you are the minority in thinking you can succeed at something.

I apologize for the vague nature of this blog post. I do plan to continue to run/train with the same passion and motivation as always. I'm not suggesting that I shift focus away from running, but rather toward how running fits into the bigger picture of my life, who I am, and what I stand for.


  1. Stress (and I agree not all stress is bad stress)and discomfort often equal growth which is always a good thing.

  2. A lovely post! I think that one of the benefits of doing something (anything) that you discover you can do well is that you unleash the positive feedback loop - you are good, which encourages you to continue at it, which causes you to improve more and become even better. Sometimes it's hard to see this in areas of your life where you're not so good - but if you can apply the lesson, it will help you get better at the things you're not so good at, too.

  3. I like this post, this is the type of post we all need to write, so that we can take a moment and really think about why we care so much about running, or any hobby really.
    I can relate with the structure part. I dropped out of college, and sort of feel like running makes up for that lost piece of me, in a weird, Freudian way.

  4. It's like the shirt that says "Running is cheaper than therapy." You are a good person, Elizabeth. Things will sway your way soon. Hang tough.

  5. I like this, I like how introspective you are, it's how we all grow. Don't stop looking...

  6. I love this, and I totally agree with the post-college feeling of being a little lost. I still use running/triathlon for my sense of purpose and I'm impressed that you're growing beyond that!

  7. Love this "I run because it's where I find my power. When I feel that other people are dragging me down and walking all over me, I go for a run and I feel strong again. With running, it's somewhat "safe" to dream big, because there will always be another marathon, another chance to achieve my goals ..."
    I;ve always been a runner, since i was 18, but I really dove into running after the passing of my uncle and shortly after after the love of my life broke me is my therapy, it is also cheaper than therapy! is what you described above to me, still. love your post

  8. I've always been a believer in the "think it into action" motto. Unfortunately I think it works for negative thoughts as well as positive. :)