If you have read my blog or followed me on social media at all, you will know I have a story that I tell myself. When you think about it we all have stories we tell ourselves every day. They can be helpful stories that get you through your day or they can be a hinderance and hold you back. They might be something like “I have a green thumb” or “I suck at burpees”. The thing about these stories is they can often become self fulfilling prophecies. If you think you are a good gardner, you will probably invest a lot of time in it, enjoy it and excel at it. If you think you suck at burpees, you’ll probably not enjoy them and subsequently never improve at them.
When it comes to running I have two stories that I tell myself.
The first is my helpful story, that I am strong. It is a story that I have slowly written and cultivated over the past few years. I have invested a lot of time reaffirming this story and strengthening it because it helps me. My coach has also helped to constantly refocus on the fact that I am strong whenever I am struggling with my training. It has served me well in my running, particularly in the longer stuff because when it gets tough I can always fall back to “I am strong” and I can convince myself that I can get through, up this mountain, past this moment because of that.
The second story I tell myself is that I’m slow. It has become a story that I cling to. It is somewhat of a comfort, because if I know I’m slow and I tell everyone I’m slow then mine and everyone else’s expectations will be low. No pressure. If I come last or miss a cutoff its just because “I’m slow”. My coach is well aware of this story. Last year he had me run a short trail race as hard as I could, partly to show me that I’m not as slow as I think. Of course whilst being stoked with my result, I also put a whole load of qualifications on that run (most of the fast people I know weren’t running or were still recovering from big races held during the weekend prior, plus Strava always shows you just how slow or fast you are if you really want to look). When I came second at Northburn my immediate reaction was one of embarrassment and when telling anyone my result I would immediately qualify it with “but I was 10hrs behind the female winner, because I’m slow”.
Even just a few weeks ago in an email to my coach after doing some speedwork I lamented that “I’m strong to the moon and back, but oh so slow”. I will actually go on Strava and affirm to myself that yes, I am in fact slow in comparison to most other runners on there. I ignore the fact that slowness is relative. Yes, my speed is relatively slow to others, in fact my fast is some others recovery pace but it goes both ways, to someone else I am fast, yet I ignore that.
You see, I needed to reaffirm the slowness, because at the moment it is something that we are working on, focussing on.
The thing about these stories is that they are comforting, they are a known quantity. Its a comfort to know that when I’m out there my speed doesn’t really matter, cause hey! I’m slow! Now however, we are focussing on it, I’m trying to build speed and the thought that I may not be quite so slow is confronting. It brings about expectations, largely that I put on myself. What if I think I can be faster and I do a race and I fall short? It doesn’t even have to be a race, what if I expect I can run faster and I don’t? It brings about uncertainty. Despite always wanting to be faster there is something of a comfort of being able to fall back on the “but thats ok, thats what I expected, because I’m slow”.
I have a speed workout tomorrow. It is hard and it is scary. Hard because, well speed work is hard! Its also hard because I put expectations on myself. I get caught between wanting to be fast but also wanting to subconsciously confirm my story, my fallback, my comfortable space. I will celebrate my PB’s but usually I am also looking at how slow my fast is compared to everyone else. Its a story I need to rewrite, no matter uncomfortable or confronting it is, because its a story that I think is holding me back.