Staying in the wilderness, or not chasing that goal.

A few weeks ago I was telling a friend that I was struggling with my running at the moment. While I was making my way back from injury, slowly increasing my miles, I could see the goals I had so confidently set myself in October of last year slipping away from me. My friend looked at me and asked me why I needed a goal at all. I have been chewing on that question ever since — it simply had not occurred to me not to set one.

Since I’ve started running I have set myself goals. Running started as a means to lose weight. Once I got there, I started setting race goals; my first 10Km, my first half marathon and my first marathon. 10 marathons, 2 half IMs and a full IM later and I’m finding it harder to set myself a goal that excites me. I thought I wanted to run an ultra. I like the ultra runners I know and read about who seem less focused on race times and more on having an incredible experience. I like the thought of discovering what my body and my mind will do when subjected to a new kind of physical stress.

However, right now my body simply won’t let me run the miles I need to to finish the ultra I’m booked in for in April. The achilles and heel have improved, but I need to take it carefully and balance effort with recovery, intensity with rehab.

And so this weekend found me running my local roads, listening to some new podcasts, setting off with low spirits. And then, as I ran and listened, I began to think about my running. About how all the goals I’ve set myself (and achieved) are goals of distance and / or time. And how I have limited myself with that. And I got to thinking why I set myself such measurable goals. A lot of that has to do with how achieving those measurable goals lets others perceive me. Put differently, achieving those goals gives me legitimacy in the eyes of others, or so I believe, and from their approval I take my own validation.

I was thinking of this current stage of my running life as my wilderness and how I had started my run trying desperately to find a goal to lead me out of it. But listening to the podcast and then switching my phone off and listening to my own head, I began to wonder whether I, perhaps, need to lean into the wilderness. To accept that, right now, running is not taking me to a measurable goal. And that, consequently, I maybe need to start validating myself without achieving a measured goal.

Thinking this through it made me realise that I don’t actually take my own running seriously. Oh — I do my runs and get my workouts in. I get to my races and I achieve what I set out to do. But I don’t take myself seriously as a runner. I play down what I’ve done so far, how much I think and know about it, and how big a part of my life it is. I worry about appearing obsessive and too pleased with myself. In a practical way, I don’t pay enough attention to nutrition and recovery and rehab. And I suspect all of this is because, like so many women, I feel like an impostor in my chosen passion and I don’t feel I am good / fast / like a “real runner” enough. And all of that is bullshit.

I am the only one who gets to decide whether I am a runner. And I need to actually own that identity and make it whatever I think I want it to be. I can take myself seriously as an athlete and still be a kind and humble human being. But this irritating habit I have of minimising what I do so that I don’t pose any threat (to whom?) has got to end.

So — a new goal. To take myself seriously as a runner. To schedule my training in, like all other important things. To make sure I am as rested and well nourished as I can be to do the workouts I need to do. To write my workouts down and reflect on them. To take myself as seriously, in the end, as I take all the other runners, fast and slow, famous or beloved running buddies, who form this community I love.

The races will come — I’ll see where this ends up. Right now I’m heading to bed for an early night and a pre-dawn run on Monday morning. BRING ME ON!

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