Monday, August 22, 2005

The Road to Discouragement

For the most part, moving our bodies feels good. Even with a few aches and pains, even with the strange sensations that overtake our bodies, even with the sounds of our lungs struggling to get in enough air-it still feels good. We know that this is the right thing to be doing.

Unfortunately, the joy doesn't always last. All too soon the thrill of our own success is replaced by our need to compare ourselves to others. No longer satisfied with the miracle that is occurring in our lives, we begin to look at our relative place and pace in the running world. Our best is no longer good enough.

this shouldn't come as a surprise. We are told from childhood to do our best, but we know that our best is rarely good enough. We learned quickly that there was always a goal just beyond our reach that someone else had accomplished already, that we could reach if we really did our best. When our best fell short, as it often did, we were consoled by "Well, at least you tried."

We should remember that before children are taught that it is possible for them to be better or worse than someone else, they generally are quite content with their abilities. They accept, without complaint, the frustration of trying to learn to talk, crawl, walk, and use the bathroom. A young child is completely unaware that he/she is two weeks behind the normal developmental schedule. Children know only that the process is occurring at a pace that is suited to their needs and desires.

The road to discouragement begins with a single word:SHOULD. As soon as the word "should" appears in our thinking about our running, we are in trouble. When we think we "should" be able to run faster, or that we "should" be able to run farther, we have often taken the first step on the path to frustration and failure.

Sometimes it begins when a well-meaning friend, often a seasoned runner, begins to outline a training program and introduces the new runner to the word "should". Armed with the accumulated wisdom and expectations of a hundred running books and training guides, this friend explains just how far and how fast the new runner "should" be running everyday.

When people ask me how far or how fast they "should" run, I ask them how far and how fast they "can" run. The secret to being successful at a running program is to take how far and how fast you "can" run, ask yourself how far and how fast you "want" to run, and then learn to live with narrowing the gap between what you "can" do and what you "want" to do.

Ask yourself how far you can run today. Be honest. It may be a quarter of a mile, it may be a marathon. Whatever it is, that's where YOU are as a runner. It doesn't make you a better or worse runner. It just tells you where you are as a runner.

All of us are somewhere. Like a good friend used to say "Wherever you are, there you are." If you don't like where you are, it's better to accept where you are and decide to move toward where you want to be than to berate yourself for where you are. I know very few runners, either recreational or professional, who will tell you that they are happy with where they are. Even if today is your first day as a runner, you share one quality with runners everywhere. You want to be better.

By starting with where you are and deciding on where you want to be, you can avoid the pitfalls of the "should's". You can avoid, from the very beginning, giving yourself feedback that is either falsely positive because you can exceed the "should's" or falsely negative because you can't meet the "should" standards. The alternative to accepting where you are and seeking only to improve is that you set yourself up for failure.

(From John Binghams book The Courage to Start)


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