What to Say When Anyone Casts Shade on Your Goals

“I don’t run unless someone is chasing me.”

“You’re not a good enough runner to need a coach.”

“There’s no way you’re going to BQ at that race. You’re not running enough miles.”

“I could never imagine wasting so much time running.”

You’ve heard these statements; I certainly have. From people who don’t know better, and sometimes those that do, questioning your race goals—or your running altogether.

Having an unsupportive friend or family member sucks. A few years ago, I had a friend who pretended to care about my running. When I would show up at brunch after a double-digit long run, she would comment, “I don’t know why you run for hours and hours.” After races, she asked polite questions and half-heartedly congratulated me on personal records. I knew she didn’t really “get” fitness, so I just blew it off. When she made rude or ignorant comments, I shrugged because I didn’t know what else to do.

When she casually skipped watching my marathon with all of our other friends, I should have taken that as a sign that she cared as much about me as she did about running. (Read: not very much.) We’re not friends anymore.

So many of us have friends and family who make it their mission to complain about running, or who refuse to attend races. My friend and client, Marian, dated a guy who supported her running but didn’t want to watch her race. She felt guilty about spending time training for a marathon, so she kept going out and doing fun stuff with him instead. When Marian fell short of her race goals, she realized that there wasn’t a healthy balance. Eventually, they broke up.

Sometimes, the lack of support is unintentional. Initially, I had to explain to my husband why some races mattered to me more than others. Scott asked me to tell him when I wanted him there, and when it was okay for him to skip. That’s entirely reasonable. (Since we’ve even created a system where he wears something bright and unique so I can find him among the spectators instead of him trying to find me in a crowd of runners.).

Obviously, situations like Marian’s are harder to deal with than, say, having a friend who says occasionally that she doesn’t “get” running. I’m not a therapist, so I can’t really give advice, but just know that you are not alone in this experience. (If this has become a substantial issue in your relationship, don’t hesitate to get a second--professional--opinion.)

An even more insidious form of criticism, though, comes from fellow runners. Last year, my client Kirsten wanted to make a substantial PR in a fall marathon. After analyzing her previous races, we decided to switch up the plan she had been using. We drastically cut her mileage to avoid the overuse injuries she’d experienced before. While training, Kirsten ran socially with her running group. During her taper, one of her friends voiced concern that her training program didn’t have enough mileage for her to accomplish her goal.

In a separate conversation, Kirsten talked to a coach from her running group. While he excited for her to try a new approach, he also voiced concern. “I’m not sure this is enough to get you that big of a PR.” She really trusted his opinion, so that, combined with what her friend had said, cast doubt into her mind.

Kirsten had been skeptical of changing her plan in the first place. But she hadn’t gotten the results she wanted with the group’s training plan, either. Kirsten knew that we had worked closely to create a plan that would work for her whole life, not just when she ran with the group. Ultimately, she decided to stick to it.

What happened to Kirsten, though, happens all the time. A lot of runners don’t fit into the one-size-fits-all programs clubs offer. As a coach, and arguably an expert in running through education and experience, I know that there are many different ways to approach running. High mileage, low mileage, speedwork, running with walk breaks, running without, chi running, running only three days a week, running every day, the Hanson Method, the Jack Daniels Method, the Galloway Method, the McMillan training program.

Every runner is different. Our bodies are incredibly unique, and when you add factors like age, lifestyle, past injuries, and diet to the mix, how we “should” run becomes even more diverse and complex. That’s why high mileage might work for you but create a huge PR for me. That’s also why I talk extensively with every runner I coach. I want to understand who you are, what your life is like, and what you want to do with your running.

Ultimately, both Kirsten’s coach and friend were wrong. She blew past her aggressive PR to get an even more audacious time. She made the biggest PR of any client I had that year. And she was smart enough not to tell me about her experience with doubt until afterward. Because I was pissed. I hate when runners question what someone else can do. And it happens all the time.

So, what should you do when you are (inevitably) in Kirsten’s situation?

First, take anyone else’s opinion with a grain of salt. They are not you. They don’t have to run that marathon, chase that PR, or do that hard speed workout. Only you know what you are capable of. That doesn’t give you a pass to not work hard or not take chances or not go for a goal, or blow off training, but these are all your choices. Own what you’re doing.

Second, you have my permission to tell the person to fuck off. Your run coach said it is okay. Just say the sentence in the preceding paragraph starting with “They are not…” and switch the pronouns. Or you can take the high road and say something bland like, “Thanks for the feedback.”

Because unless that person is a divine running god that none of us knows about yet, their opinion is just that: their opinion. Even run coaches who have a lot of knowledge are biased towards our own experience and the type of clients we work with. We’re not the experts on you. And neither is your boyfriend who hasn’t done a track workout since high school, the guy at the gym who has the nerve to correct your squats (wtf), or the well-meaning coach at running club.

When it comes to running criticism--from a runner or someone who hasn’t worked out in years, don’t let people give you shit about your dreams.

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Meghan StevensonComment