What Slows Runners Down May Surprise You

I’m not a mom—of children, anyway. I call myself a “Mommy” to my dogs, but I’ve never wanted human children of my own. That’s cost me more than a few boyfriends, and girlfriend after girlfriend, in my twenties and thirties.

Even though I don’t plan on having children myself, I’m interested in other women’s experiences of motherhood. I see what my friends and relatives go through for and with their children. And though all I can compare that to is Sasha tearing her ACL or Sport throwing tantrums, I believe that I need to understand what it’s like to be a parent in order to be a good coach to the runners I work with who are mothers. (And yes, dads too.) As a coach, I must understand how seemingly simple changes to a runner’s routine or an innocuous suggestion can cause a shit storm for one of my clients.

But I can’t ever really know what motherhood is like. Like being a spouse or a friend, the dynamic is more complex and nuanced on the inside than it seems from the outside. So I read. A lot. One of my favorite recent articles is “Motherhood in the Age of Fear”. The author, Kim Brooks, talks about how she was charged for delinquency of a minor because she left her child in the car while running an errand.

As a kid who was locked inside a station wagon while my parents did other things, I totally empathize with Brooks. Sometimes kids don’t want to get out of the car. I joke that home improvement stores trigger PTSD because my dad would bring my brother and me there to get us out of the house, and we would be there all f*cking day. So I agree with Brooks when she wrote that she felt she didn’t do anything wrong. (And leaving a child in the car wasn’t illegal in the state where she did it, either.)

Later on in the article, when Brooks talked about living with a public accusation of being a bad parent, one sentence stood out.

“This is what shame does to women. It isolates us and makes us feel like our stories aren’t really stories at all but idiosyncratic flaws.”

When I read that, I felt like Kim Brooks saw me. A stranger had tapped into something I knew, deep in my heart, to be true. Immediately, I thought of how experiences I’ve had turned into stories about who I was, which became narratives about what I could do and what I could achieve. I thought of how this pattern of turning stories into beliefs has held me back in so many ways, from dreaming big to running fast.

And then I thought of you.

So often, I talk with runners who feel like they are the only one who doesn’t fit in at the group run; the only one who is struggling with their weight, with their food, with their job, or with their partner; the only one who can’t get faster.

As Brooks points out, part of the fallacy is that we think it’s us. We are socialized to assume that having that experience is our own fault. It’s our crime for being the unique individuals we are, with our own beliefs, capabilities and goals.

But guess what? IT’S NOT. It is SO, SO, SO, SO not.

Do you remember when #metoo started? I was on vacation with Scott. I had been transparent and open about the two times I had been sexually assaulted on the street—telling anyone who would listen—but I had never told anyone about the time a male colleague trapped me in a corner and made lewd sexual comments while we were working together at a retail store.

When I opened up Facebook and saw friend after friend, colleague after colleague, sharing #metoo stories, I remembered how ashamed I had felt, how embarrassed, how responsible. Yet deep down, I knew I wasn’t to blame. It was my colleague’s fault, and the only mistake I made was not reporting it right away. I had nothing to feel bad about because I had done nothing wrong. The day I switched the narrative from me being too flirty at work to a story about being harassed by a colleague was the day that I got the courage to share it with others—first with Scott, and then on Facebook in a public post.

I said, “me too”. And, in my opinion, that phrase doesn’t just apply to sexual harassment. It applies to all the shame we’ve been socialized to carry. A lot of the shame and guilt we carry around—as runners, as mothers, as women—isn’t unique, and it certainly isn’t personal.

It’s just a story.

And when we begin to see it as that—as a narrative that has been sold to us in order to control us, and to minimize us, and yes, to keep us down as women—then it’s easier to detach it from our identity.

If you’ve worked with me, you know a red flag in any conversation starts with “I am...” I am slow. I am lazy. I am too busy. I am overwhelmed. When we tie negative shit to our identity, we turn a story into a belief. And over time, all those negative stories weigh us down, mentally and emotionally. And that’s the shit that holds us back, not just in running but in every other aspect of our lives, from being promoted at work to being a supportive spouse, and yes, even the best mom to our children (dog or human).

So let’s stop. Let’s stop assuming that the bad shit that happens in our lives, that the criticism other people dole out on us, that anyone who disagrees with or dislikes us is our fault or somehow due to us each being the unique fucking snowflakes that we are.

Because none of that is true—it’s all just stories.

And most stories are made up.