My Dark Friend
There’s been a tall dark stranger in my life for many years. Although I’ve managed to keep my distance from him, I always sensed his shadow, lurking around the corner. I had gotten accustomed to his subtle presence, never realizing the extent to which he led me to be cautious and afraid.
But now, I’m ready to come face to face with him. I’m ready to stand up to him.I’m even ready to become his friend. Let me introduce you to him: his name is FEAR.
Chances are, you’ve met him as well. He’s that type of guy that everyone knows yet no one really wants to let into the “in” group. We like to think that if we don’t acknowledge his presence, he might simply go away. But the reality is that he IS everywhere, in all aspects of our life-our career, our relationships, our ambitions, and our running.
Yet, here’s the funny part: once you decide to stop running away from Fear, you will find that life takes on a whole new dimension. By listening to the message that he’s trying to convey, you end up learning a lot about yourself. In this respect, your relationship might even evolve to “friends with benefits” status!
It wasn’t until last summer that I began to understand the way in which Fear was limiting my running. In my post race reflection of the North Face Endurance Challenge Blue Mountain race, I wrote the following:
…As I was journaling in my hotel room the night before the race, I realized that part of my relaxed approach to racing was actually fuelled by fear. The fear of not knowing what type of hills are around the corner; the fear of going out too hard only to bonk; the fear of disappointing myself and others; and the fear of losing the love of running. By racing cautiously, I was in control. I was seeking the familiarity of my reliable running pace, having full confidence that I could sustain the pace. I was reducing the uncertainty, the fear. At the same time, however, this control was limiting my running experience.
With this new insight, I decided that it was time to be brave and to approach this race differently. I got out of my comfort zone and ran more aggressively with a little bit of risk taking. I ended up having a stellar performance while still appreciating the surroundings and the comradery of other runners.
This was a turning point for me: I realized that facing fear, rather than running away from it, allowed me to experience running on a new, even more positive level.
So now I’m taking it a step further by embracing my fear with road running. Although I’m a trail girl at heart and I will never go back to doing a lot of road running, I realized that part of the reason why I’ve dodged road races (I’ve done 2 races in past 8 years) and avoided structured speed/interval training (I haven’t followed a plan for years) is because of FEAR:
Fear of the pain of running hard and holding an aggressive pace.
Fear of not being tough enough.
Fear of getting injured.
Fear of running by pace as opposed to running by feeling.
Fear of facing reality and quantifying my fitness.
Fear of taking it too seriously and losing my passion for running.
Ironically, most of this fear also applies trail running and limits my off-road accomplishments. But now I’m ready to face my fears even more. I’m ready to be vulnerable. I’m ready to go with the flow and see what happens. So I’m beginning with baby steps.
The first step is attending weekly quality workouts with MB Performance, an extremely welcoming and fun group that I also started coaching with. It’s been around 9 years since I’ve trained with a group and where I’m chasing specific targets. Although its only been a few sessions, the fear I bring to the workout is pretty obvious—I’m afraid to push the pace; I’m afraid to over-exert myself, go out too hard, and completely bonk. Much of this stems from the fact that I simply lost touch with my abilities, my thresholds and myself. I’ve been so focused on running for passion and pure pleasure, that I let this part of me slip away. So now it’s time to explore this part of myself again. It’s not always easy! At one of the earlier sessions, I stopped 50m early in the 2nd interval. I had pushed the pace and suddenly felt very spent and exhausted. Rather than pushing through it for a tiny bit longer or slowing down the pace, I got scared and stopped. I think I could have kept running it thru; but because I’m not used to running at this intensity any more, I freaked. This is not a tactic I’d recommend to my fellow athletes-but hey, I’m human and have my weak moments too!
I’m also standing up to my fear by jumping into a few road races. There’s no doubt that I prefer trail races to road races for many reasons including the scenery, the culture and vibe. But a big reason why I avoid road races is because a) I doubt my abilities; b) I’ve built it up in my mind that its going to be super painful (I’ll take a 50K over a 5K any day!) and c) I’m afraid of being disappointed with the numbers.
You can bet your money that there will be stress and anxiety and I’m almost certain that I’m going to try and talk myself out of running the race the night before until my husband politely tells me “suck it up buttercup and get out there and run.” And I will, and I know that afterwards I will be grateful for doing so. But I also know that with each race, I will have taken one big step forward and that my fear will have lessened a bit more.
And you know what? It’s kinda fun to flirt with fear. Maybe you should give it a try.