I've always been relatively competitive. I don't particularly like to lose, at anything. But with running for the most part I have always kept my expectations realistic. While I may have been driven to be the best on the team in high school, or driven to be the fastest of my friends when I started into endurance sports I always knew there was going to be someone faster and I had no delusions of grandeur. I was perfectly content to chase minor PRs and slowly get better year after year or pursue some other venue if I wasn't getting better.
Then in 2008 Boston held the women's marathon trials. I watched that race and thought to myself, what is the difference between these women and me? I wasn't looking at the Deena Kastors and Magdelena's and Blake's in the group, but rather the women who were running towards the back of the pack. Women who clearly weren't professional runners, but had found a way to get to a sub elite level while still holding down full time jobs, raising children, and pursuing lives outside running. Running 3:22:50 the next day at Boston clearly the answer was, they were doing a lot more. But was it something I could achieve?
I decided then I needed to run more mileage and get serious about my workouts. Getting myself down to 3:16:30 the next year at Boston before starting to work with my coach who has taken me to 2:49:53 at Columbus last fall, and in the process I have taken down my PRs in every distance from the mile to the marathon. Clearly I have come so close to reaching this goal that seemed like a real long shot at the time. Something you thought about doing, something maybe you told a few close friends you wanted to do, something you weren't even really sure was feasible. And now I am here staring the next seven months in the face and knowing that while I have come so far I still have a long way to go.
Clearly my body has responded well to training, and up until the last few months every race I have run was a new PR indicating better fitness. Achieving these results builds confidence and I think that is what allowed me to let go of my doubt and go for it at Columbus. But the truth of it is that about a month before Columbus I was seriously contemplating trying for the 2:46 then. My training partner was going for it and our other training buddy was on her way to getting it done at Wineglass. I was doing the same workouts as them, the same mileage, but I just wasn't confident I could get 2:46. So while publicly everyone thought I would be gunning for sub 3 I was actually toying with 2:46 and the moment I decided to take that off the table and go for 2:50 instead I felt this huge wave of relief. My instincts told me I was ready for 2:50 despite my best time being a 3:05:57 and having blown up at Boston trying for sub 3. Somewhere inside I just knew I was ready for better.
Being competitive I wanted to place well at Columbus leading up to the race. I felt with a 2:50 I should have a run at top 5. At the expo I asked for a list of the elites. I did my homework and noted that instead of a few gals who might compete that there were around 15 girls lining up the next morning with credentials equal to or better than mine. I decided then to ignore my competitors and just run my own race for time. This also left me relaxed and focused on just myself, allowing me to run without fear. (Imagine my surprise when I placed 2nd!) Not many people expected me to place well or even to run a great time (note what I consider a great time for myself holds no bearing on what I believe to be great for others). Running my race I was able to do something unexpected by others and to achieve a goal I was pretty sure I was capable of on a good day.
But even though I had this great race at Columbus, and I had great races in shorter distances leading up to Columbus I still don't think of myself as a real competitor. For some reason I have this underdog complex. I don't have the benefit of coming from a track background, I was never an all American, I don't have the confidence of someone who is used to going out and dominating a race field. I currently lack the tenacity of a champion. I watch my competition get better and I put them up on this personally unachievable pedestal while holding myself on the ground.
I am not sure when this started. I have always had perceptions of a "pecking order" in the local running scene. When I first got back into running I was aiming to be within a certain % of the top women, then I wanted to place in my age group, now I want to place overall locally, and stay top 1% in more competitive fields. I certainly know all of the girls in the local racing scene who are currently out of my league, and those that I am close to, and those who are coming after me. And I think it is holding me back. I have this perception that I will never be good enough no matter how fast I get, no matter how hard I work. I have this fear of getting left behind while watching all of my speedy pals continue to get better.
I perceive this to be one of my (many) mental issues that is holding me back and that I need to overcome in order to achieve my goals. It is one of my goals this summer to toe the line with no fear of any other woman on it. To focus purely on myself and run the best times I am capable of on the day no matter who is there. I need to make sure my perception of who I should and shouldn't be able to keep up with doesn't hold me back.
I need to shed my underdog complex.