Motivation and encouragement are trickier than I once thought.
A few years ago, I was called out on an online forum for being patronizing to other female runners because I say things like, “you’re doing great.” during a race.
The person who called me out didn’t know me at all. She described enough about the the race and my outfit that I’m pretty sure it was me. I remember reading along and thinking, hey I was there and then wait a minute … that’s me…but wait don’t be hurt … that’s not what I meant…I wanted to encourage you.
I was stunned because the reason I say encouraging words to other racers is simply to encourage them. I say these things to women and men. I say things that I like to hear. I never, for example say, “you’re looking great” at mile 23 of a marathon because that’s just not true. I might say, “Keep it up! With every step we’re closer to the finish!”
This was a women’s only group. It turned out that many women didn’t find it helpful. In fact, it made them angry. And it wasn’t just the original poster – plenty of others jumped in to say how awful and mean I was.
Just leave me alone
I was gobsmacked by the comments. I tried hard to get outside of my perspective and see their point of view which was: that they perceived themselves as being larger in size and slower than the way they saw others in the race. That comments made during races were patronizing and degrading to them. That those who said things to them wanted them to not participate in our great sport and didn’t want them there. That others should know to simply “be quiet” and “leave them alone.”
It was really a different perspective than I had ever personally experienced. I wanted to be respectful of their opinions so I even stopped complimenting and encouraging other runners for a while. Before too long the compliments came back because it turns out that the smiles and compliments is a part of who I am as a runner and a triathlete.
I am much more cautious doling them out these days however – I admit it. I never want to be flamed like that online again.
Miles and Smiles
I smile while I run. I say, “good job” to people who are running with me and past me and in the other direction.
On the bike, I even thank cars for not running me over at intersections. I am especially thankful for that because running into a car while you are on the bike is a losing deal for the cyclist.
Throughout my day, I make a huge effort to smile and say thank you to those who I deal with. It’s who I am. I’ve worked hard to become that person because I believe that happiness is a choice and if I can share a smile then that’s something worth doing.
I guess my intentions aren’t always received how I intend them to be.
This article or post has been simmering for a few years in the back of my mind because to be honest I’m not entirely sure how to write it. It hurt when that person insulted me. It stung when she said that when I tell a slower runner that they were doing a good job that I was being patronizing.
That’s not my intention. Quite the opposite actually. I’m not a fast runner but I do my best and I personally love it when others encourage me. While I’ve been a runner for a long time I’m a fairly new swimmer and a new cyclist and the encouragement of others is a big part of why I stuck with it. I also know enough about these sports of running and triathlon that we need new runners and triathletes every year or else the events will go away.
So, I’ve decided to write this and send it out and see what happens. I’ve been running a long time. I love to run and bike and swim. I’m not incredibly good at any of those things. I’m solidly in the middle of the pack but I love it. Finishing races brings me joy.
The truth behind a smile
One thing I know – I KNOW – to be true is that every single mile takes effort. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been running or biking or swimming. It’s still work. Whether you run an 18 minute mile or a 5 minute mile – it’s still work.
One of the incredible things about running, swimming, biking is that nobody can do it for you. Every single achievement you make you will do yourself. Even if you run in a group you have to run your own miles. Every single step is under your own power – that’s the only way it happens.
I couldn’t stop telling other runners, “good job,” or “you are doing great.” It’s just who I am. But also I mean it. My greatest hope when I see somebody out there running and working hard and putting in the effort is that they will keep going toward whatever their goal is.
To be a long time runner or triathlete is to start and stop a bunch of times. Very few people can maintain the motivation to train all the time. So most of us get “out of shape” at least once a year. We call this “off season.” I may not fall into couch potato shape but I do get out of shape and I do have to go through some time where my runs and bikes and especially my swims are really hard and unpleasant. But I’ve done it before and I know that the fitness will return and I know what it takes to get to the result. This past experience gives me the will to persist until the transformation starts.
Transformation results are slow
Making individual transformation results are so slow. This is not what anybody wants to hear. In this world of instant results for everything we want instant fitness results – but that’s not how it works.
It can take months to really see any difference and it’s a huge amount of work. But keep going. Please keep going. Because the results are worth it.
That’s why I say, “good job” when I run by you. That’s why I say, “you’re doing great. Keep it up.” at mile 11 in a half marathon. That’s why I’ll say, “you look great!” when I see you on a run course.
I know that every mile and every step is tough. I know that sometimes you might not believe in yourself. I want you to know that I believe in you. I want you to keep going. I want you to achieve your goal whatever it might be.
Nobody is watching but everybody (who matters) is cheering for you!
I have been doing this for a long time and several years ago a mom friend I knew was inspired to run a marathon because she saw me do it. We were good friends at that time and saw each other several times a week.
She was very self-conscious of this decision and told many friends that we both had that she wanted to do it before she told me. She was fearful that I would judge her and later when I asked her why she didn’t tell me earlier she said she thought I might say she wouldn’t be able to do it. Finally, when she told me what she was doing I was happy and excited for her. I try very hard to believe in others dreams and encourage them where I can.
A few weeks, later she asked me what time of day I ran. I told her. I run all times of day whenever I can fit it in. We both had young kids with busy family lives. She shared that she was running before the sun came up because she was self-conscious that others would see her run and she was shy that anybody should see her going so slow.
I assured her that most other runners are not paying any attention to her at all. I encouraged her to go to the weekly fun runs to see the other runners that they come in all sizes – shapes, ages and speeds. That there were even walking groups.
There are people out there who are jerks
Sadly becoming a runner or triathlete doesn’t automatically make you a nice person. I know, who knew. Lol.
That’s just a fact of life. The only way that I know of to deal with jerks is to ignore them and resist the urge to punch them in the nose. In my experience, most of us who are out there running, cycling and swimming for health are pretty much entirely focused on our own thing and aren’t watching you. I promise. It takes a lot of focus on breathing for most runs so that doesn’t leave a lot of effort over for judging others.
Back to my friend.
She started running with the group and she made some friends at her pace. Runners really do come in all speeds and ages and the run training group at Team Footworks includes walkers so everybody can find their place.
A setback can sometimes be seen as a setup for a comeback
She went on with her training and unfortunately she got injured and had to drop from the full marathon to the half and she felt like a failure.
I tried to help her see that to go from no running to a half marathon is still an amazing achievement. She wasn’t sure that she even wanted to run the half. But she did. She took a camera and took a photo at every half mile and enjoyed the day and the experience. And at the end she got a medal. It was a great day for her. Setting out to do something and then putting in the effort to make it happen and then finally to be rewarded at the end for accomplishing it. That’s a great day.
In our long lives great days don’t come all the time so I think it’s worth it to try and plan them whenever we can.
I’m not very active anymore in that online forum where I was told that I was being patronizing. I visit every so often but I no longer contribute a ton.
I don’t remember the name of who it was who told me that anymore. If I did I’d like to go back and assure her that she’s mistaken. She’s simply putting her own view on my words and misunderstanding them. For me moving forward I can just try my best to make sure I do the best to communicate my intentions.
You can do it – I believe in you!
My intention is to encourage you. My intention is to support you. My intention is to cheer for you. My intention is to validate the hard work you’re doing. My intention is to compliment you. My intention is to share my enthusiasm for this great sport. If you need it my intention is to help you.
I do still try to inspire others to try and reach for new and bigger goals. I love to hear that somebody has signed up for a 10k or a half-marathon or an Ironman because of watching me or reading something I write or listening to my podcast or watching a video.
It’s not an accident that I’m posting this just after the New Year. I wish you all of the best as you chase your goals in 2018. Whatever they may be. And if you’re out walking or jogging or cycling and somebody (maybe me) runs by and says, “great job!” Please just take it for what it is – a compliment and keep on running, walking, cycling or whatever.