The Impostor Syndrome
The gritty moments that have us asking,
Am I a real runner?
Today, for the first time in two months, I felt good on a run. Nothing like moving from sea level to 7000 feet to put you in your place.
The author on an easy run in the Colorado sun. Photo by David Clifford
Today, for the first time in two months, I felt good on a run. Nothing like moving from sea level to 7000 feet to put you in your place. Back in Seattle, most of my runs were glorious, endorphin-flushed highs. Here in Colorado, my lungs are cantankerous children, always protesting: Are we there yet?
A few miles into a long run two weeks ago, I called it quits and instead savored my living-room floor for three hours—disappointed, a little ashamed and unsure whether I could legitimately call myself a runner anymore.
The following day, I received an email from someone I’d reached out to interview about women’s trail-running groups (see June 2013, Issue 88, Making Tracks, page 18). She confessed, “I feel a bit like a poser, as I haven’t been running in a couple weeks.”
I was struck by the common theme: we runners tend to judge ourselves harshly. We’re only as good as our last run—and a painful run, an injury or a DNF can make us feel like an impostor in the sport.
These past two months of asthmatic slogs have taken me back to my first (attempted) trail run, years ago, in the mountains east of Seattle. Wearing a daypack loaded with a trail-running guidebook, an apple and a few plastic water bottles, I was gasping for breath within seconds. I plopped down on a rock, still in view of the parking lot, and decided that this trail-running business was not for me.
As hikers marched by, I pulled out my guidebook to make my stoppage appear intentional. In thumbing through the how-to section, I found an encouraging tip: “It’s OK to walk; that’s part of trail running.” Maybe this sport could be for me, after all, I thought; I tucked the book back into my pack and started back up the trail, slower this time, but determined.
Now that the altitude of my new home has brought me back to my humble beginnings as a trail runner, I find myself again grasping for the resilience to push through lung-searing, ego-squashing runs.
But there are rewards for our perseverance. And our June 2013 issue (available now) is full of examples—Matt Hart’s conquering of 14 Colorado 14ers in under 60 hours after nearly dropping out on the third peak (see Adventure, page 26), Kaci Lickteig’s win at her first ultramarathon following a habit of walking her high-school cross-country races (see Making Tracks, page 16), or, in my case, the simple joy (finally) of an easy run in the Colorado sun.