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Are You Worried About Being a "Real" Runner?

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For most of us, it is easier to talk about our health and fitness goals than to actually make them a reality.

As a personal trainer, I believe it is my job not only to help my clients achieve their goals, but to actually practice what I preach.

For me, eating well and exercising are not the hard parts of "walking the walk." (I do love chocolate, but I believe anything in moderation is healthy). The portion of "the walk" that is hard for me is embodying the positive psychological components of health that I try and foster in my clients. I teach my clients that being healthy is not just about changing physical habits. Health is about getting into the habit of thinking positively about oneself, of forming a positive internal dialogue.

A positive internal dialogue includes accepting and embracing one's individuality, thinking and talking positively about oneself and one's surrounding and not being self-critical. A positive internal dialogue is about understanding that living a balanced and healthy life is about enjoying the process of exercising and eating well, not just the final aesthetic or performance-related results.

I have been working hard for many years to improve my internal dialogue. My goal for 2013 is to continue to improve it. I was recently reminded of how far I still have to go when I had to deal with the emotions surrounding competing in a half marathon.

I had trained hard. I really wanted a personal best. Leading up to the race I kept telling myself what I would tell my clients: "exercise is about the process, not the end result. Enjoy the race. You get pleasure from training. Don't let the pressure of racing detract from that joy. The process of training is just as important as your finishing time."

Those words are easy for me to say to others. They are hard for me to live.

The morning of the race I spoke with an interesting women. (Our conversation was actually what inspired this blog). The woman was completing the 5km race. When I wished her luck on the race she told me that she did not need luck because she was not a "real runner." Her friends were real runners, but she was just a jogger.

This statement signaled to me that she had a somewhat negative internal dialogue. As I would with my clients, I tried to re-frame the situation to make her feel positive about herself. I told her of course she was a runner, because being a runner is a state of mind, an identity. Anyone who wants to be a runner, is one. As I do with clients, I tried to improve her internal dialogue.

The problem is if I felt I was jogging instead of running, I know I would be extremely frustrated with myself.

This conversation reminded me that we all have the capability of creating a negative internal dialogue. Of saying we are not a "real" runner, cyclist, swimmer or gym member. If we let ourselves, we will always define what is "real" as something we are not currently are capable of.

We can't forget that we also have the capability of forming a positive internal dialogue.

When I started running all I wanted was to be able to run a sub 2:15 half marathon so I could call myself a "runner." Then I wanted to run a sub two-hour half marathon. Then a sub 1:50 half. I repeatedly changed the time I thought would make me a "real runner."

I would accomplish the goal and then I would simply change the criteria in my head. That meant I was never fully happy in my accomplishments. I never let myself think of myself as a "real" runner.

Don't get me wrong: establishing new goals is an important aspect of fitness, but the formation of the new goals should not negatively effect your internal dialogue, or detract from what you have achieved.

We all (myself included) have to learn to value the process of working towards goals, not just achieving them. I will not stop setting athletic goals, but I will try to live in the present and enjoy being a runner as opposed to thinking of what I will feel like when I accomplish my next goal.

So, the "take-away" message of this blog is, it is always easier to understand concepts of health and fitness than to live them. Embodying any type of health and fitness knowledge -- whether it is implementing physical habits or adopting a healthier psychological mindset -- is hard for everyone.

That doesn't mean we should stop trying. Figuring out how to "walk the walk" is a process. As January fast approaches, our desire to make unrealistic, purely results-driven goals is often heightened.

Before you fall into the common "resolution" cycle of making unrealistic goals which are forgotten by January 15, take a moment to reflect on past goal-setting experiences. If you want your goals to be successful, figure out why you have not succeeded in the past. Learn from past mistakes.

Take the time to enjoy the process of becoming healthier, don't just set your sights on the end result. Possibly, you need to spend time improving your internal dialogue before you will be able to successfully change your physical exercise and eating habits.

If you are wondering, I did make my goal. I broke 1:45. I got a personal best. I am currently trying to practice what I preach and enjoy my accomplishment. I am trying to think of myself as a "real runner" without the any future strings attached to the label.