Monday, January 31, 2011

Take That

Perfectionism has its good side:  there is order, there is structure, there is finishing the task at hand.  The problem lies in allowing the perfectionism to overwhelm you to the point that you actually begin to exclude experiences/things/people because of it.

We can scare ourselves into permanent disability with the question, "What if?" I say this because I am slowly realizing that the zesty life I once had is no more due to my fear of failure.  The best way example I can use to explain this is when I think about my first couple of years of road racing.  I entered just about every race I thought I could reasonably handle and train for.  Each one was a joy because I was just ignorant enough that I went, ran as fast as I could and crossed the finish line.  Every time I ran, I had just set a personal best time. 

As the years went on, I began to hesitate to race.  Suddenly the races weren't so fun any more.  And with race fees being what they are, why would I pay to not have fun?  It never occurred to me, until recently, that the reason I wasn't having fun, was that if I didn't run the race at least as fast as I had previously, or even better my time, I saw that as a failure.

Anyone who runs regularly would look and me and tell me I was being an idiot if I expressed this to them because truly there are way too many variables with running: physical condition, the weather, how you're dressed, how your shoes fit, the mental side of it.  For example, one day I could go out and with everything just about perfect, I would run a 28 minute 5K.  The very next race could be a 35 minute 5K because it was 20 degrees hotter and my shoe was rubbing a blister into my foot.  Should I see that second race as failure?  Or should I see it as different sets of circumstances?

Because I am realizing that my perfectionist tendencies are stopping me from beginning things due to fear of failure, I am now seeing many missed opportunities in various areas of my life.  The thought of not being able to do something perfectly paralyzed me.  Ironically, it also made me a complete control freak in areas where, in my mind and its standards,  I was performing perfectly.

I don't like that.  Not one bit.  And yet, I wonder why it has not translated into getting my weight/body where I'd like it to be.  Because that perfectionist streak has not extended to my weightloss efforts. I'm trying to understand why each time I reach for control with food and a healthy body weight,  a sense of complete exhaustion comes over me and I stall.  I would like to lay this all aside and just STOP with counting food and with the scale, like Shelley privately suggested to me, but I'm terrified. I'm beginning to wonder if that exhaustion is just the old "You're going to fail anyway" rearing it's ugly head up to slap me in the face.  Thyroid issues aside, based on my past failure in getting to and maintaining (for more than a couple years), I'm only guessing that's what it could be. 

Thank goodness I haven't given up on exercise, even if I am an inconsistent runner. otherwise I'd probably be well over 300 pounds by now.  Funny how easy it has been for me to say to other runners/athletes over the years, "You did the best you could in the circumstances you were in," yet have been unwilling to accept that for myself.

As you know after we had that scary random murder in my city and once the darkness set in for my early morning runs, I began to run a lot on my treadmill.  Our local newspaper's running columnist wrote an opinion piece about folks who run on treadmills.  (Yes, that is me in the comments.) Basically he said treadmill runners are not real runners.  I happen to disagree.  Anyone who runs is a runner.  Maybe treadmill runners are not "racers" because I surely cannot imagine training for road races without ever actually running on the road.  (Although I may be about to find out about that since I'd like to do a race soon.)  Just my opinion.  I'm so glad I didn't read that article before I ran on Saturday because sometimes I also let that inner perfectionist take over my brain and tell me I'm not a real runner due to the treadmill.  Had I read that article, I surely would not have run unless I could get outside.  But I am doing the best I can in the circumstances I'm in right now.  I have to let that be enough.

And the one thing I know for sure, in this the Winter of my Discontent, is that I cannot let winter be another factor for failure.  So, I put on my winter running gear, went out to my 25-degree garage, stuck a movie in the VCR and thought, "Let's see how far you can go."

When my treadmill gets to 99 minutes, it starts counting the minutes over from zero. So that's 10 miles, 1:43:56.

Am I a fake runner who had success on a treadmill?  What if I take this distance outside and run slower?  Does that then make me a real runner, but one who has failed?

Whatever.  The fact is when I got off that treadmill, all I could think was


And that's exactly what I want to feel in other areas of my life:  Take that.  I win.


  1. Yay! One in the eye for ol' winter!

    Next: La Perfecta...??? It will be really lovely for you to get back the joy of running for the sheer joy of it.

  2. Winner, indeed.

    I hope you can get to a place where you can race for the sheer joy of it without judging yourself so harshly. No one else is judging. PRs don't make you any more or less worthy.

    You are right, there are good things about perfectionism, but like with all things, can become harmful when taken too far. That fear of being perfect has kept me from so many thing, too.

  3. When I read the title of your post I thought you would write about the British band: Take That :)

    I think every one who runs is a runner, if it's on the treadmill or outside doesn't matter. In your case it's either do nothing because the weather won't let you run outside or run on the treadmill.

    Maybe you could try what Shelley suggested: let go of the counting and the scale. Try it for one week and see what happens and how that makes you feel. I don't count at the moment, I weigh myself once a week and I'm feeling very good about it.

    I have to defend R. a bit, yes he called me a jerk but it was meant more to get me up and moving. He's very supportive at my exercise. He cooked dinner tonight while I was out running. He knows I sometimes need a push to go but Saturday it just didn't feel right so I stayed stubborn and didn't go.

  4. I loved this post Helen! So glad that you aren't letting your perfectionism get in the way. And yes, my dear, you are a runner whether on the road or on a treadmill. Ten miles is amazing!

    (I did three miles today - but it took me 45 minutes!) :D

  5. You win big time Helen! I definitely consider you or anyone else that runs on a treadmill a runner. I read the article and the author came off (at least to me) a bit snobbish. Hope you find the joy in racing again some day.

  6. You are a runner. Anyone who runs is a runner. I really despise elitists who say you cannot be part of an exclusive club (which really doesn't exist) unless you do what they say makes you a member. Grrrrr.....

    For some people, treadmill is the only option they have. Better to run on that than not run at all.

  7. Agree with what Lori said. There are always (ALWAYS!) people who think you're not a real (insert noun here) unless you do or believe what they do. It's just not true.
    For me, I don't fail unless I quit. If I'm trying, I'm not a failure.

    You rock. I have to say my jaw dropped when I read 10 miles in 4 minutes on the treadmill display? Not a runner?! Dang, you're a cheetah! LOL

    Be kind to yourself. You're doing great.

  8. You win because you are a winner!
    And a runner. For sure!

  9. Good gravy! TEN miles at about 10 minutes a mile! Good Gravy! Stop counting, stop weighing. Pat yourself on the back and give yourself a break.

    Like I said before, I was afraid to read your blog because you are one of those 'super-athletes!'

  10. It IS funny how you say such nice supportive things to me concerning my running (among other things) and yet have a hard time giving yourself a pat on the back...I guess we are our own worst critics. But let me tell you, to run 10 miles ON A TREADMILL takes will and determination like, well, like what a lot of people don't have. You, my friend, are most definitely a winner! :)

  11. You are a winner and a runner!

    10 miles,you are serious!

    That perfectionist thing can be debilitating.

  12. You're always a winner in my book. :)

    I couldn't do 10 miles if my life depended on it. Seriously, if a Grizzly bear was chasing me and going to eat me, I couldn't run 10 miles. Maybe one or maybe even two or three, but 10, no way!

    You've got me beat on the cold weather exercising too. I get upset if there's a chill in the air at the gym. A few months ago when it was in the low 20's here there was a problem with the heat at the gym. It was down to about 60 degrees. I thought I was going to freeze to death. 25 freaking way!

    I relate to the perfectionist problem. Been a problem my entire life. It's hard to overcome. I'm still working on it myself. :)

  13. SO SO SO GLAD TO BE BACK and BACK to my routine.
    Ive missed reading your wisdom.