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I have a tendency to suffer from ‘impostor syndrome’. Unfortunately, it has always been a chronic part of my life.

Truthfully, my ‘symptoms’ became the most resounding when I enrolled in my graduate studies program. I had all the qualifications, was accepted into the school of my choice, and had given up almost everything that was familiar and safe in order to get my degree – but I still felt like everyone else was smarter than me … more able to come up with well articulated answers to complex questions … less tongue-tied … more aware of what they wanted out of the program. I had this paralyzing fear that eventually I would screw up and say something utterly stupid, and someone would say, I knew she didn’t belong here – I knew she wasn’t one of us. So mostly, I tried not to say anything at all. In short, I felt like everyone else was more deserving than me, even though I still managed to get good grades, get scholarships, and graduate early.

With running, I’m faced with the same emotions. I’m afraid to call myself a runner, because I’m afraid that I’m not really a runner. I read other running blogs and I think things like:  I don’t run as much as this person, or, My personal record is nowhere NEAR as fast as that, or, I have already been running seriously for 5 months and the longest distance I’ve ran is 18 km, and, THESE people are runners – they know so…much…more… than me!  

And the weird thing is, I generally don’t think of myself as someone who has low self esteem. I know what I am capable of, and I’m lucky enough to have accomplished quite a lot already. I am a happy person, and I have learned (pole pole) to be happy with myself. I have found a hobby that makes me feel strong and determined and free. So why do I constantly undermine my own accomplishments by feeling this way?

At what point have I run enough that I can actually refer to myself as a runner? How much do I need to know, need to prove to myself, before I ‘cut the mustard’?

I have noticed, unfortunately, that a lot of running blogs skim over the beginning parts of running. The just starting-out bits. The parts where you fail at reaching your goals and you feel horrible and you think maybe running isn’t for me. Everyone else is so much better at it than I am. On a lot of blogs it seems like one day the authors had never run a day in their lives, and the next day they were running a marathon. No problem! Easy peasy pudding and pie.

Reading blogs that are structured that way make me feel like I’m not capable enough, like there is something wrong with me because, honestly now, sometimes a 10 km run still kicks my ass, and I’ve been going at it seriously for awhile now! This isn’t the blogger’s fault. It’s my fault for not being proud enough of what I have accomplished.

I am not the best runner. A lot of people are better than me. My partner is a persistent PR destroyer, whereas I sometimes barely finish. But, running makes me feel healthy, and whole, and happy. I’ve come to the conclusion that nothing can get me out of a funk better and quicker than lacing up my shoes. And when I start to think, to really think, about how much of my thoughts and free time are handed over, gladly, to running – it’s absolutely CRAZY that I’m nervous about calling myself a runner.

In case I ever decide to question my self-proclaimed label as a ‘runner’ again, I have created a little list that I hope you will find enjoyable. Maybe, as a runner yourself, you will even be able to relate to some of these things.

I know I am a runner because:

  • I have accidentally shown up to work wearing my sports bra, and didn’t really care
  • While getting ready for work in the morning I’ve seriously thought to myself: If I pair a collared shirt with those running pants it counts as office attire
  • I think paying 15 dollars for a single pair of socks is totally justifiable
  • I’ve basically stopped doing my hair and makeup because I sweat and shower too many times a day for it to be worth it
  • Trimming my toenails has turned into REMOVING my toenails
  • I’ve begun to think that a second is a very long time
  • I’ve started to run home from work, in order to make more time for running after work
  • I think of working as that ‘thing’ I do before I can run
  • The type of underwear I choose to put on is dependent on the distance I plan on running that day
  • I’ve started to feel uncomfortable when I’m not in skin tight clothing
  • I eat so much, so often, that my friends have started to worry about me
  • I know the nutritional breakdown of almost every food off the top of my head
  • My personal mantra has become “Come on bitch, you can do it! You’re not tired, you’re just bored!”
  • 6.4 kms has become my easy run
  • My friends know that I can’t hang out too late on Friday because Saturday is my long run day (and they don’t even bother to ask me to hang out on Saturdays)
  • I have become 100% ok with spending $120 dollars on runners, only to replace them 2 months later
  • I get excited when someone tells me how far away somewhere is because I think to myself, I could run that!
  • I get seriously worried when I have drank less than 4 litres of water a day
  • I know the distance of different routes in my neighbourhood, down to the meter
  • My running clothes outnumber my ‘regular’ clothes 3:1

And finally

  • I think it’s perfectly acceptable to wear my running shoes everywhere

If you can relate to even one of those things on my above list, I declare you a runner too! Feel empowered! When you finish a race, and those amazing people are cheering at the finish line, remember that they truly are cheering for you. Feel proud, not matter what your time or what the distance, because you had the courage and the determination to lace up your shoes and to get out there and give it a go.

And try not to let impostor syndrome get the best of you. Once I learned that other graduate students in my program felt the same way as me, things became much easier. In academia at least, recognizing that I wasn’t alone helped me to get over any feelings of undeservedness. I can only hope that this blog post has, in some way, done the same for you.

Dan and me after our first 10 KM race. Sweaty, and with bladders that were about to burst – but done! (PS – now I can cross something off my list!)