Create Your Own Running Narrative

Create Your Own Running Narrative

Recently, I read an engaging article in the Atlantic about creating narrative arcs for our lives. I found the article fascinating, of course, because I studied English in undergrad and history in grad school and both fields are highly concerned with how we tell stories. So, naturally, I started thinking about how we mentally shape what type of runner we become and why you should create your own running narrative.

Many of us have likely developed an unintentional narrative for our running based on how we perceive ourselves in comparison to other runners or how we comprehend our shortcomings and strengths. Maybe you characterize yourself as slow, because you aren’t as fast as some other bloggers and runners you know who are whipping out sub-1:30 halfs with ease. Maybe you have begun to doom yourself to a self-fulling prophecy that you always get injured after a race, because it happened a couple of times in the past. Perhaps you’re scared to try and run a marathon because you’ve told yourself you’re not a long distance runner for so long.

Success in running is as much psychological as it is physiological. While training, recovery, and personal abilities most certainly determine our achievements, the more I learn about the sport of running, the more I believe that our perception of our abilities is the defining factor in how we run. A deliberate narrative for your running will help you improve your psychological approach to the sport and overcome mental barriers, thus leading you towards becoming your best running self, however you may define that.

Create Your Own Running Narrative


Character Development

Yesterday’s run was awful, but you wouldn’t know it looking at the numbers. Data-wise, the run went well: two easy miles for warm up, 4 x 1.5 miles at half marathon effort, which ended up being right at a 7:35-7:40 min/mile pace, what it should be for aiming for an 3:30:00 marathon, and a slow and gentle mile for cool down. In real life, though, this run was a fight the whole entire way. My stomach was angry at me, probably because the lunch I packed for the previous day’s hike had gotten a little spoiled in the heat without me realizing it. My legs were heavy and I was tired, both mentally and physically. It was already warm, or at least warm for Seattle.

At mile 2, I thought, I could do an easy run and still cover the same distance and just do this workout another day this week. A total of 6 miles at half marathon pace is no easy workout. Or, I could fight, mind over matter, and do my best for that day. So that’s what I did, one interval at a time.

I feel like a year ago, I would have quit. Maybe I should have quit, since I ended up run/walking my cool down mile. Still, I completed by intervals at a strong pace, which was the primary goal of that workout. I have, over the past few months, re-written in my running narrative what type of runner I am: disciplined, resilient, driven, dedicated. I don’t quit easily. BQs and bigger goals are not achieved by easy workouts; they are achieved by pushing through even when you want to quit, when you have to actively fight the physical and mental urge to stop. The marathon, after all, will involve a series of fights between the deep-seated desire to achieve my goals and the urge to just quit or ease up on the pace.

How you perceive yourself as a runner can shape your success. If you write your narrative with can’ts, won’ts, shouldn’ts, then you are mentally limiting yourself and will likely get in your own way of your goals. If you write a narrative of perseverance and dedication, where you roll with the punches and overcome mental and physical barriers.

Redemption Narrative and Overcoming Perceived Failures

Not every race is a victory. Whether it’s due to undertraining, overtraining, injury, GI distress, poor pacing, nasty weather, or just a plain off day, all of us have races, training runs, or even easy runs that we’d rather forget. We can think of these runs in two ways: one, as failures that will cause us to doubt ourselves, or two, as stepping stones on our path to our goals and as valuable lessons. The second option is a redemption narrative, in which we move past our perceived failures, take away something of value, and keep working towards our goal.

So a bad race, in the redemption narrative, is not a bad race. It is a race which taught us the value of proper pacing, showed us which gels simply do not agree with our stomachs, or revealed to us the mental demons which we must learn to overcome. Whether we reached our goals or not, the race itself is only what we make of it and how we move forward from it.


Intrinsic Motivation

Why do you run? Part of creating your own running narrative is discerning why you run. Staying connected with the reasons why you run and how you developed your passion for running will help you stay motivated and continue to be an eager and joyful participant in the sport for many years.

Understanding your intrinsic motivation will also help you clearly determine your goals and thus shape your identity has a runner. Not every runner has to be a marathoner; if you find more exhilaration in the fleet-footed pace of shorter races and are more motivated to train through track workouts than long runs, then why force yourself to train for longer distances? Write your running narrative so you do what you love, whether it’s 5Ks, trail ultras, or pure and simple raceless running.

Be the runner you want to be and be that well. Don’t let extrinsic pressure shape what type of runner you are, whether it’s running marathons several times a year or signing up for every fun 5K. Don’t let doubts and “can’ts” limit you from being your best. Running can bring out the best of you, so let you running narrative do exactly that.

[Tweet “Create a running narrative to be your best running self via @thisrunrecipes #fitfluential”]

Questions of the Day:
Have you created a narrative for your running? What type of runner do you perceive yourself as?
What mental obstacles hinder you from achieving your goals?
What’s your motivation?

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14 Responses

  1. Mind blown for the morning. But in a good way. I think. Perhaps the most important, and most basic, takeaway from this is that you have the power to write your own story, and to change the course of it and your own perception of it. So often we think we are at the mercy of what happens, rather than making things happen ourselves by changing our perspective.

    1. Thank you! I think you nailed it – whether it’s running, work, or life, we write our own stories based on our perceptions and reactions. The English major in me also wants to talk about narrative fallacy, but that’s a whole other story!

  2. I think this convo requires an hour or two and a glass of wine. And a lap cat. But hey, I’ll try. I think that I face running with a “bring it the F on” attitude because I use running to release stress. So if I can transfer my inner pain and channel it out through my legs in a “take THAT” type way then I trick myself into thinking I have some sort of control over my life. Which I do, I guess. I have control over the things I can control, like running (for the most part) and other decisions I make, healthy or otherwise. Running certainly helps with character development although I think I have enough character over here to share with a small country.

  3. Thanks for sharing this, Laura. I think my favorite takeaway from this post is: “goals are not achieved by easy workouts; tthey are achieved by pushing through even when you want to quit, when you have to actively fight the physical and mental urge to stop.”

    Do you want to come to my spin class and preach this for me?! This is what I try to get across to my riders during every class!

  4. This was a great post – very thoughtful! I love running posts that go a little deeper.

    I am in the process of completely rewriting my own “running narrative.” After trying to do too much this year and feeling burned out after my marathon, I had to take a step back and readjust my goals and priorities. It’s amazing how much my old running narrative – the one I didn’t even know I’d created for myself – had become so ingrained in everything I did and thought. Everything I ever did was about “getting faster” and I find myself having to unlearn those thoughts and re-train my brain to think “you don’t need to be faster. Just run! That’s all that matters!” I’m hoping I’ll come away from these next few months with a more holistic approach to running and fitness instead of a rigidly success-oriented one. And maybe my narrative right now is to just live and let the narrative work itself out over time; writing your own story is great, but trying to force yourself into a narrative you’ve chosen (like me and my obsession with “being faster”) can lead you to lose sight of reality and quash your love of the sport, as I have learned recently.

    Thanks for the thought provoking post!

    1. Thank you, Hanna! It sounds like you’re doing a very wise thing by focusing on what’s best for you. A holistic approach to running is so much more enriching and sustainable than a rigid, single-minded one. Progress isn’t always represented in numbers, but I think when we just let ourselves enjoy running, we end up surprising ourselves!

  5. I often face a lot of self doubt when I’m training, especially for a big goal. Sometimes I will shy away from the hard work because I’m afraid of failure. I often have to remember that I run for me and as long as I know I’ve done all I can, then I should be happy with all of my results. Great post 🙂

    1. Thank you, Jamie! I could talk all day about fear of failure. I definitely feel the same as you – that sometimes we don’t want to push for a big goal, because what if we do all the hard work and don’t achieve it? I think you have a great attitude, that we should be happy with the results either way! 🙂

  6. These are all such great questions.

    I AM a slow runner, despite putting in the work — the tempos, the speedwork, the strength training, etc.

    Yet I do feel that I have better race times in me. I truly believe that. So here I am again, training for another HM, believing it could be the next PR . . .

    Well, you have definitely given me food for thought.

    1. Thank you, Judy! First off, I think slow is a completely subjective definition – everyone is slow compared to someone (except maybe those Kenyans who win everything) and fast compared to someone else. I do think you have PRs in you – and most of the victory is in trying!

  7. I”m just seeing this thanks to Susie’s link on her post today. But this is really an amazing post (as are all of your posts). I”m going to bookmark this and come back to it when I need to. But my inner narrative right now has me feeling very strong and ready for Chicago. Not necessarily a BQ tho, because I’ve decided that more importantly is to finish feeling strong. No matter what the finish time.

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