Progress is in the eye of the beholder (or your running app)

I was ridiculously nervous before going on my last trail run, to the point that I was making myself nauseous. I hadn’t run whatsoever in a few weeks, and the last time I’d hit a trail was over a month ago. I was worried about running “well,” or slowing Billy down, or having to hike the whole time.

With “bikini body” season in full swing, I think it’s easy to get swept up in feelings of not being enough.

Of not being fast enough. In shape enough. Muscular enough. Fit enough.

And once the negative self-talk starts, it’s easy for me to forget why I’m out there in the first place. Not to get killer legs. Not to get skinny. Not to get tan. All of those things may (or may not, depending on your body) happen, but it’s not why I run.

And I don’t just run around my neighborhood anymore. I specifically choose to run on trails. Because I am lucky enough to live in a place where people from around the world come on vacation. I can drive 25 minutes and be in a stunningly beautiful place to go for a run for as long as I would like without having to worry about seeing a single car or stoplight.

Back on the trail, I realized 20 minutes in that I hadn’t looked up once. I was head down, staring at my feet, feeling taunted by Map My Run chirping out that I was doing a blistering 18-minute-per-mile pace. I kept apologizing to Billy that I was slowing us down, and the only thing I could focus on was catching my breath ASAP so I could start running again.

Because God forbid I just stop and enjoy the view, right?

“I’m not in any hurry. I’m here to spend time with you in a beautiful place.”

Billy’s words suddenly resonated with me because I remembered saying almost the exact same thing to one of my good friends when she was bringing up the rear on a group hike. That day, I literally could not care what pace we were going. I just wanted to hang out with my girlfriends, enjoy time outside, and get a little sweaty.

Billy’s tone also revealed that all my negative self-talk wasn’t just getting me down. Listening to me beat myself up about my pace, or lack thereof, was actually much more miserable for him than me running slowly.

I’d like to say this mini revelation was all it took to turn my view around that day, but there was one more tiny voice that piped up.

“Distance: two miles. Pace: 13 minutes.”

By mile three, my pace was hovering around 12 minutes.

I was also going downhill at this point in time, which does wonders for the psyche, but instead of taking MapMyRun’s updates as blaring announcements of how slow of a runner I am, I remembered where I started.

Usually, MapMyRun feels like a not-so-gentle reminder of how below-average my times are (when I’m comparing myself to professional athletes, as any reasonable person does). But for some reason that day she was a wake-up call, shouting that I’m improving.

At the beginning of 2017, I was run/walking a 15-minute mile at best. Like on a REALLY GOOD day, when I ran downhill a lot, I would hit 15-minutes per mile. But now, on a day that I hadn’t run in weeks, that I was feeling super shitty about myself, I was hitting a 12-minute pace.

(I don’t think I’m actually getting any faster, I’m just walking shorter amounts of time during each run that I go on. Plus, I feel like I’m running less and less like an elephant each time.)

When you don’t have the hard numbers to back it up, it’s easy to say “Oh, I’m not actually getting any better at this. I’ll just always suck.” And sometimes having all that data assigned to your physical fitness is really stressful. But if you don’t let it suck the fun out of what you’re doing, you never know when that little robot voice may turn into that little reminder that you are, in fact, crushing it.

Published by Laura Cardon

Laura Cardon moved to Colorado as an adult and quickly realized how difficult it was to get started exploring the outdoors in a state full of experts. She founded Outdoor Beginner in 2014 to fill the gap in beginner-friendly content for camping, hiking, skiing, and other outdoor activities. In addition to Outdoor Beginner, she coaches beginner trail runners and works at Runners Roost in Golden, Colorado, where she lives with her spouse and toddler.

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