Self Conscious

I had a bizarre experience last Saturday during the 10,000 that has been bothering me since. I didn’t include it in my race report because it was such a positive experience overall that I didn’t want to taint it by telling this story but since I can’t shake it, here it is.

I was maybe 6 laps into the race, feeling incredible because I was clicking off laps effortlessly and feeling strong. As I rounded the curve towards the home straight, someone yelled out “Number 21, open up your stride!!” At first, I thought perhaps I misremembered the number stuck to me and shook it off. When I came around on the next lap, however, a coach in red started screaming again “Number 21, your STRIDE!!!! OPEN UP YOUR STRIDE!!” She was standing in the bleachers screaming at me and I.was.mortified.

First of all, I have a lot of residual embarrassment and fear of being yelled at by coaches from my high school experience so it was a miracle that I even signed up for a race on the track where there is nowhere to hide for close to 40 minutes. I won’t lie that I was extremely self-conscious as I stepped on the track with the lowest female hip number in my spandex at 32 years old next to 18 and 19 year olds. The fact that a stranger, someone who doesn’t know me, coach me or have any stake in my performance felt that it was appropriate to scream at me for my form hurt me more than I can ever explain. I turned and shrugged my arms at her, my feeble attempt to say “f*ck off” and finished my race without incident but it chewed at me for the remainder of the race. I thought about finding her afterward to give her a piece of my mind, both as a coach and an athlete, but decided it wasn’t a battle worth fighting.

Since then, I haven’t been able to go for a run without feeling self conscious about my form. Are those drivers looking at me, wondering why I run so oddly? Do I look ridiculous doing speed work? Why do I even bother to try to run competitively with such bad form?

Here’s the thing: I DO shuffle. Part of that is because I have been running marathons for years and the shuffle comes with the territory. Part of it is because I stand all day long, often in weird positions and my back and hips are ridiculously tight. Part of it is that I don’t do enough dynamic work. But my shuffle also works to my advantage. I have a high cadence and I land on my midfoot, which means my impact is virtually nil. I’m quiet and efficient when I run. I know I could use more knee drive. Most of us could. What I don’t need more of, however, is self consciousness about how I look when I’m running. 

Has this ever happened to you in a race? Would you have confronted her? What’s your body/running hangup?

6 thoughts on “Self Conscious

  1. laurenweiner

    Unless I’ve asked someone to critique my running, any comment like that is completely unwelcome! However, you were the bigger person and shrugged it off. I’m a shuffler too and I’m slow…but hey – I’m out there working hard, and that’s more than a lot of people do!

    1. Runner Under Pressure Post author

      It just felt…cruel. And yes, if we’re out here, we’re lapping everyone on the couch!!!

  2. darkwave

    I have to admit, something like that wouldn’t bug me too much. But that’s probably because of my previous athletic background – my first sport was equestrian, where some competitions (called equitation) were judged (subjective – who does the judge like) while others were scored (objective – how fast did you go and how many jumps did you knock over).

    Thus I come from a sport where it was possible to have the best performance from an objective standpoint, but still not be the subjective winner (imagine that you crossed the finish line first, but were actually placed third because the other two girls had more of a “runner look”). So now that I’m competing in a purely objective sport, I really don’t care too much if I don’t look like a runner – it’s not like it will affect my placing.

    But that’s unique to me. I do think this person was an idiot. What qualifies her to evaluate a random person’s gait during a track race?

    When you’re lined up at the start of your half, and someone comments about how the 75 degrees and bright sunshine is perfect racing weather, you roll your eyes and then ignore, right? Similar for the person who tells you at mile 19 of the marathon that “you’re almost there.” I’d put this person in the same category.

    1. Runner Under Pressure Post author

      Interesting perspective! You’re totally right that one of the nice things about running is that it is extremely objective and in that way, very fair. I know I need to let it go but man it struck a nerve!!

  3. foxrunsfast

    This would have bothered me too! I applaud you for shrugging it off. I know I shuffle but I feel the same way about this as I do about the whole “heel strike” vs. “mid-foot” vs. “fore-foot” is best debate: if you run enough, you’ll eventually optimize your running form – and that form will be unique to YOU and your specific body type. To tell someone to open up their stride in the middle of a race is just…weird. And not very helpful. Now, if someone says something like “RELAX!” or “Stay loose!” I consider that a bit better. 🙂 Glad you didn’t let it impact you in the race and WELL DONE on getting out there and lining up to begin with – I would have been terrified!!!

    1. Runner Under Pressure Post author

      Totally agree on the fact that we all optimize our form with enough running (although I haven’t been running a lot lately so I’m SURE I was shuffling more than normal…) I’m finally getting over it and shuffled my way through another race this morning!


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