Saturday, May 24, 2008


Jade Lady and Shirley Perly recently posted interesting entries about how fear motivates or hinders runners. That got me to thinking about what I am afraid of and how I overcome my fears.

I am afraid of getting injured, because that would interfere with my running. So although I do take some calculated risks in running, I'm careful and try to be prudent about them. I may run some signal lights but I don't weave through moving traffic. I will run in snow and icy conditions, but if the footing is slippery I'll stop. Outside of running, I won't play basketball or football or leg out infield hits anymore. That fast start/stop is a young man's game and ruinous at my age. Can you spell Achilles rupture? Do you know how long six months is? Several of my friends can, and do.

In terms of running, and perhaps life, I'm not particularly afraid of things so much as I'm afraid of failure. That's why when I started running at age 48, it transformed me.

I started running to lose weight, but then running gripped me. Continuing to run got me over my subsequent fear of not keeping the ensuing weight loss off.

Then I started running in races, and running with people. Although my racing is in the also-ran category, running races gives me a set of numbers (times) that are immutable gauges of what I can do. I started fearing that I would embarrass myself, or not fulfil my friends' expectations, or that I wouldn't meet my goals. I became afraid of giving in to fatigue or letting doubt hold me back.

But I continued to run races so I could confront and overcome these fears, and not succumb to them. Having put in the work of some training, I went out and tried to achieve results.

Usually it works out in some way, although usually not as I hope or expect. For instance, my half-marathon PR is 1:44:18 at the Inaugural Disneyland Half-Marathon. Because I was in the peak condition of my life then, I was hoping to approach 1:40 in the race, but the crush of runners within the narrow theme park the first three miles prevented this. But if I had paralyzed myself by saying I couldn't do a 1:40 and so why try, I wouldn't have a 1:44.

Sometimes it doesn't work out at at all and I have to reassess. My 4:34 debacle at Chicago last fall taught me things, not the least of which was not to try to run 26 miles when you're on antibiotics. But I overcame my fear of embarrassing myself and not fulfilling my friends' expectations by lining up at the start line.

Occasionally the stars line up. My 1:14:34 at Army in 2006, the culmination of my most fit period, is perhaps the best race I have ever run. But to do it, I had to put aside the fear that I would be slower than the 1:18 I had run at the Cherry Blossom Ten-Miler earlier that year.

I do about 40 races a year and practically every week I put my fears to the side, again. Because if I don't, I have become afraid. I have let fear change my life.


akshaye said...

Peter.. that was a great post. Thanks for sharing your story. Very inspirational!

Lining up for my first full, the thing I was most afraid of was a DNF. But you are right, do it long enough and you will continue to surprise yourself

IrishBlue said...

I agree with Akshaye, love this post. I think my biggest fear is that I'll regret never trying something because of fear. Does that make sense?

jeanne said...

yes, great post. and interesting that all of us posted something about fear in the past few days.

i'm pretty much afraid of my shadow...and everything else. authority. people getting mad at me, walking, not finishing. now I can add falling over, and drowning!

but as I have demonstrated NUMEROUS times at races, I have NO FEAR when it comes to taking care of my, um, bodily needs!

renae said...

I couldn't agree more. If you would have told me a year ago, hell, 6 months ago, that I would be running in races, I would have told you that you were nuts. No way would I have done something like this on my own. Running has changed me in so many ways but facing my fears of the unknown and of failure has been the biggest (and best!) way. Great post!

Sunshine said...

I appreciate your blog, Peter. Seems like you give interesting things to think about.
Your running is impressive and inspiring.
I have had to get over the fear of coming in last.. but that has come with rewards and satisfaction..
Like coming in 1st out of 1 or 2nd out of 2 in my age group in a marathon.
Don's blood tests at Mayo Clinic today were good .. He is posting.

Anne said...

I agree: this is another great post. I think our fears change over time. Me? Thirty years ago it was losing my shorts as I ran around the baseball fields. Then in 1996, I did lose my shorts during the New York City marathon. Now, like you, I fear being injured. A few broken bones and torn tendons will do that to you -- as you seem to know. I only wish my fear was a motivator instead of a debilitator.

Rainmaker said...

Great post! Especially about setting goals. It's always easy to set an easy goal - but it's much more difficult to set a goal that you may not hit. Although like you - that's when I find I do excel.

Dori said...

That was a great post, Peter. I just read Jeanne's and then I come here and you're posting on the same topic. It's timely, because my marathon is Sunday. My fear is that I'll get sick and all the time I invested in training will be for nothing.

You're such a fast runner that I assumed you've been running all your life. We started running around the same age--I was 49 and training to run a marathon when I turned 50.

Have you run the San Diego Rock n Roll marathon?

ShirleyPerly said...

Enjoyed your post, Peter. I had no idea you ran so many races. I knew you ran a lot by all your race reports but really didn't know how many. Way to confront those fears. I need to face mine about short races.