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.