Hi! My name’s Amanda and I’m a recovering perfectionist….
I have been a life-long perfectionist. Growing up I was a good student and a hard-core gymnast. I started competing at age 7 and stopped after my freshman year of college. Few sports breed perfectionism as much as gymnastics (ice skating and diving come to mind as well as certain positions – like pitchers and goalies – in team sports). Every competition you are judged on how perfect your performance is. And every week we were judged by how much we weighed. Perfectionist in training.
I was a high-achieving high school kid who participated in too many activities while still getting near-perfect grades. I played varsity sports during the year and raced sailboats all summer (I won girls’ champs of Long Island Sound at age 16). I followed that with acceptance into a high-achieving Ivy League University. Our sailing team qualified for nationals my junior year of college. From there I went to a high-achieving medical school where I was once again a perfectionist. When it came time to choose a field of medicine, I chose one of the most competitive with one of the longest residencies. And then I had to further sub-specialize and do 2 additional years of training. During that time I had the first 2 of my 3 children and I lived alone with 2 children in Baltimore while I finished my medical training.
I think it’s pretty clear that I have a chronic case of perfectionism.
As a perfectionist I tend to shy away from things that are new for me (not in terms of travel but more in terms of trying new sports or activities). I like to know that I’m going to be good at something before I try. I guess I’ve always been very outcome oriented. As long as the final grade is good, the process didn’t matter so much. (Maybe that’s why I pulled so many last minute all-nighters in college, huh?) So when I signed up for my first half marathon – when I could barely run a mile at the time – it was definitely a change for me.
My running resume at this point is certainly respectable. I’ve run 4 full marathons and 10 half marathons. I’ve completed one Goofy Challenge. I have 2 more full marathons and 3 half marathons on my race calendar, which includes the Dopey Challenge in January. I haven’t finished every race pretty but I have finished every race. For Disney races my times tend to be average while for local races I tend to be in the bottom 1/4 of runners. I’ve improved over time – I’ve taken 20+ minutes off my half marathon time and about 25 minutes off my full marathon time. While I’ve slowly gotten faster, I’m certainly not a fast runner. And it’s unlikely that I’ll ever be considered a fast runner.
I’m friends with some fast runners. My work partner can easily finish a half marathon in the 1:45 range (my PR in just under 2:25). She recently placed 2nd in her age group at a 4 mile race. Her pace per mile average is faster than my fastest mile. I’m friends with someone who has qualified for Boston and placed/won his age group several times. Who could run the entire Goofy Challenge in less time than it would take me to finish a marathon. And even though I respect their ability and work ethic, I’m not sure they get more benefit from running than I do.
Let me explain.
Running has helped me re-think my perfectionist tendencies. I’m never going to win a race. I’m unlikely to ever place in my age group (unless I just outlive everyone). So what makes me get up at 4am in 30F weather to complete a 5 hour training run? And that’s the funny thing about running. So much of the benefit comes from the process. There is a sense of pride and satisfaction that comes from getting your badass self up in the pre-dawn hours to run for longer than most people could fathom. Something peaceful about watching dawn break as you reach the 10 mile mark and there isn’t a soul to be seen. A stillness and calm that washes over me in the early mornings. I know that I don’t *have* to be there. Nobody is making me do it. But even if I never crossed another finish line, knowing that I can get my body to run 20 miles even when all logic tells me to stop creates a sense of strength, of invincibility. And even without the elusive runner’s high, the sense of accomplishment lasts forever.
I learn something about myself on every single training run I do. Some days I just learn how to clear my head of the daily noise. Some days I learn that my body won’t always be able to do exactly what I want it to do. Other days I learn that I can sometimes exceed my expectations. I learn how my body works. Or how my body doesn’t work. But mostly I’ve learned that I have more mental strength than I ever imagined. I’ve learned that through sheer stubbornness and will-power I can achieve the unimaginable.
And then there’s the feeling of race day. There are so many factors that can’t be controlled. How you feel that day. What the weather is like. And not every race goes the way that I hope. In June I was well-trained for my 10k but the heat and humidity took a toll and I finished slower than I hoped. Was that a failure? Absolutely not. I put in the time and effort to train and did the best of my ability that day. And while I hope to PR my next marathon, I also know that there will be factors that I can’t control. Regardless of how I finish I know that I can be proud of the process. I have prepared for the race and followed my plan.
The most amazing thing about my running experience is how it has carried into my every day life. Jeff Galloway has been quoted as saying, “The marathon is one of those experiences that people tell me allows them the confidence to be able to do a lot of other things in their life that they thought they could never do.” This is so true for me. I have projects going on at work that I never believed I could do. I’m making changes in my life that require strength that I didn’t know I had. I have new-found faith in myself. Belief that YES I CAN. Because someone who can’t do things also wouldn’t be able to get up at 5am and run for 6 hours (which is tomorrow’s plan).
Running has helped this perfectionist see that it’s not about the outcome, it’s not the destination that matters. What matters most in life is the journey. And I plan to enjoy every moment of my journey to the next finish line.