As I stood around waiting for my latest marathon to start, I couldn't help but overhear several conversations going on around me. Perhaps it was because I was running alone and didn't know anyone, but it was the first time I'd really just listened at a starting line to what was going on around me, instead of being a part of it. I was surprised -- and disappointed -- in what I heard.
A group of guys immediately to my right were huddled in a circle, jabbering and bouncing excitedly (nervously? It's always hard to tell). It wasn't long before someone asked another what his racing strategy was. The reply was a shrug and a simple, "Dunno. Just gonna run and see how I feel."
I watched the guy continue to bounce lightly from leg to leg while saying this, and all I could think was, "Yeah. Right." We've all heard the "I'm just going to run and have fun" statement. Most of us have said it. But does anyone actually believe it?
The questioner tried again, asking his friend if he was going to do another marathon the following weekend. He received a simple lip-pursed nod.
The questioner tried one more time, "You did great a couple week ago. Wasn't that a PR?"
"Awww man, that race was brutal! I felt horrible the whole time. I was pretty surprised with my time." Well then, at least he finally got a real answer.
But what kind of answer was that? I started down the road of judgment thinking to myself: "The guy ran his best time ever, and he couldn't even say thanks? Wasn't he proud? Sloppy, unprepared, or whatever, it was still the fastest he'd ever run that distance. How is that not good? If I ran a marathon PR, I'd... um... I'd... um... oh."
And it hit me. I probably wouldn't be able to accept the kudos either. Thinking back to my years of running and all the nice things people have said to me after a race, I realize I'm just as bad as that dude at the race. It is a knee-jerk reaction to talk myself down after receiving a compliment.
I heard multiple version of that morning scenario throughout the race that day, and I spent 26.2 miles thinking about it. Why can't most runners accept compliments? They are worse than a gaggle of women trying to tell one another they look nice and never hearing the compliments through their own self-depreciating jokes or flat out protests that they are too fat, ugly, tall, short, gray, whatever.
Running may be a sport made up of individuals, but it is the collaborative sense of accomplishing great things and reaching new physical and mental limits that binds us as a group. We love to support one another, so why can't we accept the support from others?
There seem to be a few influences at play here. First, our culture discourages arrogance. Fair enough, but there is a difference between celebrating achievements and bragging or being arrogant about them. Goals met should be celebrated, whether it's a PR, a new distance, reaching a weekly mileage, or successfully taking a rest day (hey, for some people that is actually hard).
Although I don't have the precise answer as to why runners have such a hard time accepting compliments, I did want to point out my observance and make a request to my fellow runners: The next time someone acknowledges your success on the road or trails, smile proudly and say "thank you." You've earned it.