I’m a recovering obsessive, and now a better athlete

Steve Magness recently wrote a fantastic piece about drive and settling.

Summary: Our society typically sees settling as bad, but it can be a good thing in the right dose.

His post gave me all kinds of feelings, mostly YES. THIS! ALL OF THIS. Because I’ve been there. I’m certain many of my readers have, too.

Endurance running (and triathlon and cycling) are not about moderation; this is a place of extremes. We may run 50+ miles a week in preparation for a race. We workout after that. We cross-train. We wear compression gear to recover. We take ice baths. We obsess over sleep. We eat weird foods. We talk about disgusting things during meals with fellow runners. We travel long distances to run. Above all, we seek our own greatness. This is not just a hobby, it’s life.

I’m no person of moderation. I can’t simply run, I have to run marathons. I can’t just ride a bike, I have to ride 100-mile tours. And I want to run Boston; I want to become an Ironman. The thought of not being good enough to run a 3:30 marathon has instilled a lot of fear and doubt in me. For too long, my running was driven by my own fears of not being good enough.

And it took me a while to realize my own lofty expectations and obsessive drive were actually making me a worse athlete and a more miserable person by creating unnecessary pressure and anxiety. Paradoxically, my expectations were holding me back and causing me to burn out.

It was that John D. Rockefeller mentality “Don’t be afraid to give up the good to go for the great.”

You can only go 100 miles an hour for so long before breaking down. This applies to all areas of life. I felt similar with my job and my relationships.

After a lot of deep reflection, some big failures in both life and running and a wreck of a marathon, I can report I’m now in recovery from this obsession. Guys, it’s pretty great. While I still have big dreams and goals in running, work, relationships and life, I’ve eased off my expectations of GETTING. THERE. RIGHT. NOW.

Once I accepted where I am now and started to focus on the journey instead of the end result, I relaxed. I still want to run a 3:30 marathon. I still want to run Boston. I still want to become an Ironman. But now, these wonderful goals are not a burden. They are a gift. If I have a bad workout or my severe allergies/asthma get in the way of training, I throw a brief temper tantrum and then move on. As much as I love what I do, I have to keep it in perspective. It’s only running, and this is supposed to be a positive force in my life.

Yeah, there are going to be tough days. Not every run is going to be fun. And that’s part of it–I don’t worry about that stuff as much since I eased out of that obsessive state and accepted what is. Because I did worry a lot. One bad run, or feeling bad for a few days and I freaked out about what I was doing wrong. Maybe I wasn’t doing anything wrong. Maybe it’s just normal that I feel like shit for a few days on end. Or weeks. Maybe it doesn’t even matter as long as I keep going.

About that Rockefeller quote: Bullshit. Life gets in the way of that. I’m not perfect. Nothing is perfect. My relationships aren’t perfect. My running isn’t perfect. Sometimes good enough is everything you need.

Now, I’m not advocating for moderation. There is a time to push and a time to go for the extremes, such as the last 10 kilometers of a marathon. You’ll find me out flogging myself on my bike this summer and relishing in the hurt. When I’m deep in marathon training, other aspects of my life are in the background (even doing dishes). We can go into the deep end to achieve a goal, but we probably shouldn’t live there all the time for our own sanity.

And most of us aren’t Olympians. We have jobs, families, friends, chores and all the rest. We can only do so much at one time. We can only be great at one or two things at a time. I’m choosing to do what I can with more compassion toward myself.


2 thoughts on “I’m a recovering obsessive, and now a better athlete

  1. “If I have a bad workout or my severe allergies/asthma get in the way of training, I throw a brief temper tantrum and then move on. As much as I love what I do, I have to keep it in perspective.”

    Dude, resilience is such a great thing to have. It lets you absorb the blows of life (well, at least most of them) without being shattered by them.

    I’ve mentioned before that I’m really into the 80/20 way of doing things, where if I can hit 80 percent of what I’m trying to do then I’m doing pretty good. I suspect there are some type-A folks who would scoff at this and call me an underachiever, but I find that allowing myself the mental space to be “good enough” is what helps me achieve greatness. Putting pressure on myself to be “great” is what causes me to fall apart.

    Long way of saying, I dig this post and can relate to a lot of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I super love this. I’m with you–I could feel possible judgment of Type A folks out there while I was writing this.

      We all have to work out our own way of being the best we can be. For some of us who feel pressure intensely, it’s accepting nothing is perfect and that’s the only way we’re going to get through life. I spent a lot of time stressed and disappointed when I had sky-high expectations.


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