Am I A Real Runner? Running Imposter Syndrome

I don’t always enjoy running. I don’t always LOVE running. Sometimes I dread my runs.

Does that make me less of a runner?

I’m not fast. Running never feels effortless. I don’t have the body shape of a ‘runner’.

Does that mean I’m not a ‘real’ runner?

Imposter syndrome in runners

I went to the track in Barnes last week for my track workout, and managed to convince my Mum and stepdad (who I was staying with) to come with me. Turning up at the track, I was nervous. Not to complete my workout (1 mile warm up, 12 X 200m, 1 mile cool down), but because the track and other runners on the track can intimidate me.

I have imposter syndrome. Feeling like maybe I don’t belong on the track, in that marathon, at the running blogger event. That I shouldn’t be giving running advice to you lovely lot…

Imposter syndrome is defined as as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. It involves feeling of self-doubt, thinking you’re a fraud, perfectionism and lacking in self-confidence. And it’s not just with running that I feel like this.

I’ve chatted before about feeling embarrassed sometimes when I go to an event as a ‘fitness blogger’, that I don’t have a six pack or fit the typical fitness blogger brief. But when you get emails and comments from people telling you that you’re not fast and that sub 4 isn’t a good marathon time (I actually think any marathon time is awesome!), it can get to you a little bit.

Imposter syndrome in runners

I find myself underplaying my marathon and half marathon PB’s, caveating them, even though I’m really proud of my 3.38 and 1.40 times. I worked hard for them, and want to continue working hard to knock minutes off those times.

I read an article recently about how having imposter syndrome can hold you back from achieving your goals, of getting the jobs you want and having the life you deserve.

For me, it has me questioning my fitness, thinking on training runs that I’m breathing harder than I should be, that my ‘easy’ pace isn’t as easy as it should feel. It’s made me too embarrassed to join a proper running club, and nervous about joining a triathlon club to achieve my half ironman goals next year (although I know I need to when the time comes!). It makes me feel embarrassed when we turn up to park run and Tom jokingly says aloud that I’m a professional runner, so much so that I started right at the back and spent the first mile overtaking, dodging and waiting patiently for the end of the single file parts of the course.

Imposter syndrome in runners

I don’t think I’m alone in feeling like this, but I do wonder whether our social media society where we show off the best things, the holidays, workouts, outfits etc that it makes us feel inadequate compared to other people’s Instagram feeds. I often feel like a fraud posting my version of a hard workout, because maybe it’s not really that hard. Or perhaps I don’t deserve to be working on a brand campaign, maybe they made a mistake choosing me.

When I reach a PB, I break down every detail, wondering what I could have done differently, done better. I want to run faster next time. Similarly, when I achieve a goal, I immediately start wanting to work towards another. I don’t take the time to celebrate what I have achieved because I often don’t think it’s good enough or worthy of celebration. There are times that knocking 15 minutes off my marathon time feels nearly impossible, and I feel like I have so far to go. But I am determined that no matter how long it takes, I will run a BQ.

running imposter syndrome

However, alongside this imposter syndrome when running, clocking up the miles also helps to improve self-confidence, makes me feel stronger and more empowered.

So I am trying to practise what I preach, telling myself the things that I would say to a fellow runner. Reminding myself that I run and therefore I’m a runner. That everyone has good and bad runs. That I’ve already knocked 65 minutes off my marathon time and 30 minutes off my half marathon time.

If you personally identify as a runner, then other will identify you as a runner (although having some race/running stash definitely helps!) Try talking to yourself as you would talk to your friends, to those around you in a race or training run. Be kind to yourself and believe in your ability and achievements.

And for a bit of body positivity, I love Dorothy Beal’s campaign to get everyone to feel like they have a runner’s body – check out the I Have a Runner’s Body Instagram account here.

P.S sharing some very real photos of my track workout taken by my Mum. They might not be flattering but they’re a true image of me at the track! 

36 Comments

  1. 21st August 2017 / 8:32 am

    I really identify with this, especially at the moment when my fitness isn’t what it used to be. It’s particularly tough at the moment because the mainstream fitness aesthetic is so different from what I look like! That’s why I love blogs like yours (and all our lovely friends), because I can identify with all of you (and youre all awesome people) x

  2. Hannah
    21st August 2017 / 8:58 am

    I feel like this at work sometimes but never thought that it would relate to running for some people. I guess it is the social media thing that makes you compare yourself to other people too much. I only joined Twitter a month ago so I have no clue about what other people do in training. I wouldn’t feel confident enough to go to a track on my own (so well done!), I think I would join a local club instead and go with them. I used to be in one a few years ago and they really do cater for everyone.

    And finally, if you run, you are a runner. So you are most definitely a runner! Keep it up!

  3. W.Purves.
    21st August 2017 / 9:09 am

    Oh dear! Self doubt AGAIN. Throw it away. Love,G.

  4. 21st August 2017 / 9:12 am

    I’m shocked people have the cheek to comment on your times! How dare they! It’s still a damn marathon. Makes me so angry!
    I’m a personal trainer so even though I may want to, I can’t down play my achievements to people too much. If I say “I ran a 10km yesterday but you know it’s no big deal I’m not really a runner and my time was rubbish” people may think I’m arrogant and then I’ll be the one giving THEM running imposter syndrome! 10k is great! 2k is great! A marathon is a pipe dream for me!!!
    Easier said than done but I say forget the idiots who have to make themselves feel better by putting you down, it says more about them than it does you! There will be people who read your blog for inspiration who would LOVE to achieve even double your time x

  5. Simon Canning
    21st August 2017 / 9:13 am

    Comparison is the thief of joy was something I read earlier this year, and I try to keep in mind when I overwhemled by a sense of inadequacy. Compare yourself with yourself. I personally think your honesty is refreshing. I have been following many fitness “guru’s” on social media looking for a different angle on health well being and fitness for the broader population. Not everyone has 8 hours a day, an unlimited budget, and an income stream that allows them to present “perfection”. And suggest this is obtainable by “You” too. Too anyone who is trying anything, just having a go is all that matters. And if you want a measure, use your figures and compare; with yours.

    • 5th September 2017 / 3:06 pm

      I appreciate your comments. Most people forgot that those “professionals” who write the articles and blogs work out and write as a job, so they have the time, money, and often times corporate sponsorships that allow for that kind of lifestlye. The average Jane doesn’t have time to do the same workouts, nor the money for all the special supplements and equipment.
      As far as appearance goes- it’s not how your body looks that counts. It’s what it can do that matters. As a forty-something mom of four and a (very slow) runner, I remind myself of this frequently.

  6. Stuart Card
    21st August 2017 / 9:25 am

    Reading that going “yep…yep…..yep….yep…..” so firstly you’re not alone in a lot of your thought processes. Secondly don’t you feel that because you perhaps don’t meet some of the “norms” in respect of body composition etc….and also that because running isn’t effortless that your achievements are harder earned? I know I do.

    I know that my Strava feed is a good mixture of people looking at me wishing they could run distances and times I do and me looking at others wishing the same and that’s the beauty of running. It’s not about the numbers (sometimes it is!) it’s about the process, the journey, the challenge, the shared love and appreciation of getting good your shoes on and giving it a go.

    A mile is the same distance for everyone regardless of how quickly you run it.

    You have an awful lot of people who follow you and logic dictates that they do it as your page offers them something tangible that they can make use of, that helps and yes inspires them. Don’t lose sight of that.

  7. Chiswickmum
    21st August 2017 / 10:43 am

    imagine if everyone in that Park run group was thinking like this. No-one there would even look at you, they are too busy with their own doubts. So stop overthinking it, get to the front (ish 🙂 ) and start chatting to the person next to you to calm her fears. You are doing great and looking fab. Ditto what Simon said re comparison being the thief of joy.

  8. Debbie
    21st August 2017 / 12:13 pm

    Love your honesty!! Love that ur keeping it real for all of us!! Keep doing it and I for one will keep reading!! ?

  9. 21st August 2017 / 12:52 pm

    This is so relatable for me! I am training for my first half marathon after years of running just 5Ks and 10Ks, and sometimes I still feel like I don’t belong, even when I’m hitting my training runs. It’s when I feel extra slow or can’t hack the humidity during a long run that I especially feel the imposter syndrome creep up. But I still try to keep in mind “If you run, you’re a runner,” as well as Dorothy’s “I have a runner’s body,” when things get tough, and it seems to help. I still get back out there and try again — would a “fake runner” do that? Keep it up, because you really are a great running role model 🙂

    • Katie
      21st August 2017 / 10:52 pm

      By preceding ‘5ks and 10ks’ with the word ‘just’ you are devaluing your achievements and the achievements of other dedicated, hardworking athletes who choose and prefer those particular distances over others. It really isn’t about distance or time or bettering what others can do It’s about your journey, your effort and the achievements you make every day simply by putting on your trainers and doing what you love. If you consider what you’ve done so far as ‘just’ achievements then at best, you haven’t really mastered the ‘imposter syndrome’ at all. At worst, you run the risk of making other runners feel that way. If you put on a pair of trainers on a regular basis and run then, in my eyes, you’re a runner.

      • 22nd August 2017 / 12:08 pm

        You’re totally right. That was a poor choice of words on my part. I don’t mean to downplay 5Ks or 10Ks, because I honestly love them. I suppose I meant that I had spent years holding myself back from even trying to go further than that and watching all these lovely people in the running community on social media regularly smashing halfs and full marathons, thinking I didn’t belong up there. But now I’m taking the leap and, yes, it’s scary, but I belong here just as much as anyone else, even if I am slow or don’t fit the mold of what a “runner” looks like. I run, so I am a runner. I don’t know if anyone really ever completely defeats the imposter syndrome — the comments on this post prove just how pervasive it is — but that doesn’t mean we can’t hold it at bay, or at the very least build up those around us who might be feeling the same way.

    • charlotte
      Author
      25th August 2017 / 8:01 pm

      Thank you so much! That’s awesome that you’re training for your first half marathon, congratulations!!

  10. Sara Germann
    21st August 2017 / 1:01 pm

    I appreciate your post and have felt this way in the past-and had another runner say the same thing to me despite my 2 decades of running (compared to his 2 years of running). I am on IG but I don’t post my runs anymore. Personally, I find blogs (like this one!) more authentic than a quick photo or video. Your times are definitely achievements of which you can be very proud! I’m not sure when a sub-2 half and sub-4 full marathon became unworthy of respect. Runners who can’t celebrate the success of completion or even attempting these distances are the frauds, in my opinion.

    • charlotte
      Author
      25th August 2017 / 8:03 pm

      Wow two decades is awesome. And thank you so much for your kind words, I seriously appreciate it. xx

  11. Pippa
    21st August 2017 / 1:09 pm

    This makes me think of my last running club training session – we had a newbie who was clearly nervous. She came with a man who i ran with for the majority of the session. He managed fine, but she got so worried that she wasn’t fast enough that she ducked out after 1 lap of the track. Now there are fast people training there too but there’s such a big range it shouldn’t have been an issue but it was to her. I tried to tell her and this relates to you too charlie, that joining a running club isn’t about comparing to other people, it’s about finding a group that will push you to run faster/further/better. It’s about self improvement, not judgement or ranking. I am not a fast (long distance) runner and am often at the back, but running with other people gives me the push to run faster than i would when on my own and gives me the drive to improve. You do need to find a club/group that suits you, but please don’t worry about not being good enough (even though you are, it’s not actually the point), running with others will help you achieve your goals!

  12. 21st August 2017 / 1:44 pm

    I totally feel this, all the time. I think all runners do, especially when so many of us have the mindset that if it isn’t on Instagram or Strava, then it didn’t happen. I especially feel you with thee feeling “slow” part. I’m slow, but I have days where I feel fast for myself. I see you as so fast and such an inspiration! Your race times are a dream, but even the people who are faster than you and I feel slow. I challenge you to take some time to reflect on YOUR run and how YOU feel before you post it! I’ve been making myself write everything down and reflect before I connect to Garmin, and it’s really been helping me when I feel this way!

  13. 21st August 2017 / 1:58 pm

    I can only dream of having marathon/HM times like yours! I’m running my first HM this Sunday – my goal is to be no longer than 2 hours 30 mins but to be honest I’ll just be happy to finish. I was away to say “I’m not a runner” but then I realised what I’d say to anyone else… If you run, you are a runner. And you’re a damn inspiring one at that!

  14. Jo
    21st August 2017 / 2:00 pm

    Great post!! I can totally relate and you’ve made me feel better about it. Thankyou! x

  15. Lemon
    21st August 2017 / 3:14 pm

    You are the first runner I ever saw myself in- Please don’t worry about whether you are “professional” or “athletic” enough!!

    • charlotte
      Author
      23rd August 2017 / 9:06 pm

      Aww thank you so much, that means SO much xx

  16. Amy
    21st August 2017 / 3:19 pm

    Oh my gosh. I needed to read this today, so thank you. Every single time I lace up and hit the road for a run, I feel this.

  17. 21st August 2017 / 3:36 pm

    Have def had these feeling before. Great post

  18. 21st August 2017 / 4:20 pm

    Charlie, your times are my hopefully someday goals! You are definitely a runner! That being said, I totally understand the imposter syndrome. I ran a race this weekend where I took 6+ minutes off my time from the previous year, but the guy behind me ran the 5 miles in 36 minutes and I felt about as small as a grain of salt and slow as a turtle, whereas 2 minutes before I had been ecstatic I finished the race in under an hour!

    It’s really hard because comparison is the thief of joy for sure! I actually stopped going to a running group because I was the slowest by a country mile and it was so embarrassing to be holding the entire group up on timed runs. When it was just a “regular” run, I’d be all by my lonesome and there was really no difference than running by myself like I normally do. I keep thinking I should try another group, but I’m scared to try again.

    You are such an inspiration to me, even more so when you share real posts like this with us all. Thank you so much for that! 🙂

  19. 21st August 2017 / 4:51 pm

    I relate to this in a lot of ways! First of all, people can be incredibly rude and I wouldn’t be surprised if most people who say that you’re “slow” don’t even run professionally themselves…or at all. I’ve been running for 20 years and I’ve never even done a half or full marathon. I’ve done a relay marathon, and a lot of 5ks. One time I ran 20 miles in a race I was supposed to only run 10.(long story) and still I feel like I’m not a professional runner sometimes. I think that’s part of keeping yourself humble though. Sometimes we feel like we are awesome at running and sometimes we get a reality check and remember that everything is relative and nobody is perfect.

  20. 21st August 2017 / 4:56 pm

    First of all, what the hell are people doing commenting on your times?! HOW RUDE!! Secondly, you knocked 65 minutes off your marathon time?! Dude. That’s amazing! How did you do that?!?!?! And finally, thank you for writing this. I seriously think you just spoke for EVERY person out there doing something that they may not “fit the mold” for. You’re a runner just the same as I’m a runner. Because we run. <3

  21. 21st August 2017 / 7:19 pm

    I agree with you that EVERYONE feels this at times! These are beautiful shots- such a great visual reminder that you are a real runner, whether you feel like it or not. Thanks for being vulnerable about this!

  22. Jennifer
    21st August 2017 / 9:50 pm

    Hi! Firstly, your blog is great- always a must read for me. Secondly, I think everyone who runs is a real runner and so are you. Are you a particularly fast runner? No, and neither am I (I hit pretty much the same paces as you). But you have never held yourself out to be an amazing runner so that’s absolutely fine. You’re not a fraud in any way. You don’t boast about your PRs and that’s a good thing. If you did, I wouldn’t follow you! I enjoy following your training because you are at an average level, like me, and because you work hard to improve. That’s inspiring for those of us out here trying to do the same. Am really enjoying the vlogs too ?. Best of luck with this training cycle and the wedding!

  23. 22nd August 2017 / 7:38 am

    I’ve had a bad week of training and reading this is exactly how I’ve felt.. I’m not fast and I feel like I never will be then how can I be a runner… but your right if we run we are runners. Going to start focusing on my positives and stop being so hard on myself too. Great post

  24. 22nd August 2017 / 10:15 pm

    I totally know how you feel, and have written about it many a time myself. It’s hard feeling like an imposter, but I tell myself that same thing: “I run, so I am a runner.” It sometimes becomes my mantra. You ARE a runner! 🙂

    • charlotte
      Author
      25th August 2017 / 7:56 pm

      Love that mantra!

  25. 23rd August 2017 / 9:37 pm

    Ahaha yes, thank you for this, running *never* feels effortless to me. I’m so glad to know I’m not alone!

    • charlotte
      Author
      25th August 2017 / 7:53 pm

      Definitely not! Thanks so much for reading x

  26. 26th August 2017 / 9:41 pm

    People have commented negatively on your finish times? Good god, I better stop posting anything about my training/races at all, because you’re WAY faster than I will ever be…. but yeah, so it goes, that comparison game. We can only compete with ourselves.

  27. Becky
    27th August 2017 / 11:20 am

    I can definitely relate to your post! I joined a running club a few years ago and was gutted that the leader basically laughed off an 11 min mile time as ‘practically walking’, as I’ve always been quite slow. Personally, improving my fitness and times is a great achievement, no one knows what struggles each person has, so shouldn’t judge, as a running/fitness community we should all just be happy that we’re all trying to stay healthy! X

  28. Gemma
    3rd September 2017 / 8:40 am

    Oh Charlie, I love your blog and find you super inspirational and REAL!!!! xx