Thursday, February 5, 2015

What has running done for you?

Something happened to me between the 4th and 5th grade.

As a little girl, I was a leader. Well liked, with a ton of friends. But around my 10th birthday, something changed for me. There wasn't a specific incident that I can recall.  It was almost like a shift in my brain. All of a sudden, I wasn't sure about anything. I lost my mojo. I started to feel awkward and ugly. I felt different than everyone else. In middle school, everyone around me started going through the physical changes of puberty. Nothing was happening for me, and it didn't seem like a big deal, to me at least. But along with those physical changes all my friends were experiencing, was a shift in everyone's psyche. Everyone was boy crazy and clothes crazy and just plain crazy. It was almost like a club that I wasn't a part of. I didn't get it. I didn't really notice how different I was until I was invited to a slumber party at one of my elementary school friend's house. This was 7th grade. I remember it vividly because while I was friends with several of the girls, there were others invited who were all part of a "faster" crowd from my junior high. Things were way over my head. I just wanted to go to sleep and they were up all night, dancing and giggling. The differences between me and those girls were evident, and I wasn't included in that group again. My self confidence continued to plummet, and hit rock bottom when I started high school. As a freshman, I was pranked, meanly, by a girl I had been friends with in grade school. It's still painful to think about that incident. I was socially awkward and gawky. My best friend from junior high moved on to the "popular" group. It was a tough time. 

Me, probably around age 13.
Something happens at puberty that makes girls' confidence plummet. Kristin Armstrong wrote an amazing essay on this. Changes in the brain, both hormonal and physical that occur with puberty, change the way preteens view themselves. For both sexes, but especially girls, it is so important to "fit in", and preteens compare themselves to their peers. Girls also measure themselves against unrealistic expectations in the media. 


Did you see this amazing ad during the Super Bowl? This really struck a nerve with me. Apparently, I wasn't alone. My Facebook and Instagram feed was full of #runlikeagirl posts and pictures. I've also read a few blog posts that touched on themes related to this ad. CNN interviewed the director of this ad. She's been involved with other projects like this in the past and comments in the article that she was shocked by the dramatic shift in girls' thinking at puberty.

Back in the day, when I was young, girls didn't participate in sports like they do today. I was raised in the era before Title IX, when girls were supposed to be cheerleaders, dancers, and moms. Not that there's anything wrong with these options. But they were the only options I knew about. No one played sports, really. None of my friends were athletes. In my clinic, I see girls who are participating in every sport that boys have and then some. And those girls play hard!

But even with all these opportunities to participate in sports, have things really changed for girls? In my clinic, besides seeing the confident, athletic girls, I also see girls who tell me they're ugly..too fat..too thin...girls who cut themselves...who are bullied. How do we help those girls?


I stumbled through my teens and 20s, trying to find my way. Finally, after suffering from anxiety and panic attacks, I started working out. There was a track at the health club, and I began to run. After time, I found that not only did running help me manage my anxiety, in fact reducing it, but also began giving me self confidence. I ran and I got faster. I felt confident enough to run a few 5ks, and actually placed in my AG a few times. This was in the days before racing was a big thing, but it surprised me. I still didn't have the confidence to join a running group or meet other runners. I was intimidated by experienced runners. I still felt that I wasn't a "real runner".

Fast forward 20-odd years and I look back on that old me and see how far I've come. But even prior to last year's marathon, I still had lots of self doubt prior to lining up at the start. I was fortunate to have a coach and friends who believed I could and I would. And I did. I proved to myself that I can "run like a girl". But how sad is it that it that at 52, I was still lacking in confidence? How do we keep our teen girls from a life of low self esteem and self doubt?

For me, the answer is running. Running gives me a sense of accomplishment. Almost everyone can run. It doesn't have to be fast. It doesn't have to be far. But lacing up those shoes and heading out the door is an accomplishment in itself. Pushing through a tough run and not quitting helps build mental toughness. Running is easy. Just one foot in front of the other.


#runlikeagirl

I'm linking this post up with Amanda at Running with Spoons for her Thinking Out Loud linkup.





14 comments :

  1. I just briefly saw that superbowl commercial as I passed by the TV. I did see a lot of the twiiter and IG comments about it though. I Love saying " you had the power all along"!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wish I had been more confident earlier in my life bc yes, I had the power all along!

      Delete
  2. Wow. So often when I'm reading your blog, I think how I could have sat down at my computer and written the same thing. This post definitely hits that nerve for me, right down to the awkward sleepover and friend who went off with the popular crowd.
    I didn't start running until I was in my late 30s and I wonder all the time what kind of teenager I would have been if I'd run (rather than the chubby, surly, sad and confused teenager that I actually was). The older I get, the more I realize that *everybody* had/has those doubts. And it's what we do with them that makes the difference. Which brings me to the same conclusion as you: everybody should run.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wish I could empower all those girls I see to get moving. But they have to figure it out for themselves, I guess..

      Delete
  3. well said. The only running I remember when I was a kid was those gym tests. When I was in HS, the boys played sports and the girls were cheerleaders. I started playing tennis in my 40s. That was my first sport. It gave me confidence. Then in my 50s, I started running and haven't looked back. I love it. Would I appreciate it as much if I ran when I was young, who knows?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I played tennis in my teens but I was pretty bad. I'm just so uncoordinated. At least running is easy, sort of...

      Delete
  4. Believe it or not, I was 60 before i had enough confidence to join a running group. I realized then that I wasn't the slowest. And even if I was, it was ok.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I swear I was at that same slumber party. The one where I realized the 'fast' girls were interested in a whole bunch of things I was not. I perceived it differently though. In my mind they were sluts and I didn't want to hang with them so I withdrew. I ran track in middle school but skating as my "thing". I think there was a girls' softball team. I didn't have close friendships in high school, but I ran. I really think the best thing we can do is get kids at that tough, volatile age into sports.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great post. My sister and I talk about this a lot. We were not encouraged to do or be or try anything, whether education or sports. Heck, I was excused from PE for all of my school years (subject for a post!). I think we were expected to cook, make good wives and maybe be a secretary if we had to work. Oh, and play the piano. I was determined to make something of myself. I put myself through college while working full time and being a young wife and mother. I don't blame my mother. It was just her generation and what she knew. I didn't have daughters to impart the wonderful wisdom of "you can be anything and do anything you want" to. I'll save it for my future granddaughter. Sorry I went so long!

      Delete
    2. I just wonder why young women today are still having issues with identity and confidence when we are telling them that they can be anything.

      Delete
  6. LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE this post... Thank you so much for sharing!!! I'm telling you - somewhere - somehow we are twins :) ... Thank you for sharing your journey!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's nice to know that we're not alone in this! :)

      Delete