Trail running isn’t just a sport that welcomes vulnerability but celebrates it. When I think back to some of the friends whom I’ve asked to pace me in my 100-mile races, all I can say is – they have seen some things! (I won’t go into details, but just know that unholy amounts of chaffing cream have been involved more often than not). In those moments, I’ve had what felt like my lowest of lows. Battered and broken. But, on the other side of that physical and emotional chaffing was compassion, acceptance, and growth.
You can’t be brave without being vulnerable. You can’t achieve great things without failing.
You can’t be brave without being vulnerable. You can’t achieve great things without failing. In this article, I want to make a case for why the willingness to be vulnerable might be the best thing you can do for your running performance (and, your life).
Take Your Ego Out of the Equation
When it comes down to it, fear of vulnerability usually has a lot to do with fear of what others will think about you. If you’re not willing to let your guard down, try to uncover why that is. What are you afraid of? I remember a time when I fell into this category. I had let my results and race outcomes have too much influence over my self-worth. If you let yourself believe that your performances have anything to do with who you are as a person you’re already placing limitations on yourself. And, you’re probably not going to have too much fun.
There is freedom and power that comes with separating your ego from your race results.
The best thing that ever happened to my running career was when I realized that running is something I do, it’s something I love, but it’s not who I am. There is freedom and power that comes with separating your ego from your race results. When your ego and self-worth aren’t in jeopardy, you’re more willing to try hard things and risk failure. With that, almost always comes more joy and more success.
One of the qualities of our sport that has kept me in it for over 20 years is the courage it takes to stand on a starting line. Running is an inherently vulnerable sport. Anyone who is brave enough to take on the challenge should be celebrated. When the gun goes off, there are a lot of unknowns and uncertainties waiting for you down the trail. Approach those challenges with curiosity and courage rather than fear and apprehension. Amazing things happen when you can approach a race genuinely excited and intrigued about how things will play out rather than hampered and stifled by the fear of worst-case scenarios. Sometimes you will fall short. But, other times you will soar and the view will always be worth it.
Vulnerability requires compassion. Not just compassion for others, but compassion for yourself. When you decide to take risks, it’s not just likely that you could fail; you WILL fail. And, when you do, that is feedback to be used for future growth, not evidence of your shortcomings and flaws. Falling short isn’t the byproduct of inadequacy, it’s the byproduct of courage.
When you genuinely know and believe that you’re enough, despite performance outcomes you will be rewarded with the freedom that comes with knowing you can take on any challenge and that no result can impact your worth. One of the greatest nourishers of self-compassion is connection and meaningful relationships. When you surround yourself with people who love you because of your imperfections, not in spite of them, you begin to see yourself through the same lens.
When you surround yourself with people who love you because of your imperfections, not in spite of them, you begin to see yourself through the same lens.
Vulnerability is the birthplace of many emotions and experiences. Yes, it’s true that sometimes that can mean disappointment or judgment. But, it also means joy, purpose, and acceptance. You can’t have one without the other, and the common denominator is the willingness to be vulnerable.
Addie is a professional ultra trail runner, coach, and sport psychology consultant helping athletes of all ages and abilities to prepare for the mental demands of competing through her practice, Strive Mental Performance.