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Impostor syndrome is not exclusive to the professional sphere. It can also affect sport, and particularly jogging enthusiasts. Some runners tend to constantly denigrate their performances, comparing themselves to other athletes, often more accomplished, and fear one day being unmasked. This is what we call “impostor runner syndrome.”
“Imposter runner” syndrome is a psychological phenomenon that manifests itself in constant doubt about one’s running skills and legitimacy as an athlete. Even though they have successfully completed many races before, these “imposter runners” question their abilities to participate in a sporting event. They constantly underestimate their performance. They think they are not fast and durable enough, and wonder about their poor technique. And even when they win, they attribute the credit to luck or favorable circumstances, not their work or skill. These runners fear being unmasked one day, that a “real” runner will realize their imposture.
This devaluation would particularly affect regular runners. According to Chris Bennett, senior director of Nike Global Running, when interviewed by Women’s Health, this phenomenon would be more present in this sport than in others. “You never hear someone who plays basketball say that he is not a real basketball player.“.
The comparison trap
The “imposter runner” syndrome appears especially when running with other people. It is then easy to compare your sporting performance to that of others, especially if they are faster, more endurance or more experienced. Christopher Mellott, an American athlete and columnist, reports in Human Potential Running, a blog specializing in running, that despite his numerous medals won, he does not feel like an “ultra runner”. “When I read the stories of incredible athletes like Kilian Jornet who reached the summit of Everest not once, but twice without oxygen or Michael Wardian who ran the Leadville 100 and followed that up with the Pikes Peak Marathon the next day I feel like an imposter. I feel like at any moment someone is going to come up to me and say ‘you said you were a runner, an ultra-runner , but you’re not.”
“You may feel added pressure when you see people around you doing what you think is an everyday activity faster or ‘better’ than you“, explains Lennie Waite, a former Olympic athlete, consultant in sports psychology. And this phenomenon can be reinforced by social networks. “I found myself constantly measuring my progress against more experienced runners or those showcasing their exploits on social media“, confides Krystle Hodge, athlete and ambassador of the Houston Marathon committee, on the website of Chevron Houston Marathon.
Good in his body, good in his head!
Everyone has their limits
People with imposter runner syndrome actually lack self-confidence and have low self-esteem. Which can affect their motivation and mental well-being. These runners can, for example, reach extremes by setting unachievable goals. But this attitude can push them to always seek perfection and/or to be afraid of failure.
To get rid of these feelings, Chris Bennett advises practicing “mindfulness”, which consists of having an active conversation with yourself during physical exercise. This is to check halfway if you feel well hydrated, or if you have no pain. Celebrate each of your victories: for example, a ten-minute run without stopping is one of them. The objective? Recognize your efforts.
You can also decide to run alone and be your own running buddy. Talk to each other and encourage each other like you would a friend. And to manage problems of doubts and self-esteem, do not hesitate to turn to help, such as a psychologist. “Running remains a real challenge for everyone“, recalls Lennie Waite. “It’s just that everyone’s ceilings and thresholds are different, and it can be strangely comforting to tell yourself that.“.