Running with the Demons of the Past

Since this is primarily a running themed blog, I will focus on the demons that have haunted my running or athletically for so many years. 

While I have regrets about my past as a runner, I can’t change anything, so I have to work on defeating the demons that still make my life more complex than it needs to be and work on being the best runner I can be now and in the future, not yesterday’s version of who I might have been.

We all have demons that haunt or inhabit our minds and talk us into being less than we could be. No, they are not the demons that are on TV or in the movies, they reside in our minds and limit us to being less than we might be. The demons that I write about here are mine to deal with, and I have been working on identifying the most powerful ones that hold me back from achieving goals that I still have. 

A blurry photo of me at track practice in high school – probably blurry from all the demons I was carrying back then.

Looking back, I led a life that was pretty similar to most of the other kids in my school and small town growing up. While my childhood wasn’t perfect, it was what I knew, and I made the best of the life I had back then. However, that life did create many of the demons that have haunted me since. 

What is more important is after looking back, I have a better idea about when and how many of my demons were created. Most were started during junior high and high school then carried onward as an adult.

The biggest cause for many of my demons was that I was the youngest and smallest boy in my class for most of those years. The other factor was that my parents were 16 and 15 when I was born, which added more than a few demons for me growing up while they were battling their own demons.

Self-confidence/Fear of Failure: 

Yeah, the big one. When you continually fail against bigger, stronger, better competitors/opponents, you learn the hard way to give up and stop showing up, at least I did. Even after you have improved, grown, or matured, the old demon that slays my self-confidence is ready to pounce upon my fragility given any opportunity. 

That voice inside me saying I wasn’t good enough, too this or too that, and there was no way I could do whatever. Most of the time, I was looked upon as a failure when it came to athletics. The 13th man on a 12-man team, too small for soccer, too short for basketball, couldn’t see good enough for baseball (I didn’t get glasses until my Sophomore year of high school, I should have had them in 6th grade or earlier). All the other failures that accumulated over those years vastly outweighed the successes.

I was often my own worst enemy, and while I was potentially better than many of my opponents or teammates, the failures meant that I gave up and gave in too quickly when the going got hard. The demon would insinuate that it was time to back down, take the easy way, or not give my all, and all too often, I listened. It was easier to quit, than keep beating my head against the wall.

The few times that I didn’t, the demons lead me to believe they were an accident or what I did wasn’t all that special. After all, if I won, the competition couldn’t have been that tough. 

The worst part was that I totally believed the demons for too many years.

Commitment: 

I always made sure that I had an out for why I didn’t perform up to my or other’s expectations. Never committing 100% to anything when it came to training, racing, or even the equipment I used.

It was so much easier to blame external reasons for my failures and then find a new training plan, new diet, new strength program, or a new brand of shoes that didn’t work any better than before. That always searching for the 1% gain and never committing to building a base or doing the quality work needed to be a better runner. It was always easier to quit halfway through the season, make the injuries seem worse than they were, than to face the reality that I wasn’t running well because of what I was not doing.

Yeah, make every excuse in the book to explain away why someone with the potential that I had occasionally shown could do so poorly. 

The demons had me so messed up that I got the reputation as a head case and eventually stopped running competitively for almost 20 years. To this day, I still tend to avoid racing unless everything is just right, and we all know how often that happens.

This is probably the demon that I still strive the most against and am working the hardest to overcome. 

Expectations: 

They were very high inside the family, and outside the family, they were pretty low. In sports, I was good enough but never good enough, if that makes any sense. Even when I succeeded at something, especially in sports, my father expected that I should have done better or more, while the coaches were at times surprised, then dismayed when I couldn’t replicate a performance or that I would quit before the season was over. More to avoid failing – yet again. 

My father was a naturally gifted athlete who left school in 8th grade and put tremendous pressure on me to perform to the standards he set and not make the mistakes he made. He didn’t accept that I couldn’t meet those standards athletically – that I was not as talented and much smaller in stature.

Eventually, he stopped attending any sporting event that I participated in because I couldn’t do anything right if he was in the stands. He intimidated me too much. Especially since I knew that once we got home, I was told about all the errors and things I did that he didn’t like. Finally, one of my coaches asked, errr rather strongly suggested that he not come to any more of my games. 

He never came to another game, meet, or event after that. Even though he was proud of some of my achievements and talked me up around town, he never saw me compete again, except for the year when he made me play men’s league softball instead of running track while in high school. That one is a story in and of itself.

When I had those occasional glimpses of what I could do, my own self-expectations went through the roof, and delusions of grandeur set in, which in turn set me up for more failure. 

The demons feasted on the expectations that others and myself had for me.

Self-sabotage: 

If you succeed, it means that you will need to do it again or take the limelight away from somebody else who deserved or wanted it more. So I learned the hard way it was better not to be successful, not stand out, to stay in the background where you are forgotten about, not noticed, to be the “oh yeah, don’t forget about him” person. If I consciously or subconsciously sabotage what I am doing, I don’t have to worry about succeeding, winning, or being noticed. 

As a result, all too often, when a competitor hung with me or passed me in more prolonged race situations, I seldom attempted to go with them or hold them off. Instead, I would passively let them go, congratulate them afterward, then berate myself for not trying hard enough, and the demons were well satisfied.

Race anxiety: 

There were times when glimpses of my potential would come through, and my own expectations or the expectations of others would bring pressure to do big things. Getting worked up or sick before an event or getting so anxious about a competition that the idea of showing up became something I didn’t want to deal with. It got to the point that I didn’t compete for too many years as an adult, but my many race anxiety issues began in high school.

Fantastical Thinking: 

Telling myself that I was better than I actually was, no matter the sport or activity. Believing that wishful thinking or reading to know something was enough and that the actual doing wasn’t necessary. Actually, doing all the training, eating well, getting to the race prepared, or all the other things that good runners do, well, those in my demon’s view were optional. 

It was easier to fantasize about how good I could be, and putting in the work that was necessary to perform at those levels didn’t happen.

Easier to be a loner:

With all the above, it just got to the point where it was easier to limit my exposure to other runners, who might question me about what I was doing or, worse, why I was becoming such a headcase. For many years that is precisely what I did, I ran primarily by myself and didn’t attempt to be a part of the running community again until 2012. After all, I didn’t want to disturb my fantasies with reality. 

Looking Forward

While I have identified and confronted many of the demons that afflicted me over the years, does it mean it was an easy thing to banish them to the Abyss? Oh, hell no. Those running demons are still here lurking and have no plans to leave quietly. They know my weaknesses, have developed their own strategies to keep me in their thrall, and have no interest in giving up their pawn.

However, at this point in my life, the demons don’t have as much power as they once did. My glory days are far behind me, and I run now more because I still can, not because I have anything to prove to anyone but myself.

This round of self-exploration has dredged up many deeply buried and often bitter memories. Many of those memories have been, are, or will be faced, and the demons they created acknowledged and defeated, then it will be time to bury the memories as things that happened and no longer have a hold over me. 

Is my life as screwed up as I make it sound in this post? Probably not, since I believe that overall my life has turned out pretty well. We all have personal demons that affect and effect our lives negatively. I have waged great battles with my inner demons, and as I get older, the demons seem to be losing interest in pursuing me quite as mightily as they used to.  

Where do I go from here, and what do I do about those running demons?

That is the question, isn’t it?

I still don’t like to fail and my self-confidence while not as fragile as it once was, still has a few chinks in its armor, where the demons can hurt me. However, I have learned that I can achieve the goals that I set for myself, without self-destructing quite as often as I used to. Every so often, I still find myself setting myself up to fail and when I see those signs happening am more prepared to not fall into that old trap. When it comes to expectations, most people don’t have too many for an old broken down runner and my delusions of grandeur get smaller and more reality-based each year.

Although I know that I still struggle with race anxiety and need to continue to work on showing up, once I get there I am pretty good, but getting to the starting line still needs a bit of work. Being a loner in the year of the pandemic, well that wasn’t a big deal, but I do want to get back to being a part of the running community when this is over. I missed the people that I have met along the way and this past year has shown me that I don’t really enjoy being an island.

What I want to accomplish now as a runner is see what kind of runner I can become with the tools that I have left, be competitive in local races within my age group, and becoming active in the running community again.

If I do those things, I will consider it a victory over the demons and smile a bit more often.

Running with my demons is just another part of my never-ending story to keep improving as a runner.

How about you? How have you gone about tackling your demons?

4 thoughts on “Running with the Demons of the Past

  1. Great reflections, Harold. I can relate to the “fantastical thinking” part for sure. What’s the point in starting something if we aren’t convinced that the outcome will be completely amazing? What follows can only disappoint, and the dreaming-and-reading-about-it stage is often–maybe usually–the best part. By now we’re probably all numb to the message of “enjoying the process,” and as another most-of-the-time loner I know how tough it can be to buck ourselves up after the setbacks and let-downs along the way. But here we are. That’s how the game is played and we choose to keep playing it. The dreaming and reading and planning wouldn’t count for much without occasional good faith efforts toward those goals.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Fantastical thinking can be good, but you gotta get to the do part and not forget that the process you use to do the work necessary is not really optional if you are looking for some results too 😁 That is the part of the fantastical thinking that I tend to overlook and not do all that well – the actual doing. Now to do a little more often. The dreaming will always be there though 😇

      Like

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