By Alison Conway
The imposter syndrome many women suffer pops up in the news occasionally, when a successful CEO describes her fears of being exposed as a fraud, ill-qualified for her job and not good enough to stay at the board room table. It’s a sad story, since the women who seem to suffer most seem the least likely to qualify as real frauds, with stellar records of achievement to back up their stories. They are not products of spin, but victims of a culture that tells them, over and over again, that they’re not good enough. And they suffer, I’m guessing, sleepless nights and acute bouts of anxiety.
I should know, since my own needle is stuck permanently in the red zone on the fraud metre. Occasionally I forget to look at it, but whenever I check, there’s the needle–in the red. It doesn’t come back down to yellow for a while. It’s always red, all the time, and neither the metre nor the needle pays any mind to promotions, raises, or what have you. I try to ignore both, but that needle is always poking me in the side, reminding me that the next publication needs to go to press, the next class syllabus must be better than the last. I find praise embarrassing.
Which is why taking up running was such a good idea, three years ago. Because running you can’t fake. There’s a clock that times each race and that time is real. Or is it? It was a strange experience, this spring, to run my first marathon and finish with a Boston qualifying time. Exhilarating, of course! But also unnerving. Because it turns out a Boston qualifying time is not a Boston qualifying time. So many people want to run Boston that you must run faster than the qualifying time. In my case, I had a buffer of over four minutes. Surely that had to be enough?
But it wasn’t. This year, the actual qualifying time for all age groups was 4 minutes and 56 seconds faster than the posted BQ times. So I’m not going to run Boston next April. Boston is sorry. It has changed its 2020 qualifying times to reflect the new realities of runners and their speed.
Enter the imposter syndrome. I ran my first marathon on a perfect day and on a perfect course. The temperature was lovely, the course was flat but not too flat, and I came to the race well-trained and with no nagging injuries. So, of course, I ran the race I should have run. It was no great victory, just a solid run with every advantage on my side.
Not getting into Boston means I now must prove that I am a real runner. That is, put myself through another grueling winter of training, run another race in conditions that may not so ideal, face down the challenge of running a faster time at an older age. A real runner, I’ve decided, is one who mentally can face what each race presents to her: the threat of failure.
What keeps me from quitting is the faith that my running friends keep for me, even when I can’t keep it for myself. They will be there for whatever transpires next spring, when I make a second attempt to run a BQ. They know that racing is not about faking it but about showing up, whether the time you post places you among the top-ranked runners in your age group, or not.
This is why taking up running has proven the best decision I could have made, at 50: because runners support each other, through thick and thin. They pull the needle out of the fraud meter and look at the road under their feet, instead. They recognize a solid effort when they see one, and they acknowledge it with their words of encouragement and their commitment to showing up for the next effort. And the next.
Alison Conway runs and works in Kelowna, BC.