The Impostor Within
By Jake Jackson
Wikipedia defines the term “impostor syndrome” as a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments or talents and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud. Despite external evidence for their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon remain convinced that they are frauds, and do not deserve all they have achieved.
2018 was a break out year for me in running. I had changed my diet and started training on a more consistent basis upping my weekly mileage from 80 to over 100 miles in some of my peak training blocks. My confidence in my running abilities also started to improve during the course of the year as well. I had won my first 100 miler at Coldwater Rumble, set a course record at my first 24-hour race, placed second at Angeles Crest 100, and won the Javelina 100k all in the first 10 months of the year. By all accounts, I had far exceeded any expectations I had for myself.
I had dealt with impostor syndrome in a few instances during that time but the worst bout came at the end of 2018 when I gained entry to run the Desert Solstice Invitational 24 hour race in Phoenix, Arizona. The race is held on a high school track and allows runners to chase various distance and time records. Which in turn brings in some of the best ultra-endurance athletes in the world. With me still being a novice to these types of races I had no idea this race was also one of the last opportunities to qualify for the US National 24 Hour World team held the following year. Every week leading up to the race brought in bigger and bigger names and by all accounts, it was to be one of the most stacked fields the event had ever seen.
“How am I ever going to compete with these ultra running badasses?” I questioned myself. I was going to be lining up next to highly experienced, professionally sponsored runners, most of which have had articles written about them in magazines and a few of which were running idols of mine. “I’m just a truck driver. Not an elite runner”, I thought. And as I toed the line the morning of the race, I felt more like I was a lucky attendee at the Academy Awards then participating in a running race.
I’m not sure if it was the extraordinary awesomeness of being able to compete against all of those inspiring runners or my own insecurities of making a complete fool of myself but I ended up having one of the best races of my life.
The weird thing for me unfortunately is that no matter the amount of success I have had in running the feeling of not being worthy enough has never left me. I sometimes wonder if that’s the very thing that motivates me to push myself in the first place. Chasing those self-imposed expectations of proving myself to everyone. The feeling of self-worth goes hand in hand with being self-confident and has been something that I have struggled with for many years. What could make those feelings of doubt and insecurity go away? I used to think becoming a sponsored athlete or having thousands of social media followers was the answer, but both seem to be not as fulfilling as I had previously anticipated. I’m not entirely sure what would help remove those unhealthy thoughts but with every passing year, I find myself wanting to focus on the things I’m good at and enjoy rather than striving to create some kind of image of myself for everyone else to portray.
One good thing that has come out of having most of the 2020 race season either canceled or postponed is that it’s given me a chance to address these issues and rediscover my “why” in running. Having the support of my family and coach has given me perspective on what’s important. To perceive things for what they are instead of wishing for things that are 100 percent out of my control. The feeling of being an impostor may haunt me for as long as I continue to pursue running but I refuse to let it stop me from dreaming big and pushing my own personal limitations.
Isn’t that the whole reason we got into this silly sport of ultra running in the first place?
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