Saturday, January 14, 2006


There's something I don't understand.

I see a lot of people - recreational runners and triathletes, who are supposedly doing it for the fun and health benefits - who are disappointed after many of their races. They're mad at themselves, angry at the race they ran, disgusted at the time on the clock at the finish line - you get the picture. They stomp around and feel badly and talk about how "slow" they were and generally have a miserable day. Regardless of any objective measure of their performance - they complain and generally project a negative, sour attitude after the event. They usually manage to make it miserable for everyone around them, as well.

I have a hard time understanding that attitude. What's the point? It's not like most of us are running an Olympic qualifying race and just missed out by two seconds. Most of us aren't relying on the race results to pay the rent, either. Injuries are certainly annoying and aggravating, but most of the time that's not the problem with these folks.

Sometimes the people are fishing for compliments and reassurances that they're really not "slow" and that they're really athletes after all. Because being "slow" would mean that they're worthless people, I suppose?

Sometimes they're competitive types who aren't happy with anything less than first place overall. And even then they have to fault their own performance.

And sure, sometimes after a long hard event, you're just physically and emotionally exhausted, and need some time to recover and regroup.

But sometimes - most of the time, I think - these sourpusses are just determined to immerse themselves in self-pity and have a bad day. Frankly, to me, it often seems like plain old bad sportsmanship.

I just don't get it. Being a recreational athlete means - to me - that it's supposed to be FUN!!! If you don't enjoy it, why not pick a different activity that you do enjoy?

I can't remember any recent race where I was truly upset or mad at myself or sad afterward. Instead, I usually find myself exhilarated at the end, regardless of what the clock says. I did it! Every race has its own moments of fun and inspiration and teaches me lessons for the next one.

So what's the deal? Maybe some of my readers can help explain it to me? There must be some kind of personal payoff to this behavior, because lots of people seem to indulge in it quite frequently, but I don't understand what benefit they get out of it. It sure isn't fun to be around!

Are you a race sourpuss?


Chris said...

I think you've hit on a lot of the points. One other thing that I was thinking of is that a lot of folks put a lot of time and effort into their training. They've likely visualized their race day and when things don't go as planned (which they almost never do), they feel as if all their hard work just went for nothing.

Still, while I think it's perfectly acceptable to be critical of yourself, there is no excuse to have a bad attitude about it. If all you're going to do is bitch and moan, you're better off going home and keeping it to yourself. That's just my opinion, anyway.

Cliff said...


It is like they enjoy pouring salt on their own wounds. I found that people enjoy self pity.

I agree with what you are saying Nancy. I often tell my friends getting into runs or what not that if they are feeling frustrated from training. And training is suppose to be a stress relief, then why train at all?

I believe the feeling of frustration is a choice. We feel what we want to feel. And we, at times, want to feel self pity b/c part of it makes us feel good.

Anonymous said...

nope, I'm just happy as a puppy to be running around with everybody!
I understand what you're saying though. I invited my colleagues-friends to run a race with me and they fake-complained that they didn't run fast. They of course arrived in less than 30' for a 5K, and then complained to other people that they were too slow (ahem! I am in the room people!) Obviously they didn't really think they were slow, they just wanted reassurance from their boyfriend etc... That's the kind of needy behaviour that pisses me off, but what can you do. :-P
Did some Goofy finishers complain about their time? What prompted your post (I'm curious ;-) )

nancytoby said...

Heh, I'd rather speak in generalities here, don't want to point any fingers! :-)

Miss Rachel said...

I think it's a form of egotism. They think that they ought to be better because they feel superior, and want to show others what high standards they hold themselves to. Even though they know full well that other people would be glad to do as well as they did.

LouBob said...

Great post. I'm not competive but I still find myself trying to measure up.

Keryn said...

At this point in my racing life I am just happy to finish races. But I do understand being disappointed if you don't reach the goals you set for yourself in a race. Either way, the whole point is to have fun and even if you blow your goal time by hours, the race should still be fun!

You always, always have a smile on your face in your race photos! I really love that!

nancytoby said...

I was surprised to see that I was always smiling in the Disney photos! I'm not always smiling when it gets hard, believe me! I just don't put those frowning/concentrating photos up on my blog because they're usually not very... attractive.

jessie_tri_mn said...

This is the same reason why golf is such a popular sport. I have family members who are avid golfers, and while they sit around for hours after a round talking about how much they love the sport, during the game they're swearing and throwing their clubs.

Regardless of our talents, if we have a lot of emotional investment in a sport, it takes a lot of strength not to be disappointed.

That being said, those who throw little tantrums are awfully annoying. I'd rather hear the sarcastic jokes...

Danny said...

I was disappointed after my marathon, and so I guess I'm a race sourpuss. I tried to be upbeat about the whole experience, but there was definitely a (big) side of me that was disappointed in my performance. And what you said about fishing for compliments? I found the exact opposite is true. When you tell people you ran a marathon, everyone tells you how amazing you were no matter what your time is. I found it irritating when people who know nothing about marathons would tell me my time "was great".

So, since I seem to be in the minority here, let me try and explain. Running a marathon is definitely a goal by itself. However, I can't help but feel that if one were going slow enough, the accomplishment wouldn't be the same. As an extreme example, somebody who walked 26.2 miles over a week would not really be considered an athlete. This could also be done without any training whatsoever. So in order to feel some sort of athletic challenge, most people set themselves a certain goal - or a set of goals - when running a race. By having a goal it makes it easier for me to train. If I knew I could take 30 minute walking breaks every mile, I wouldn't have trained as hard. So when I didn't meet what I had thought was a reasonable goal for myself, I was disappointed. Because after many months of training, I did not accomplish what had been in my mind all that time. Obviously these goals were personal and specific to me. So yes, I realize I was not going to win the race, and I was not upset that I didn't qualify for Boston, but I was disappointed in that I didn't do as well as I thought I could.

You know how they say the last 6.2 miles of a marathon are in your head? That's because it hurts and it's tough to keep running then. If you could just stop running and walk those last miles, you'd still finish the marathon. But you wouldn't have won that little mind game. I think I feel disappointed in not winning that mind game.

I definitely want to say that I tried not to be like the person you described in your post. I was not negative around everybody, and tried to look at the positive side of the experience. I'm definitely happy to have run a marathon, and I'm proud of that accomplishment. But I do understand the other side of it, and I don't look down upon those feelings.

I could probably go on and on (even more than I already have) about this topic. (As it is I'll probably generate some negative feedback with this seemingly minority opinion.) I hope this explains things a little.

jeanne said...

Provocative post.

I sure hope I'm not a sourpuss. And I guess I wouldn't jump to the conclusion that those folks who are upset with their times are just fishing for compliments...could be, as chris said that they're just disappointed with what they envisioned happening versus what actually happened.
Still, there's never any excuse for being a poor sport, or acting obnoxious around others

jeanne said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
jeanne said...

Danny, I just saw your comment--oh I can relate!! Same thing happened with my marathon, but I too hope I wasn't a sourpuss. I talked about my disappointment some on my blog (hey, that's what blogs are for, right??!), and then I let it go.

But you are NOT in the minority and I don't think Nancy is talking about people like you (or me, I hope!)

Fe-lady said...

You definitely have the right attitide. I am generally tough on myself after a race-but then I am tough on myself about many things. But I don't go around complaining the rest of the day or week. I usually come to the conclusion that I did the best that I could on that day...and move one.
Re: Tile mosaic; Thanks for the compliment but... Didn't make the one pictured-but hope to post mine when I am finished with it (Four weeks from now or so!)

Dianne W. said...

What a thought-provoking post! Danny and Jeanne - Nancy is NOT referring to you. You are not wandering post-race whining to everyone who comes within earshot. You have your personal opinion of your race performance and you did your best to put a positive spin on it.
Some folks aren't happy unless they have something to complain about. Some complainers happen to also be runners, so they complain about running and racing.
And since removing them from the planet would land us in jail, they're still around.
Jeanne, you're the happiest runner I've ever seen.

bunnygirl said...

I'm with Fe-Lady: " I did the best that I could on that day...and move on."

Sometimes it all comes together. Sometimes it doesn't. Ask Paula Radcliffe.

If world record-holders can have bad days, I certainly can. I'm in this sport for the fun of it and going around being La Grumpette isn't any fun at all. The sore muscles are bad enough. No need to add attitude.

nancytoby said...

Good discussion, folks! And no no no, I'm not referring to any of the bloggers we know and love. :-) I'm actually generalizing about a few different people.

Bolder said...

hell no! excellent post!!

instamom said...

hi. i can totally understand wanting to "win", because I am totally competitive. My husband and i are NOT big athletes. We run about 3 miles together, and even then....i find myself getting irritated if it seems that he is having an easier time than myself. I am a brat, i guess. Even if i was running for fun, i can still see myself wanting to know that my "fun preparation" paid off (not to say that the ONLY pay-off would be winning). But i'm not sure that i would feel the need to complain about it. i would still be glad that i made it to the finish line and that i enjoyed myself doing it. i admire your healthy attitude and your dedication. you are awesome. I am a brat. I maybe need to think about that some! :)

Tory said...

I usually tend to set goals for myself but if they aren't working out that day, I remind myself that my running is a celebration of life and health and let it go. I try not to be disappointed when I don't make a PR. In fact, I have found that the times I have PRed I have gone in with no plan for even coming close to a PR, so it's a pleasant surprise!

I was a little disappointed with Seattle but it wasn't so much disappointed in my performance as it was in how I felt. I was depressed a few days after and was questioning if I should do it again. I think I went in too worried about whether I "should" do the marathon and didn't just go and have fun.

GEnerally on a race, though, I just grin and have fun. I figure I'll never be the fastest or the best, but I tell myself I can have fun and motivate others!

Susan said...

I can relate to both sides . . . sigh. Interesting discussions going on here.

'Zilla said...

Nancy great post... For me, the race is the victory lap, so to speak. The real thrill and measure of it all is the *training* that went into it, which should also be fun... So, to answer your question, race day should be fun, fun, FUN!

I set goals for myself though, and there are times when race day is less than satisfactory... When that happens, I just remind myself of the above and smile.

Now, as for what others do... I try not to judge. I don't know where they are coming from, and for all I know walking 26.2 miles could be a HUGE *athletic* accomplishment for them. Good on them, I say! :)

Dawn - Pink Chick said...

Good post! I ran into this a few years ago. A girl from our running group (not here in Calgary) was training for her first marathon. I was training for my first half. She was an excellent runner and worked hard. Her goal was to finish under 5 hours.

During the race her running partner had problems and told her to go on. She chose to stay with her friend. Near the end her friend felt better and took off, so did she but she finished beyond the 5 hour goal by a few minutes.

For the next hour or so as we all hung out all she did was harp and complain about not making her goal and how she HAD to stay back,etc. Even the next few runs we all did she still complained and whined about it.

At the time I had never even thought a marathon was possible for me. That she had done one I thought was cool and had even congratulated her. She had snarled back at anyone who congratulated her.

Funny I had a slow half time in July 2005 cause I stayed back to help out another runner, a complete stranger. Heh you get the same medal if you finish 100th or last so why not help someone else finish was my attitude. It made me feel good - not disappointed in my time at all. I finished the race, so did she and I ran into her at another race where she again thanked me. Her thank you was worth more than any PR or medal!

I think the only time I might really complain is if I ever get within a hair of qualifying for

*jeanne* said...

As for Dawn's whiner:
If she chose to stay behind and help another runner, I think she should have the good manners not to complain about it. Think how that would make the other person FEEL. That is NOT helping them. Wow - what a "friend" she is.

If you honestely CANNOT stop with a free heart, GO ON and make your goal.

MOST marathons have other runners out there. At times, I have helped strangers when I've been hurting myself AND other times when I've been feeling good. Kindness takes an instant.

I've had some races where I felt like I was running really well, really fast. Then get to the clock, and I'm WAY WAY behind a PR for the distance. I have uttered words to the effect of "What a lousy time!"

Then I usually look at the race to see WHY my time judgement was "off". Usually I think it's just good days vs. bad days - biorhythms or something.

But no, it does not ruin my day. There's another weekend NEXT week. I'll do better in THAT run (or not!)

I'm a distance runner, NOT a racer, really. And my priorities are very different from some other's priorities. BUT: Your attitude is what YOU make it.

Holly said...

You know I am the "cheerleader of training" but come race day, I tend to be very high maintenance and will look for an "out" where ever I can find it in terms of pushing hard.

When the race is done, I am usually very proud of the accomplishment but left wondering, how much more could I have done... I keep in all in my head, though. I never knock my own accomplishments or complain.

I have run with folks who berate themselves after a race and I will always congratulate their effort and wish them better luck with their goals next time but I *never* indulge them if they start to pour it on...

tarheeltri said...

I think Chris hit on a good point with the visualization thing. I think quite a few people's visualization is out of synch with their training. You can't visualize yourself finishing any faster than you trained to race. Visualization works best when applied to specific things like running and pedalling smoothly. Not quite as exciting as visualizing yourself breaking the banner in world record time, but really, what good is that if you don't have the training to back it up? I purposely don't let myself visualize race day, only training. I've never been upset with a finish and I always finish within seconds of my expected time.

tri-mama said...

That's a tough question/discussion. I'm currently trying to unwind my race thinking in my head-on the the one hand I just love racing-the atmosphere, the people, it's all good. On the other hand, growing up as an extremely competitive athlete, who performed almost entirely for stats and to hear "good job", in a family that told you the only value you had was the value you add to the family by making them look good, and who had enough raw talent to do pretty much anything I attempted, it can be dissapointing to set goal and not achieve it-primarily because I feel like I give up mid race and work just to finish. I set a goal based on training, but then at times, mid race I realize I need that competitive chip that says "win or die trying" and I don't want any part of that any longer-so I don't meet my goal.

I think the people who pout do so because that is what they were taught by parents, coaches etc. Just go to a little league game and watch. For a lot of parents, they invest all of their ego, time and money in their kids performance and anything short of winning is losing.

Sad really-it's by far better to Carpe Diem!

Lynne said...

Most excellent post, Nancy!

Flo said...

Wow, what an excellent discussion. I try not to be a race sourpuss. I do get disappointed with myself but not always because of my time. God knows, I'm never going to break any records but I do have expectations I set for myself. Generally after the first few minutes I look at the bright side; I finished, I didn't get injured, I had fun, etc.

This year has been such a learning experience for me what with injuries and facing new challenges and every single race has taught me something. I try never to have a bad attitude about it and I try never to bring people around me down. I try to be the cheerleader - rah rah, we finished, yeah!!!!

nancytoby said...

One argument that I don't buy is when people say (I paraphrase) "I'm a competitive athlete, so therefore I have to be a race sourpuss when I don't meet my goals". No. There are gracious finishers at every pace and every level of ability. There are also soreheads at every level, unfortunately.

Comm's said...

okay I just went back and read my chang race report to make sure I wasn't going to be a hypocrit.

I do beat myself up for not doing well. I don't think it has to do with being a sourpuss but I think I just expect to much from myself.

I think also that I base some of my predicted finish on observations I make in training. Like I wrote in my post, I have run faster splits in training than races.

I think all of us have done that at some point and either consciously or subconsciously build into our minds a great race that can never be attained really.

Not to be a pig,(okay I am a pig, but not to be overtly sexual, okay its overtly sexual, you'll know what i mean here) but just remember the first time you had sex with someone new. That first experience probably wasn't everything you wanted it to be. It was still pretty good, it just didn't really, really make it to dream status. But as the relationship moved along the sex gets better. Just like running, you love it, but it could have been just a little bit better.