Last Sunday, I joined 30,000 women (and a few good men) at the 10th annual Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco.
Representing 54 countries and all 50 U.S. states, some runners tackled 26.2 miles, while others (like me!) completed a 13.1-mile race from Union Square to the Pacific.
The day before the race, I spoke with Whitney Chapman, Nike VP/GM of Women’s in North America, about the difference between male and female athletes. Earlier, she’d given a pep talk to a group of us, and mentioned that her goal was “just to finish” and jokingly told us that she’d probably be “crawling” up the hills.
Knowing the course would include some pretty sizable inclines, I nevertheless assumed Chapman had been training and felt fit enough to tackle the race without needing to be rushed off the course in an ambulance. So why the hedging? I mentioned to her that I’m trying to rid myself of the “just” mentality. “Oh I’m just running the half-marathon, not a full.” “Oh, I’m just trying to finish.” “I’ll probably be crawling at the finish line.”
In my experience, dropping the “just” is something men do much better than women.
Even if there had been more men running, I still don’t think I’d hear many of them downplaying their training, or managing expectations so far downwards that seeing them cross the finish line on two legs instead of all fours would seem like a miracle.
If Sheryl Sandberg wants women to take a seat at the table, Nike wants women to take our position at the starting blocks, which is great. But there’s still a ways to go before we’re comfortable doing so without apology.
The exchange reminded me of last spring, when my mother put in her last days as a public school teacher in the Madison Metropolitan School district.
Her department threw her a retirement party, which was extremely thoughtful and very well-deserved. Here’s how she told me about it:
“Oh, well on Thursday I’m going to a party the team is throwing for retiring teachers.”
“How nice! How many of you are retiring this year?”
“Well, just me..”
“So it’s a party for YOU.”
“I mean, if there were anyone else retiring, it would be for them too.”
“But they’re not.”
It went back and forth like this for a little while before I threw up my hands (not safe for my iPhone) and said, “Mom, it’s a party for YOU. That’s awesome. You deserve it.”
“Yeah…yeah! Thanks Megs.” A smile crept into her voice.
It wasn’t “just” a party for retiring teachers. It was a party for my mom! I didn’t “just” run a half marathon on Sunday. I ran a half marathon!
I’ve learned that others will always be around to belittle your accomplishments; don’t help them out with the task by doing it yourself.
So over the course of the race weekend, I took a cue from you guys and practiced flexing my “taking a compliment” muscles. As with any training, it felt horribly uncomfortable at first – but the hard things are usually the most important! And it’s crazy how much that attitude adjustment changed my relationship to the race. After I stopped joking about how I “just” wanted to finish, I actually let myself get excited about it! And the race was a lot more fun for it.
If guys are guilty of “justing” themselves to death anywhere, though, it’s their personal style. When it comes to reaching outside your sartorial comfort zone, I’ve found guys are likely to downplay the effort they’ve put in. But you’ve got to accept positive reinforcement. It’s what propels you forward. If you decide to tuck your shirt in one day, or wear a bow tie, or bold socks, it helps when someone calls it out. When they do, work on smiling and saying, “Thanks!’ and then shutting your damn mouth.
No, “It only cost $5!” Or “This old thing?” Or “Ugh, if only I could drop 20 pounds.” Smile. Nod. Say thank you.
The race began in Union Square and swept us along the San Francisco Bay with gorgeous views of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge. As I closed in on the finish line down the Great Highway, it felt anything but “just” 13.1 miles. I felt great. I felt accomplished. I felt like I belonged.
Are there any “just’s” you could drop from your vocabulary? Anything you’d like to pat yourself on the back about?
Sound off in the comments and bask in the praise rolling in!
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