Monday, July 22, 2013

Encouraging comments -- are they really encouraging?

There was a very popular post earlier this month called "Not All Runners Live in a Size Zero Frame." The author said that she noticed another runner, a man in his early thirties, "shorter and overweight," and decided that she should encourage him:
So as I passed him for the third time I smiled and said “You are rockin it!” and kept on my way.He wasn’t going fast… in all honesty he was more shuffling than anything but you could TELL that was his run.
The writer said that he smiled back at her, so he must have felt encouraged by her comment. The post was about not judging others and not stereotyping them, which is a great message, so I'm not at all trying to attack the writer, but I have been thinking about this post for weeks because I have been on the receiving end of comments like that and I don't feel encouraged by them.

Does that sound weird? Here's why someone saying "You are AWESOME!" when I'm feeling terrible about how I'm doing doesn't encourage me -- because it's insincere. I know that they are saying that exactly because I am not looking awesome. The other runner is not acknowledging a fellow runner out there doing the workout from a place of equality.  They wouldn't say that to another runner who is running the same speed as them, or even someone faster. I know they are saying it to me because even though I'm not technically plus-sized, I'm heavier than most runners.  I always get very red when I run and people take that for a sign that I am unfit. An overly-enthusiastic comment makes me think they think I am a beginning runner even though I have been running for more than twenty years. That doesn't feel good. It feels terrible, actually. I try to remember the intention, because when this happens I can feel very angry.

Like I said, I don't think that this writer intended to be mean or condescending, and, as I said, the other runner apparently responded well to her comment.  We're not all the same. Maybe he's not as neurotic about wanting to feel like part of the crowd as I am. But I suspect a lot of other runners would feel the same way I do.

When I was searching for this post I found blog posts called "how to encourage plus-size runners." My suggestion is not to think about how to encourage a plus-size runner. Treat runners of all sizes as if they are other runners. Smile, nod, wave, but don't go overboard with praise. Wasn't that the message of the post, not to judge?

The truth of the matter is that we don't rock it every workout. None of us do.  Some workouts are just to get out there and put in the time. That's totally okay. I think that the true sign that you love something is that you are willing to do it badly. It's easy to feel motivated to go out and ace a workout, but some days I feel like crap and I know I'm going to run like crap but that I just need to do it anyway. I don't even wear a watch when I train because I don't want to get too hung up on my pace. After having several issues with injuries, I'm just happy to be running.

I don't mean to overanalyze all of this. If you happen to see me out running, don't be afraid to wave. I'm just another runner, after all.


  1. I like the honesty of this post. No, we aren't always doing an awesome job of things. When I'm in that situation, I like ideas to get me through and help me improve rather than pat statements of praise. However, those who do give such overzealous comments usually do so out of kindness, and I understand that.

  2. I have really applied this as you have talked about it over the years. And I try to find something neutral to compliment or ask about when I am not at all sure where someone is in their process. I do not assume. (I am talking about shoes, a mat, a pedicure, their car, etc.)

  3. I can relate to what you are saying here. I used to be forced into playing volleyball, a sport I do not like and am not good at. Every time I made a bad serve or missed a ball, the people clapping and saying 'good try' only made me feel worse. I would have preferred to either not play, or if those people had stayed silent. So I have to agree with you. I'm sure the person that said 'you are rockin it' to the other jogger was trying to be kind, but it did come initially from a judgement and possibly condescension.

  4. "Treat runners of all sizes as if they are other runners. Smile, nod, wave, but don't go overboard with praise. Wasn't that the message of the post, not to judge?"


  5. Thanks for all the thoughtful comments! The referenced post got lots of "you're so nice!" comments so I was afraid I was just being a Scrooge.

  6. Hi Jen, I wanted to thank you for writing your perspective regarding my post. I am always willing to hear another side and I want you to know that what you said does pose some really great questions. I in no way intended to be condescending but I do see where you are coming from and I appreciate your honesty. -Cori @olivetorun

    1. Thanks for coming by to comment -- I appreciate that you took the post as intended. I know your intentions were good.

    2. Absolutely. I am a teacher and am always willing to continue learning. You made some valid points and I appreciate that.


"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07