Run with confidence

Our best advice for dealing with hecklers and combating self-consciousness

Lindsey Swift

The latest issue of Women’s Running (out tomorrow) features the inspiring Lindsey Swift as our cover star. Heckled for her size by a van driver while our running, Lindsey took to Facebook to write an open letter to the driver, expressing her disgust that she – or any woman – should be judged for her size while out running.

Lindsey’s brave and confident response inspired thousands of you. However, as Lindsey points out in her letter, not everyone will share her self-confidence. And while Lindsey’s letter is hugely inspirational, it’s unrealistic to imagine that we will all take to Facebook to write a letter of retort, after every run in which we are subject to a nasty remark.

However, you don’t need to worry if you’re a shy runner – we’re here to help! We’ve spoken to the a leading confidence coach, Jo Emerson, to get her advice about how to deal with hecklers, and also how to overcome feelings of self-consciousness when running in public.

Jo emmerson

Jo told us that key to developing self-confidence is choosing what you yourself believe.

“I would encourage you to challenge the negativity that’s coming at you, both from inside your own mind and from ‘society.’ Something is only true if we believe it, so the statement, ‘big girls shouldn’t run’ is just as true (or not) as ‘big girls should run’.

“You choose which is the truth – no one else!  Once you see the power of choosing which thoughts to believe you will begin to let go of all kinds of labels and judgements on yourself!”

On a physical level, Jo advises runners who are subject to verbal abuse to simply smile at the heckler. “Nothing puts out the fire of attack quicker than a genuine, carefree smile,” she says.

“See the heckler as a scared and insecure person. No one who is happy in their own life would choose to heckle another person. Heckling is a form of bullying and we all know that bullies are weak people trying to bring others down to the same level of insecurity.”

Team tips: Go for it!

Taking the plunge to go for a run for the first time is daunting enough without fear of judgment, and our team here at WR has had their fair share of unpleasant experiences over the years. We asked the team to share with us how they’ve learned to deal with hecklers and how they’ve learned to combat feelings of self-consciousness when out running. Here’s what they said:

Editor, Elizabeth Hufton:

“Running made me feel a bit flustered at first, as I wasn’t used to being out of breath and sweaty. If you can reduce things that are irritating or likely to get you in a flap while you’re running, you’ll feel calmer and more self-confident. So I quickly learned I needed a sports bra to stop unnecessary bounce, good hair bobbles to keep my hair tied back, and not to carry too much with me (on my first run I accidentally emptied the contents of my purse in the park, not great if you’re trying to avoid a scene).”

Consultant Editor, Tina Chantrey:

“When you’re out running you have to be focused on the truth that you are doing it for you – what everyone else thinks is irrelevant. As long as you believe you are doing something positive in your life, you are.

“You can also avoid the strange looks, jeers or beeps if you go off-road; when people aren’t in the comfort of a speeding vehicle, that disguises who they are, they become surprisingly less judgemental and more pleasant.”

Fitness Editor, Anne-Marie Lategan:

“I do think clothing makes a big difference. I ran a parkrun with my daughter (age 7) and a guy in the race ran past me and said, ‘Come on you can do it!’ What he didn’t know was that I’d already ran 20K earlier, had a shower and came out again. It wasn’t hassle but I was judged on what I was wearing. I went back the next week, but this time finished a 25K at the park before the parkrun with my daughter. Unlike the previous week, I wore my kit, which I wear for my ultras. The same guy ran past and said, ‘Oh you are support crew for your daughter!’

People get judged on what they wear so plan your running gear and make sure you feel comfortable in it.”

Contributing Editor, Christina Macdonald:

“When I first started running outside as a slightly chubby teenager I was subject to unpleasant remarks. It’s very upsetting to be called ‘fat’ when you’re trying to do something about it (as was Lindsey of course). I still get heckled occasionally now!

“As for how to deal with it, my advice is to run with headphones. If someone says something, even if I can hear what they’ve said, I pretend I haven’t heard a word –usually by shaking my head at them vaguely and pointing to my headphones. That normally does it.”

Commercial Editor, Angelina Manzano:

“Stick in your headphones, choose your favourite tunes and enjoy having some time to yourself. If you get lost in your own little world of exercise and daydreaming, then you’ll be too busy to notice what anyone else is doing, or saying.”

Contributing Editor, Lisa Jackson:

“Once, when I was grinding my way up the hill to Crystal Palace, I heard someone hooting and assumed they were trying to be abusive but, when I looked up, it was a van driver giving me a double thumbs-up!

“Don’t assume everyone wants to belittle you – they may well be admiring the effort you’re putting in. I don’t care what anyone thinks of me running as I’m just so thrilled to be running; I only started when I was 30 and was a fitness-phobe before that! I do like running in long yoga pants with a little floral skirt over them – that way my ample bottom isn’t on display!”

Jo Emerson is one of the UK’s leading confidence coaches inspiring people to unlock the power of the mind in order to live happier, more fulfilled and positive lives. Visit her website here.

Jenny Bozon

Written by Jenny Bozon | 305 articles | View profile

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