One Thing I Wish I'd Known When I Started

A younger Susan Donnelly at Mt. Mist 50k

Twenty three years ago, I followed in Kerry’s footsteps - literally.

When we ran in races or with our local group, I’d end up behind him, usually no more than three runners back.


When I’m tailed like that in a race these days, I gnash my teeth. My friend Kerry was more patient.


I instinctively knew we needed to trade off the lead but I’d postpone.


“Just a little further - maybe the next section.”


And of course that never happened. I’d keep following until our paces varied too much to be comfortable.

Part of the reason I followed was because I worried I’d be too slow or fast - I wouldn’t do it right. I wasn’t used to leading and of course, it never seemed like the “right” time to start.


The other part was that he knew more than I did.

I mean, he was already running ultras when I met him. He made statements of fact. He was a guy. He was older. All the things I was conditioned to automatically accept as “authority.”

But I did that with other people too. In fact, I automatically assumed that other ultra runners by default, unless they were obvious newbies, knew more than me.

Since then, I’ve learned enough lessons to write a book, but this is the one I would tell my excited, wide-eyed newbie self…

Don’t assume others know more than you - think and learn for yourself.

Why this lesson before all the others?

First, not everyone knows what’s right. People have all kinds of beliefs and theories, based on who knows what. Don’t accept other’s limiting beliefs as your own.

Second, not everyone knows what’s right for you. Your strengths are not my strengths. Your perfect race food might not be mine. Only you know what’s right for you.

Third, accepting someone else’s decisions before you examine their truth for you avoids taking responsibility for yourself. It keeps you dependent and from maturing into the self-confident ultra runner and human you can be. 

If someone had convinced me of this at the get-go, I wouldn’t have doubted myself, played small, or made so many repeat mistakes in those early years. I’d have done more, seen more, and enjoyed more over my ultra life.

It doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have asked questions or learned by watching others.

It means I’d have learned faster because I’d have been learning instead of mindlessly following.

For a long time, I didn’t realize how dependent I actually was on Kerry. I mean, I’d finished a few 100-milers. I’d done things. And yet…I was still basically a follower. He was still my training wheels.

One day, I realized with a shock that I’d done more than he had. And I knew more than he did.

I’d outgrown my training wheels and I had to either step up and lead, or stay a follower.

I chose to lead, and after years of it, I’d love to go back and tell my ultra newbie self:

“Think and decide for yourself - you know more than you think you do.”

“It’s time to lead your own way.”

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