Imposter Syndrome

Written by James

Hey Tribe,

Welcome back!

The time I beat a bunch of special Olympic athletes in a race…

It was a long and glorious summer.

A time in my life of realising the benefit of goals, where I was about to reach my most successful era in my obstacle racing career.

I was getting prepped to my next Spartan sprint (a 5k race), when my brother told me about a charity event he’d gone involved with as part of his role working in disability sport.

It was about a week before Spartan, but I figured a small event with local club runners would do no harm and be a great opportunity to test how much my 5k had improved with friendly competition.

We arrived to find the course was simply two laps around the local park and no one had turned up expect me, my brother and the organiser Mark.

“Where we all the runners?”

I asked as an open question.

Mark had forgotten to do any marketing – posters, emails, Facebook events, press releases, leaflet drops to gyms and running clubs… nothing.

“Is there going to be anyone to actually race?”

I said, realising I could do a run around a park near me without the hour commute.

“Oh, don’t worry people representing the charity are going to be running”

Mark saw the look of concern on my face.

…some of them have run at the National Indoor Athletics Centre in Cardiff”

He clarified.

I didn’t really know much about the centre, but was impressed to have the chance to compete with people good enough to run on track.

15 minutes before the race started the competition arrived in a mini-bus, with parents and carers.

“National Indoor Athletics Centre?”

I said giving my brother a quizzical look.

“Yeah” he said.

“They ran in the Junior Special Olympics this year…”


I thought.

“not only am I the only one running who does not have special needs, I’m also the only adult”

The race started and I found myself in the unusual position of being in the lead, something I never liked, much preferring looking down on a leader to set the pace.

But then as the field trimmed out, I could hear the breathing of a kid trailing close behind me – I picked up the pace, but I couldn’t shake him.

I went faster, but he continued to challenge, so I dug deeper keeping the lead on grit and determination alone.

“Guess I’ve got my pace setter” I thought.

The kid pushed me to my limits, I was suffering and ready to let him have the lead, when suddenly he slowed to a slump at the side of course, gasping for the breath.

Because of the two-man race, the rest of the field were nowhere to be seen, so I slowdown, catching my breath and hoping some of the juniors would gain ground – they never did.

I smoked the competition, beating second place by over 5 minutes.

Afterwards I found out ‘the kid’ who’d nearly left me gassed out in the first mile didn’t have an ‘off switch’ –no strategy just always sprinting to the front with whomever occupied the spot.

It was an embarrassing victory, standing by the finish line applauding on the youngsters and getting my picture in the local paper (one of the few things organised correctly).

I won, but I felt undeserving.

I termed this winners guilt.

Imposter syndrome

This anecdote was just an example of one of many situations of my mindset – downplaying any results as a fluke or down to good circumstance.

This had an actual recognised name – imposter syndrome, phenomenon where an individual develops feelings of inadequacy, even in success.

This is a continued battle as I feel like a fraud ready to be found out. When I doubt myself I try to consider the following:

Ignoring genuine, real, quantifiable achievements.

When you achieve something, you can talk down the outcome.

But when you have hard driven facts this makes the result more difficult to deny.

From my story I know:

1. I finished first in the race

2. I achieved a 5k personal best

The first fact I used to beat myself up – yes, I finished first, but in a poorly organised race, with people 15 years my junior, with special needs.

By doing this I organised another fact – this race I beat my personal best, breaking a sub-twenty-minute mark for the first time.

I could dismiss my success all I want, but even in a well organised 5k, this would still be a good result - likely putting me with the top 10% of runners.

And when framed this way I can hold my head up high and say what was achieve wasn’t luck, or chance – it happened because of my continuous persistence to be a better runner.

Facts can’t be argued with – use the ones that build you up to recognise your achievement.

Flipping the script on how we talk.

Evidently this story reeks of poor self-talk – because of the disabilities of those in the field, I used my own prejudices to deny satisfaction of winning the race, impacting my self-worth and confidence.

For imposter syndrome we can work on flipping the script how we talk – in our own thoughts being more aware what we tell ourselves, talking about all the things done right – fighting the challenge, beating a personal best, recognising the training that created the achievement.

And don’t forget how we talk out loud is just as important.

When I talked about this victory, friends would congratulate me.

My response? These simple damaging words:

“oh, it was nothing…”

…never a great way to respond to praise, if someone complements you on success simply say:

“thank you”

A story of luck… brought by effort.

I shared this personal story today to highlight how much it’s possible to undermine our own abilities, can you think of a result you justified as being lucky? ...

Or that success and praise is not something deserved? …

If there is one thing to take from my story stop being hard on yourself and recognise when you’ve done good… no excuses.

Aim higher, feel good and get results…

I'd love to hear your feedback, please do contact me on Twitter to let me know what you think of today’s article.

Until next time,