Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Fluke Factor

1. A stroke of good luck.
2. A chance occurrence; an accident.
3. Games An accidentally good or successful stroke in billiards or pool.
"I am always doing things I can't do, that's how I get to do them." ~ Pablo Picasso 
I have heard this word, 'Fluke', uttered so often from the mouths of runners who have just accomplished something big - something important - something, at one time, unimaginable: "Oh. Yes, I ran a marathon, but it was just a fluke." "Yes, I did just PR, but it was just a fluke." "I qualified for Boston, but I'm afraid it was just a fluke, so now I need to do it again."...or else... 

The Fluke Factor (as I call it), based on my experience, seems to plague women more than men. I have heard so many women (myself included) cross the finish-line, having just run a strong race, or a personal best, or a new distance, and immediately downplay what they've just done. Others reflect later on their accomplishments and wonder if what they did was just some strange stroke of good luck. 

This thought worms its way into one's confidence and self image - and suddenly the achievement is thrown into doubt. It was all just a fluke - luck - had nothing to do with ME. There is a reason why a fluke is also a parasite. Parasites live off of you, drain your energy, take what they need and leave you with nothing.

So we set out to see if it was just a fluke - can we do it again? - or can we not?  And this thought eats at us. And if we don't do it again, does that mean that WE never did what they actually, really, did?

The other interesting tendency I notice is that we rarely call a bad race a 'fluke'. Nooooo. The bad races are entirely MY fault. The bad races show what I'm really made of. But the good races? Nah. That's all just fickle luck. We berate ourselves for our failures and shrug off our successes.

But this is another problem with really committing to and going after your wildest dreams: When you achieve them, it's as if it can't possibly be true. You didn't really do that! How in the world could you have done that?

Well, I'm here to tell you that there are no FLUKES in running. The beauty and pain and challenge and appeal of running lies in the very fact that it is entirely up to YOU. You have no one to blame for your failures, nor for your successes. It's all about you.

Yes, it is important to have support, and that matters a lot, but no one can run the run for you. We are often more than willing to heap crap on ourselves for our "failures" (and I've written before about how essential failure is for our success and growth), but we dismiss our successes so easily. 

I know runners who think that their first marathons were flukes. That their first BQs were flukes. That all their PRs are flukes. I try to reassure them that this is just impossible - I don't care if you were running with someone - someone who encouraged you, was there for you - that all adds to the experience but doesn't alter the simple (ha, not so simple) accomplishment of having done it.

Now, with chip timing and notification, I get a little jolt of energy every time I cross a mat in a race knowing that the people I care about know where I am. It matters, but they aren't running the race for me, they're just helping to make it a bit sweeter.

It's scary to reach for our goals, but when we courageously go after it, we should at least savor what we achieve. Go do what you can't do, and then accept that you did what you thought you could not do, and relish that knowledge.


  1. It is so funny that you posted this. As I am getting into the tough weeks of training for Boston, I have been thinking about my BQ. I have actually been ruminating on a blog post about this exact subject. Since I have only had two marathons (out of 7) where I met my goal, I sometimes wonder if my fantastic race in St. George was, in fact, a fluke. Thanks for posting this NOW.

    1. Yes, Lisa, I completely relate, and it starts to get nerve-wracking as you get closer and contemplate the reality of you goals - Can I really do this? I fixate on the parts of my training that might indicate that I'm not there, rather than the parts that tell me that I'm not only there, but way ahead. A lot happens, can happen in a marathon, and there will be good days and bad days - we just have to hope for a good day, and occasionally they happen, but they are still all about us.

  2. Very timely and appreciated. I PRd big time in my fall half after a lot of work, surprised myself by a beyond-my-dreams time, still doesn't feel "real". (Guess I need to learn how to "own" that achievement!) Spring half training has been seeming to go less well than fall training (as usually happens with me) and so I am occasionally doubting - I have a big half goal to meet before I resume marathon training, and I have some big marathon goals! (and already another goal after those) So the "fluke" fear combines with the aging/health/injury concerns and sometimes messes with my head. But I'm nothing if not stubborn :) so I press on.

    1. I ran a marathon in December that surprised the heck out of me, and the fluke thing did cross my mind. but now I'm training to reach goals based upon that success. here is still that little voice, occasionally screaming in my head "What??Are you nuts? You can't do that." Well based on what I've done and what I know about training, yes, I can. But it still seems a bit nuts. Press on and remember that improvement often comes in fits-and-starts, so even those rough seasons are part of the a bigger picture.

    2. Exactly - training on past success and that voice and the "are you nuts?!". Then there are the good runs or weeks where I think " I CAN do this!" Thank you for your support and kind words. (I read somewhere that supposedly it gets harder before each breakthrough - of course that's like the fine line between training and overtraing.) I keep thinking about getting a coach to help not just with plan but with my head - am "self-coached" in my own piecemeal way. :)

      I know you have a strong stance against bullying here on the web site - thought you might be interested in this 5k/virtual 5k that I saw on Shut Up and Run's blog:

      Wishing you all the best!

  3. One of the things I enjoy most about running is that it IS all about ME. I have few things in my life that are "all mine". So when I do well, even unexpectedly, I pat myself on the back and heap on the personal accolades (if only to myself). That used to feel weird -- because I was more accustomed to kicking myself a little lower. But when I started running in 2010, I began to get more self-confidence and a sense of accomplishment than I'd ever had. It translated into so many other areas of my life. Tooting my own horn for my own ears is a pretty good thing for this still novice runner and novice human being.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. On my good days, and my rational, reasonable days, I agree. But there is still that little nay-sayer sitting on my shoulder, whispering in my ear - and I need to flick her off ;)

  4. I mostly agree, but sometimes I think things are just "off" or "on" there's no explaining it.

    I do think we are too hard on ourselves, though. Why not take a good run for what it is--a reflection of our hard work.

    1. But an "on" day is still completely and totally about you and what YOU have done. It's great to feel 'on' but if you haven't done the work then it will there be any strange magical moment. An 'on' day is just when everything comes together at the right time - and that is not a fluke - a fluke has to do with an accident of luck. That is very different from just having a good, or 'on', day.


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