Beware the ‘HumbleBrag’!

Despite the fact that in February of next year I will mark 24 years since I first ‘went out for a jog’ at almost 23 years old in order to help lose weight, it has been less than 6 months that I can say that I have really been ‘in love’ with running – and even less that I have considered myself ‘a runner’. I recently wrote about achieving a major milestone by completing my first marathon … and it is something I am proud of and want to share.

As I have progressed through my training and various road races, I have become increasingly willing to share my experiences with others, and that has peaked recently because a surprising number of people wanted to get details on my experiences training for and running a marathon.

But like most things in life, there is a line somewhere between sharing and bragging. So it was very fitting when I came across this article describing the ‘humblebrag’, which the author defines as follows:

Humblebrag: when a person tries to get away with bragging by sugarcoating it in modesty.

When I finished the marathon, I felt good – really good. My goal had been to run at a constant pace of ~10 minutes per mile from start to finish to avoid ‘hitting a wall’ like I did running the half-marathon in August. And I did exactly that, slowing down to keep pace with my brother who was struggling even at mile 8 and then speeding up after he told me to press ahead at mile 10 – I wanted to catch back up with the 4 hour 25 minute group. I stayed just ahead of them for the rest of the race, and only when I was within a half-mile of finish did I allow myself to push harder.

The image at the top is crossing the bridge in Corning just before turning down Market street towards the finish. The photographer said I looked way too happy, and I laughed because I felt great – I was finishing a marathon, doing it faster than planned, and my tank wasn’t empty! Again, a lot of pride points.

But when asked about the marathon – particularly after a teacher both kids had in middle school finished a bit behind me looking totally wiped, a coworker hobbled across the line some time later and basically fell to the ground, and my brother struggled and finished over an hour later – I was very aware of the language I used.

Here are a couple of examples of what I thought but tried to avoid saying:
What I thought: Running the marathon wasn’t as hard as I thought. What I said was that I read and studied and made loads of mistakes in my half-marathon, so this time I had a plan that worked and I was totally thrilled at how things went!
What I thought: I seriously underestimated just how ready I was. What I said was that I collapsed so badly in the half-marathon that I made followed a solid train, taper and nutrition plan that was hard but worked.
What I thought: It was really HARD to eat more and exercise less those last two weeks before the marathon. What I said was it was really WEIRD to eat more and exercise less those last two weeks before the marathon, especially after working to lose weight for months.
What I thought: I felt really good so I couldn’t wait to start running and hated the thought of building back slowly. What I said I learned so much about training through this, about tapering off before and building back after and how important it all is.

Since then, and after showing my Wineglass medal at work and sharing my stories, more and more people have been coming to me about my weight loss. Some were finally noting that I had in fact lost weight (more than 30% of my starting weight), others wanted to discuss the marathon and weight loss, others were also trying to lose weight and knew I would be a sympathetic and supportive ear.

Truth is, I have no ‘humblebrags’ about weight loss. As someone who graduated college at 375 pounds, and having crossed the 200 pound mark back and forth 3 times since then, I am not a stranger to weight loss success – or failure. In fact, my post-thyroid weight loss in 2008 that never stabilized was my best example of failure.

So when someone asks how I do it, I say that I am very lucky to have good joints (unlike my wife and older son) and therefore can use running as my exercise. And my body has always responded quickly to running, so I get my metabolism going. Also, for whatever reason, when I am exercising regularly my taste for junk and fried and processed foods declines significantly. All of these work together to help me lose weight quickly but safely, while feeling great and maintaining a balanced nutritional input.

I tend to talk less about food and more about the running. But I always stress that it is hard – especially at first. And also that I have never totally cut out anything – because if I try to totally deny a craving it will only get worse.

But I have caught myself more than once coming across more smug about my success than I would like. Because right now I am trying to balance my intake with exercise to avoid losing too much weight, and my metabolism seems to have other ideas – but no one wants to hear that when they are talking about how they have managed to lose 20 pounds and have 80 more to go to hit goal … or how they started great by losing 30 pounds but then put it all back on.

What sorts of ‘humblebrags’ have you heard or committed?

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