Yesterday’s Boston Marathon was a day for
the no-nonsens runners
who show up relentlessly, regardless of the conditions because, “Hey, I do this because I love it.”
It was also a day for the vulnerable.
If you’ve read anything by Brene Brown, Simon Sinek or Daniel Coyle you’ll find them chatting about vulnerability research and this relatively new idea that showing weakness can actually make us stronger.
In his book, the Culture Code, Daniel Coyle talks about something called the “vulnerability loop,” outlining how individuals who are put into vulnerable situations actually become more cooperative and out-perform those who are made to feel powerful and confident.
“Vulnerability doesn’t come after trust-it precedes it. Leaping into the unknown alongside others, causes the solid ground of trust to materialize beneath our feet.”
When I originally read Coyle’s chapter on the “vulnerability loop” I was thinking about it in the context of Rise.Run.Retreat [the running retreat I host] and how the vulnerability that each of the women who attend display among strangers actually helps them to leave feeling stronger, more confident and capable. The same applies to parenting, sometimes when we show our children vulnerability it breaks the power struggle and inspires cooperation.
In Monday’s Boston Marathon, Desiree Linden had a moment of vulnerability, telling Shalane Flanagan (a competitor and someone she would have to beat if she wanted to achieve her long-time goal of winning) she wasn’t feeling well and might drop out.
“Hey, I might drop out, if you need something…block the wind whatever, let me know.”
Des Linden says she almost dropped out, and breaks down the conversation between herself and Shalane before the porta potties.
That moment of vulnerability and then looking again to help fellow competitor, Molly Huddle, did something for Desiree Linden. Something pretty significant.
As she admitted her vulnerability, she realized (probably unknowingly) that despite feeling like she was having an “off” day she could actually TRUST her body. Her body was capable of the task, even if her mind didn’t think it was.
Along with learning she could trust her body to carry her across the finish line, she engaged with a purpose outside herself. She devoted those middle miles to helping her fellow competitors, Shalane Flanagan and Molly Huddle, and when she did her body released Oxytocin.
“Oxytocin is most people’s favorite chemical…it’s that feeling we get when we do something nice for someone,” says Simon Sinek in his book Leaders Eat Last.
That shot of oxytocin from doing something for someone else, putting aside her own goals of winning, was probably what carried her across the finish line (along with amazing grit and years of hard work).
We don’t necessarily think of vulnerability as defining characteristic of elite athletes. Years of preparation lead to single, significant performances. Those years of hard work and dedicated practice are meant to result in competence. And that competence is supposed to create a sense of confident for the athlete-that they truly are capable of achieving peak performance.
There’s a slant against vulnerability in competition: Don’t show your weakness or your competitors will take advantage and defeat you. It seems logical, but what if, in fact vulnerability is a key component to unlocking your physical potential and achieving peak performance? What if working together, in an individual sport like running, is the best way to success?
In some ways that’s been proved by the resurgence of distance running teams around the United States. The vulnerability and trust that naturally develops within these groups greatly impacts performances and is one of the reasons why we’ve seen two American women win major world marathons in the past six months.
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But beyond the safety of the training group it’s hard to tell if being vulnerable is actually an advantage? Or maybe Monday proved that it is.
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