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Out There: Giving Advice, Unsolicited

Susan Lacke likes to give advice to fellow athletes—but they never seem to take it well.

Susan Lacke likes to give advice to fellow athletes—but they never seem to take it well.

“I notice you have some chafing on the side of your boob. Yeah, right there. Have you tried Vaseline? You should try Vaseline.”

Yes, I actually said that to a total stranger at a race a few weeks ago. Yes, I was serious. Yes, she told me to stop staring at her boob. And yes, I learned my lesson.

Over froyo a few days later, a friend of mine was sharing her story of a marathon gone bad. Before she could even finish, I had told her where she had made mistakes in fueling, then excitedly pulled up a list of marathons she could enter as redemption. I quickly found out all she wanted was for a friend to tell her it was OK to feel disappointed, it was OK to take her time to bounce back from the setback and it was even more OK to eat a second helping of froyo. Once again, lesson learned.

In my defense, I really thought I was being helpful. When I see a problem, I want to fix it. Some may call it “meddling,” but I call it “altruism.” It’s a hard cross to bear, knowing all the answers, but that’s just my lot in life.

OK, fine. It’s meddling.

A lot of running guidance can be fairly straightforward—“buy shoes that don’t give your feet blisters,” “increase your mileage gradually,” “dude, please don’t wear white spandex shorts.”

But, as I’m learning with more frequency than I care to admit, straightforward advice doesn’t automatically mean invited advice.

I’ve noticed when one of my friends makes a statement about a training problem—any problem—to our group of athletes, she’s bound to get 15 different “solutions,” all unsolicited.

RELATED: Don’t Ignore Your Injuries

Runner 1: “My knee hurts.”
Runner 2: “Do squats!”

Runner 3: “I’ll set you up with my acupuncturist.”
Runner 4: “Gluten did it! No more bread!”

Runner 1: “I’ve really been struggling with motivation to run lately.”
Runner 2: “Be grateful you can even run. There are orphaned one-legged kittens in Ethiopia who will never know your happiness”
Runner 3: “I told you, you have to start supplementing your smoothies with Unicorn Dust from the health-food store”
Runner 4: “Try a Paleo diet!”

Runner 1: “I took a wrong turn during my ultra, ran out of water and was chased by a pack of rabid coyotes. They had to airlift my bloody, almost-dead body out of the desert. I may never run again.”
Runner 2: “Nah, you can go back to light running in six weeks. That’s what my doctor said after my knee surgery.”
Runner 3: “You should totally write a letter to the race director and demand free entry next year. If you don’t use it, I will.”
Runner 4: “I bet if those coyotes were vegan, they wouldn’t have rabies.”

With such a bounty of so-called solutions, it’s hard to sort out the helpful stuff from verbal toilet paper. Besides, when I share my feelings and frustrations about a bad training day or injury, I usually just want someone to say “that sucks” or “poor baby” in reply. A hug would be OK, too. A second helping of froyo would be fantastic. When I’m given a silver-bullet solution instead, it makes my eyes roll so hard I can see brain matter.

RELATED: So Your Race Got Cancelled

So why do I do the same to my fellow athletes? As much as I hate getting unsolicited advice, I sure am guilty of giving it.

Far too often, my altruistic intentions backfire—I overgeneralize problems, oversimplify solutions and am way overconfident in my righteousness. I make the mistake of keeping convictions, anecdotes, platitudes and shortcuts in my back pockets at all times, ready to fix all the problems of the world at a moment’s notice.

What I really need to do is support, not solve. That’s what I’m aspiring to do these days: listening, even when I’m bursting to talk. It’s a hard habit to break, flapping my jaw about having all the answers.

Maybe that’s what the second helping of froyo is for.

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About The Author:

Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman triathlons, and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). In addition to writing for Competitor, she is a featured contributor to Triathlete and Women’s Running magazines. Susan lives and trains in Phoenix, Arizona with four animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, a pinscher and a freakishly tall triathlete named Neil. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke