During the climb of your Hero’s Journey to your goal of finishing your book, mastering public speaking or finishing your first marathon, you’ll meet awesome mentors and supportive friends, as well as “tor-mentors.” Tor-mentors are jokers who first appear to you as mentors and teachers, but then change their tune when they feel threatened by you. I bet that most tor-mentors don’t want to be mean and spiteful, but their fear gets in the way of their good judgment. Some don’t even know what they’re doing, especially if they act passive aggressively. But some are on an ego trip and thrive on making new learners feel like shit.


I should start my story by saying my mother has been my number one tor-mentor, but that would exceed the words for this blog post. But I will say, she warned me about them when she told me at age 12, “You are far too trusting; you will meet many people who will let you down.” Well, great…thanks (and that “thanks” is encased in a thought bubble dripping with icicles).


I was 24 when I decided to run my first marathon (24.2 miles): the Kiawah Island Marathon. I had been on my high school’s cross-country team and had been a serious competitive runner in Charleston, South Carolina, since I was 21. I still have the award plaques to prove it in our downstairs bathroom. A year before, I had signed up with a running coaching program through MUSC (Medical University of SC) headed by Coach Renata. She was famous in running circles because not only was she a great coach, she was an inspiring woman. A decade before she decided enough was enough. After her husband had hit her one last time, and wearing a T-shirt, shorts and no shoes, she ran the five miles from Mount Pleasant, over the Cooper River Bridge, to downtown Charleston without having ever run before.


The running class met on Tuesday and Thursday evenings on the Charleston Battery to perform sprints and longer runs in preparation for our upcoming 5Ks, 10Ks, half and full marathons. Renata had encouraged me and supported me during the six-week class and I thought we were friends. The next year, I signed up for her class again to prep for the full marathon and she ignored me most of the six weeks—I figured her attention was on the faster runners.


I wanted to finish a marathon because it was there. I was young, single and had the time and energy for all of the training/practice that was required. After all, I had been running for three solid years and felt I was finally ready. All of those lunch-time runs and running at 8 p.m. in the dark with a Day-Glo running fast was about to pay off.


The day of the Kiawah Island Marathon arrived and I parked my Mustang in the lot at 6:45 a.m. It was a foggy, damp early December morning in the 50s. I had no one to cheer me on and that was okay. I was doing this race for myself and I would know if I did well.


Five minutes before the start, Coach Renata and I crossed paths. We exchanged hellos and she asked me if I was doing the half marathon. I said, “No, I’m doing the full.” Didn’t she remember our multiple conversations about this after class? Then she said the words. “Alice, you’re not ready to run the full.” WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT????!!!! I don’t remember what I said next, but I’m sure I grumbled something at her. I fast-walked into the bathroom, splashed water on my face and told my mirror-image I was ready. Screw Renata. She was being mean—and I had seen mean. Remember my mother? But the thing that really hurt was that Renata had never been mean like this before. What good does it do to tell someone five minutes before their race that they’re not ready? Yes, I know she was my coach and authority figure and fellow liberated female, but we could have had this conversation a few months ago after class. I believe what sorted me out was that I had heard those same words before and they came from my ex-boyfriend, Jim. Since Jim was an asshole, I dismissed them, as I dismissed her words. Consider the source.


I finished my first marathon under 4 hours (3 hours and 51 minutes). That Monday after the race I got a job promotion and left Charleston for Myrtle Beach, which eventually led me to Raleigh.


In the ensuing years, I decided to treat Renata’s tor-mentorship as a gift: you can’t rely on others’ opinions of your worth; you need to know yourself. Because I had practiced my marathon running every day for three months, I knew I was as ready as I could be. This was also not my first race and I understood how to get rid of negative thoughts before a big race.


Alice’s Three Take-aways on Surviving Tor-mentors:


  1. Practice your craft for the big day/big event—it’s like adding to your savings. If you get hit with doubt, your well is always full.
  2. You always have a choice. I chose to clear my head and finish my marathon to the best of my ability. No one was going to rob me of all of my hours of preparation.
  3. Know you will be tested on your Hero’s Journey—it won’t always be easy. But if your goal is worth fighting for, don’t ever give up on it!