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Runner’s Trap: Comparing Yourself To Other Runners

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Whether you are new to running or a veteran runner, you might find yourself getting sucked into the comparison game. Whether this is comparing yourself to other runners or comparing yourself to a different version of yourself, this is a very real trap people find themselves caught in.

The Battle Within

Even though some of our reasons may be similar, as runners, most of us have personal reasons for running.  This can be anything from losing a few pounds to stress management. Getting into better cardiovascular shape, spending time with friends and getting fresh air are all common reasons people give for why they run.

There are also those athletes who are always striving to be better, reach more, and hit faster time goals with each race. Of course, every run cannot be a personal record (PR), right? It stands to reason if you hit a PR every single time you run, eventually you would run out of time. And no matter what the distance, there exists a world record for a reason. You reach the point where the human body simply cannot run faster.

Most of us don’t have a problem with comparing ourselves to elites. Makes sense, doesn’t it? The elites are professional athletes. They get paid to run, lift and do core work.  Right in their training schedule is often time worked in to rest, nap and put your feet up. We mere mortals typically have little things called jobs that beckon us, keeping us from that type of running.

But what about that friend who manages to do all the things, and makes you feel like you should be doing it differently? Better?

Comparing Times

When I reached out to my running community about comparisons to other runners, it became clear there are a few different camps here.

One group of runners see other people posting faster times and starts to feel insecure. Leadership groups in some online running groups actually discourage posting of split times during group runs because it can cause others to fear showing up to the group.

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Looking at race times of other people can impact you a couple of different ways. For some runners, it might cause a feeling of inferiority. This can especially be true when the runner you are comparing yourself to is the same age or older than you. There is, however, a flip side to this.

If you are of a different mindset, you might find the fast times and splits to be incredibly motivating! Seeing someone else hitting PRs and winning medals (otherwise known as BLING!) could help to push you to push yourself harder.

Wondering If You Should Train Harder…

One thing social media has done is give us all instant information at our fingertips. As some people post their every workout for personal accountability, it does find other athletes struggling to wonder if they measure up.

It is important to remember that everyone has a different set of circumstances. Maybe they can run a high volume week without injury whereas you start to fall apart at a certain number of miles. Perhaps you get shin splints when you run on a hard surface. Whatever the reason that their training plan is different than yours, they have their reason and you have yours.

Many of my friends work with a running coach. I had been working hard to meet a time goal and decided to get myself a coach. I spent a summer working with a personal trainer and training under a running coach. Did I get faster? Absolutely. I also built muscles in places I forgot I had muscles.

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But you know what else happened? It sucked the joy from my running. Make no mistake: my coach was awesome. He was encouraging and each week he tailored the workout to be specific to me. He looked at every split I hammered out, complimented me and encouraged me every step of the way.

So why was I miserable? Because I was no longer running for joy. When I looked at the schedule for the day it seemed like something I had to accomplish rather than something I wanted to accomplish. Know what I learned? That I needed more flexibility in my schedule than was possible with a coach.

To be honest, I was not running any more with a coach than without. Was it the pressure of recording every workout? Was it losing the decision-making power on any given day? Whatever it was, it was not working for me. In the words of Marie Kondo if it doesn’t spark joy, get rid of it.

Reliving The Glory Days

If you are a former stand-out track or cross country athlete, you may find yourself comparing your times today to times of yesteryear. It is not fair to the person you are today to expect the same of yourself now. Remember: many things change as we age.

Maybe you have beautiful PRs from just a year ago but then life happened. It does not matter how long ago (or recent) you are looking back, you can’t beat yourself up for not being the exact same person or caliber of runner forever.

Whether it was an injury that sidelined you, marriage, kids, your career or something else, we all make choices. When trying to figure out balance in our lives, something sometimes has to give. Sure, some people manage to balance a killer career, their kids seem perfect and they still seem to pull out a BQ marathon every year.

Don’t compare yourself to them. You do you!

Are You Certain You Are Comparing Apples To Apples?

You would not expect an orange to taste like an apple, would you? Of course not. What is my point? Well, if you compare yourself to someone else as a runner, whether it is how fast, how far or how much they run, you may be comparing apples to oranges.

There are many different things that can factor into how a runner will perform. Some of the contributing things are age, history of injury, overall physical health, body shape and size, past experience with athletics, etc.

Why bring all of this up? Because if you are a 50-year-old new runner with chronic knee issues from your college basketball days, you likely won’t run the same as someone half your age. Heck, you may not run as well as someone your exact age. Or maybe you will? The point is that if you’re doing it right, you are just working on being the very best version of yourself today.

Life in the here and now. Keep working hard. Find joy in the moment and in the run.
Don’t beat yourself up for being less than perfect.

Run happy, friends!