I was thrilled after achieving a half-marathon personal record of 1:23 this past fall. Considering I’d done minimal speed work leading up to the November race, my 4-minute PR was substantial. I remember feeling elated throughout the entire race weekend, amazed that my hard work had paid off and grateful for a body that was fit and fast.
Then, a short while later, one of my good friends put in a stunning performance at the Houston Marathon. Her time wasn’t just good: it qualified for the 2020 Olympic Trials. I was truly thrilled for her.
But my excitement dulled when I compared my friend’s performance with my own. Her sub-3-hour marathon meant that she’d run 26.2 miles at a 6:17 pace—a pace that was three seconds faster than I’d run for a half marathon.
Suddenly, my 1:23 didn’t seem so great.
I’d been so proud of my accomplishment, but when I compared it to my friend’s race, it paled in comparison. Quite honestly, I was having trouble overcoming my jealousy.
While I hadn’t done a lot of speed work, I had been running 55 miles each week on my own training regimen, with no coach or team to boost my efforts. “Maybe,” I told myself, “I could run that fast if I had the resources she did.”
Even as I said it, I knew it wasn’t true. My friend regularly ran at 6 a.m. and was a full-time graduate student. She was hardly “coasting.” And that realization forced me to sit with the ultimate truth: I needed to stop comparing myself with others.
In many ways, comparisons serve us well as athletes. Comparing current fitness to prior fitness is a good benchmark. Similarly, comparing our PRs with the PRs of others can be a helpful indicator of potential. But comparison doesn’t tell the whole story, nor does it determine the worth of an athlete.
I needed to be reminded of that.
So, I separated the two situations. First: I raced a half marathon and ran much faster than I’d anticipated. Second, my friend accomplished something wonderful and I was happy for her. I realized that both these truths could exist without one diminishing the other. In fact, celebrating with my friend could serve as a powerful reminder of the benefits of hard work.
Whether you run a 5K in 16 minutes or walk it in 60 minutes, the same is true for you. The things you accomplish as a runner can encourage others, and you can be encouraged by their accomplishments as well. The key is to set at least a few goals that are independent of others, goals that are measured by your clear results and not anyone else’s.
In the world of running, no status is definitive. For 99 percent of us, there will always be a faster or fitter runner. If you’re in the elusive 1 percent, remember that age and injury are inevitable, as is the arrival of younger, faster runners. Don’t let that discourage you. Let it free you from the pressure to perfectly perform. Let it redirect your focus toward why you love to run in the first place.
Imagine what life would be like if you were the only runner on the planet. You wouldn’t have to battle jealousy and you’d always be the winner. But you wouldn’t have the power of community to support, teach and strengthen you along the way. And those benefits are more valuable than a hundred gold medals.