A Runner Doth Compare: Keeping the comparison game in check

When to cmopeare and when to not.
Running is quite the unique sport. Obviously it’s the BEST sport, but it’s different than most because it is highly personal. The end result rests solely on your shoulders…err, legs.
legs for miles
So while there are a pillars of support you can look to, the wisdom from others to learn from and guide you along, it’s ultimately going to come down to you taking the initiative and being motivated from within.

Ironically though, it’s generally outside elements that we can get hung up on as we gauge our running success. Are we faster than so-and-so, they ran this many miles and how many did I run, I see she was doing her repeats at this pace…and often times we make ourselves out to be the ‘loser’ regardless of the competition.

It’s very easy to get hung up on the negatives or what whe CAN’T do, our shortcomings. Generally we’re going to compare ourselves to the person we DIDN’T beat and decide we stink, rather than look to the person we did beat and feel like we’re making progress.

Running is personal, but human nature sucks us into comparing ourselves to the ones around us, and usually doing so in a way that it makes us only feel worse about ourselves.

It goes with training and workouts, but it also goes with how we look compared to our competition or what our diets are compared to theirs. Sometimes runners get easily distracted on the ‘details’ of a particular runner instead of what it really should come down to: results. Funneling that down even more, your PERSONAL results.

Running is personal, what works for one person may not work for you. They may be able to handle running more miles than you, maybe he can indulge in more Ben & Jerry’s than you, perhaps she will always be able to run her intervals just a bit faster. Sometimes that reality STINKS, but it’s a reality.

girl on track

She’s thinking something…it better not be the can’t word! ;)


It’s also a reality that somewhere there is a runner comparing themselves to you and being envious. The running shoe laces up both ways.

I would be wrong to recommend we discard comparisons completely, that is counterproductive to our sport and our own personal growth within the sport. You WANT to look to the runner faster than you and use them to spur in you the motivation and drive to get out there and chase them. You just want to be sure you’re looking to them in the right mindset: one that will help you rather than harm.

No other runner or person can dictate how you’re going to feel. It’s up to you to make the CHOICE. Choosing to recognize you’re not the fastest person is acknowledging a fact, but then CHOOSE to use that as incentive to improve in ways you can. Don’t make the conscious choice to take the defeatist mentality and berate yourself. That applies with training and workouts and all other areas runners are apt to get drawn into playing the comparison game.

Running is the best sport, though, as runners we tend to be Type A and hypercritical of ourselves. It compels us to train on days most others would blow off a run but it can also be our own greatest obstacle.

How you choose to look at your competition is up to you, make sure it is in a way that lights that inner fire to run headlong into your highest potential.

1) Who do you tend to compare yourself to the most?

2) In what area do you tend to do the most comparing?

3) Which trait in others are you usually most envious of?

4) Which trait do you possess that you feel others are the most envious of?

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11 thoughts on “A Runner Doth Compare: Keeping the comparison game in check

  1. Great post! It’s so true. I was thinking about this the other day – no-one is ever happy. For an obvious example (!) the marathon – people want to finish, and then they might want to get a sub-4, and then a BQ, and then a 3:30, and now I know of a runner (female) who can do just over three hours and is desperate to get sub 3. We’re always onto the next goal, or the next person. Constant comparison, no matter what stage we’re at!

    This is going to be an epic comment – sorry in advance!

    I don’t know that I compare myself to anyone in particular – I guess other amateur runners generally. I compare most on times – you should have seen me studying the online results of everyone I have ever known in the last race I was in.

    I’m envious of skinny runners (The Rake is totally going to leave me if I ever look like the woman who runs up our street everyday) – the ones who are naturally built to be light and lithe.

    I THINK people are envious of my legs – and my persistence (and sometimes pissed off with me for being so stubborn – both sides of the coin there ;-))

    Ok, I think I’m done! Massive ramble. But really, really important post x

    • LOVED this comment and seriously, i’m the queen of epic comments so please always feel free to reciprocate! i think i musta left one for u about 1000words long! lol. but i’m so happy u really liked this post, and i do feel it’s important to remember that while we should look forward to achieve another goal, if we don’t ever take time to really relish each goal we DO hit, then in the end we’ll regret it. dashing thru our achievements isn’t fair because we work TOO HARD to not stop and pat ourselves on the back now and then. i anticipating LOTS of patting for ur back here in oh…a couple days. ;)

  2. Such an important post! Comparison is the ultimate confidence killer, and I fall victim to its clutches sometimes when it comes to my running, but even more when it comes to milestones in my life. Not cool. I need to remember that everyone paces themself differently in the road race of life, and just because my friends are getting married and have/are trying to have children that isn’t necessarily the path that I will take. It will all come in time. I am happy with the life I have right now, and I am in the race for myself, not for anyone else :)

    • awww, ur last line there makes my night. i believe u have done such a WONDERFUL job being a role model for everyone in ur own posts, prose and insights. u are so open but incredibly attuned to the human condition; why people do things and how certain things are only doing harm and those things (guilt, putting urself down, etc) are not worth having in one’s life. u my dear better be writing that book! :)

  3. I TOO love this post. I am totally envious of all you long distance runners who can just run and run. I am definitely a middle distance runner so I am not super fast but I can’t crank out the Ks either.

    This is strange but sometimes I get a bigger kick from other peoples race achievements than my own. Seeing your 5km time just makes me feel so inspired and in awe. Thinking about Kate lining up at the start line on Sunday makes me excited! I am always happy when I cross a finishline and more so these days now I am really finding my strides BUT like Kate said you just start focusing on the next goal… That totally doesn’t do justice to the current achievements.

    Everyone is physically and mentally so different and we totally should be able to celebrate our own and each others strengths and achievements!

    I have sat at a few finishlines over the years watching clients come over and I tell you I get goosebumps for everyone that crosses that line… 3 hours or 5 hours they all pushed their bodies to their own limits and that is such cool stuff!!!

    • u are SO cute…and i’m with u, i get incredibly excited when i read/hear about my friends doing awesome too! it’s so neat feeling like u’ve been there to watch the process and then when THEY get a PR it’s like getting a ‘contact’ runner high. :)

  4. I find I’m constantly comparing myself to other runners, I can’t seem to help it. I am usually successful in not being too negative about it and use it instead as motivation. I try to remind myself that I’m doing the best that I can do, not the best that someone else can do.

    We all have different places we are coming from, different circumstances that affect how and when we train and race. I haven’t met a single runner who has the exact same life and time commitments that I do, so I need to stop assuming I’ll be running exactly the same as someone else.

    I know that some of my newer running friends are envious of the progress I’ve made as a runner, the distances I’ve been able to run. I hope that for them it serves as a motivator, rather than a deterrent though. I know seeing someone bust out a new PR or a new distance record always motivates me to keep at it.

    • sounds like u’ve got the perfect perspective on this…channel it to motivate and it sure sounds like it’s working! be proud of ur quick success and learning curve! :)

  5. I most definitely compare myself to the size of other runners. I envy those small, fast runners who eat whatever they want while I am over here constantly struggling. It’s life though.

    I used to compare myself to other runners in distance. However, I’m actually doing some speed work and training for short races (prior to starting marathon training on November 16!) and I’m looking more towards speed.

    People are constantly telling me they admire my dedication. I lost over 100 lbs by running. It was a HARD start but I kept pushing. I have gotten multiple injuries. I ran the last 10 miles of a half marathon on a broken foot last Spring. I would not stop running. The next three months I was swimming or in the gym doing weights. Now I’ve lost all my hair (:-\) and people are constantly telling me that they admire that I don’t let it stop me.

    I’m a stubborn little bitch:-)

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