Nothing Compares 2U: Why Comparison is a Waste of Energy

Comparison is a Waste of Time

Few things will cause as much disappointment, as quickly, as comparing yourself to… well, anything.

Maybe I’d let you get by with comparing yourself to where you were yesterday, but anything else? No way.

Comparing yourself to others, to where you used to be, or to where you wish you were? Those comparisons will only cause disappointment with where you are and make you discouraged, regardless of where you are in your training.

Don’t believe me? Here’s why you can’t compare yourself to:

Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

You don’t know their goals and challenges

That guy who is always at the track first thing in the morning before you? Maybe he is more dedicated than you, or maybe he works the night shift and speed work at 5 am is the last thing he will do for the day.

Different runners set different goals for themselves, have different priorities and different sets of obligations. A single mother training for a 10k will have different workouts and levels of focus than a single girl training for an ultra marathon.

I’m trying so hard to avoid an ‘apples to oranges’ analogy…

You don’t know where in their running journey they are

Imagine two runners. One is on her first run ever and is exhausted after running 1 mile. The second has been running for years and is exhausted after finishing her first 20 mile long run in preparation for her first marathon.

Is one run ‘better’ or ‘more worthy’?

Of course not. Both runs are significant accomplishments for the runner considering where they are in their running lives.

It may be a skewed company

Brazen New Year Medal
The two-year marathon medal

A few years ago, I did a ‘2-year marathon.’ We did a half marathon on New Year’s Eve, and a half marathon on New Year’s Day, on the same course in the opposite direction. Since it straddled 2 years, we could say it took us two years to run a marathon.

Now, I am a slower runner and I’m used to being in the middle of the finishers list (on a good day). But reviewing the overall combined results from these races, I was only a few up from the bottom. One of the lowest finishing places I’ve ever had.

But the finishers of this challenge were a pretty unique group. They are 1) willing to do a trail half marathon on a tough course, 2) willing to do a second trail race the next day, and 3) do all of this over a holiday weekend when there are many other obligations and parties.

The finishers of this challenge were an advanced, self-selecting group. My ‘poor’ ranking wasn’t a reflection of my ability as much as it was of the company that I kept in even trying.

What’s the old runner’s saying? On your slowest day, you are still lapping everyone on the couch.

Don’t Compare Yourself to Where You Were

We are where we are in life. It’s easy, and often fun, to look back fondly to where we were once upon a time, often with rose-colored glasses firmly in place. Maybe you were captain of the football team, the track star, the age group winner in local races before you had kids and never lost all of the baby weight.

It takes courage to be where you are, right now.

You can’t change the past. You can’t magically lose the weight you’ve gained or gain the fitness you lost.

Accept where you are, and set goals for where you are right now, not where you were twenty years ago. You are (hopefully) a different person now. You have different life goals, experiences, joys and challenges.

Your running goals need to reflect the person you are today.

Don’t Compare Yourself to Where You Want to Be

Running, especially if you want to do a marathon or half marathon, is a slow and deliberate process. It can take months, if not years, of training to be ready.

You will likely start out with an image in your head of you, 20 pounds lighter, with a marathon finisher’s medal around your neck. However, you may be years away from that reality.

It is a fine balancing act to keep that image in your head as encouragement, without it becoming discouraging when you can only run 2 miles (when you know you need to run 26) or you have only lost 5 pounds (when you want to lose 25).

Those goals, and that image in your mind, can seem impossibly far away.

To keep the image in your head encouraging, try to:

Set big goals and intermediate goals

I love to set big, fat, ridiculous goals for myself. But by themselves, these goals can be too big and too far away to act on. I may have no experience or frame of reference for how to complete them. Enter the intermediate goals.

These intermediate goals are actionable, and while you should have to push yourself a bit to reach them, they are realistically achievable.

Examples of intermediate goals:

  • If a marathon is the big goal for a beginning runner, training and finishing a shorter race can be an intermediate goal
  • If beating a personal record on the local 5K is the big goal, establishing and achieving track workouts with goal times can be the intermediate goal

These intermediate goals will provide a sense of progress and accomplishment on your way to the bigger goal.

Occasionally look back

It hurts now, one day it will be your warm up
Many gains in running come naturally. You may not notice the first time you run 3 miles without stopping or do a run of a double-digit distance. It’s a part of the natural progression of training.

Take a few moments occasionally to look back to appreciate how far you have come. Maybe your ultimate goal is still far away, but chances are you’ve already come farther than you think.

Acknowledge that and appreciate yourself for it.

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