I recently heard a runner talk about how she was elated at her accomplishments at the end of a run, but then quickly became discouraged when she heard about other people’s accomplishments. Her story broke my heart. Running for me, has always been about personal accomplishment, not about beating any particular standard or doing better than someone else. It’s been about doing more than I thought was possible for me. It’s been about setting goals for myself and exceeding them and setting new ones.
If you know me or have followed my recent running history, you might say that this is super easy for me to say. Recently, I’ve won a few smaller trail races, I’ve qualified for (and ran) Boston twice and I’ve completed a 100 mile race. Compared to even my past self, I’m doing really well. First of all, I would say that I have yet to meet any runner who thinks they’re good enough. I’ve heard runners significantly better than I am bemoan the fact that they’re not as good as this or that other person. As humans, I think no matter how good we are, we’re always still striving to be better and our window of who we focus on just shifts. We all still struggle with comparing ourselves to others.
Despite still falling into that trap of comparing myself to others on occasion, I do strongly believe that running should be about personal accomplishment. I first started running in 8th grade, largely because a friend told me that track was fun. I was really bad at it. I mean, really bad. I ran the mile for our track team largely because I was really bad at everything and no one else wanted to run the mile, so at least I wasn’t taking a spot away from someone better. On top of that, I finished dead last at every. single. meet. Often, I would finish last by more than 100 meters and in one case, they started putting up the hurdles on the track before I even finished because they didn’t realize anyone was still running. That said, I also finished every single race having run the entire mile and not walking (which was my only goal at the time). On top of that, I also improved my time with every race I ran. Given how slowly I started, that was definitely do-able, but felt like an impossibility at the time. I could never quite believe it when I realized that I had run that mile faster than my previous. I’ve now run several marathons with average mile times faster than the fastest of those miles, but I would still say that running those meets is one of the running accomplishments I’m most proud of.
When I go out and run a mile now, it’s easy. In fact, it barely even feels like an effort if I’ve done fewer than 7 or 8 miles. That wasn’t true in 8th grade. It was a struggle to even finish out that mile jogging. It felt impossible; my lungs were on fire; everything hurt. The grit and bravery I had to keep getting back out there even though I knew I would finish last again and others might be laughing at me is something I never face now. On most of my runs now, I can zone out or chat with friends. In 8th grade, it all hurt. Even the shortest practice run was painful. That younger me, who struggled so hard and still kept trying, is part of what still inspires me.
When I see other runners now, I’m certainly inspired by the elites (Courtney Dauwalter is definitely one of my heros), but I’m also inspired by some of the people furthest back in the pack. Earlier this year, I ran a six hour timed race (you go as far as you can within the time limit) and there was a woman there signed up for the 12 hour who’s goal was to run a marathon but was too slow for most organized marathons’ cutoff times. Not only was she out working hard on that course longer than I was, but she also overcame society inadvertently telling her that maybe she shouldn’t be running a marathon and instead found a creative way where she could. She’s my hero. Her strength and determination is amazing.
We’ve all been dealt different hands and therefore the amazingness of any particular accomplishment is different for all of us as well. If you set a new PR (personal record) for yourself, you should be celebrating, whether that was for a 15 minute mile or a 4:30 minute mile. If you just went further than you’ve ever gone before, no matter the distance, that’s amazing too! If you just got out there and ran today at all and that’s a win for you, celebrate it. I only hope that my accomplishments (or failures) never discourage you because my challenges are not your challenges and I want to celebrate your wins with you. Don’t worry about outrunning anyone but yourself.