I started writing here in 2012, right after we launched. I didn’t know it at the time, but each post became a part of my story as a runner named Ginger. I started timidly, with a hunger to see how good I could get. I shared what it’s like to date a much faster runner and to be in the presence of all of his fast friends. I reached for goals I never thought possible and learned how to race. I received my Master’s degree and shared how I tried to balance training with a job that involved a lot of stress, much of it self-imposed, but hindsight is 20/20. And when life became really challenging, I decided to be up front about it, detailing a mental health crisis at length. This ultimately became a large part of my identity as a writer and blogger with the site.
It was around two years ago that I started to see the importance of surrendering to the process and allowing the story to write itself instead of curating an identity. When I first starting sharing my story here, I imagined that by now I’d be a Boston qualifier on her way to a sub-3:00 marathon. How so you ask? That little booger of a concept called comparison.
In the early days of my Salty Running tenure, I trained with a pretty fast group of runners. Granted, I was a few laps behind them on the track, but just being in their presence inspired me. But with that, though, came the pressure to perform. Looking back, I was running to try to be like the cool kids.
Sure, I was getting faster for a while, the fastest I had ever been up to that point. It was working, just like it worked for Pepper who smashed her marathon goal and Salty who qualified for Boston on her first try. Why couldn’t I achieve similar things?
After running my still-standing half marathon PR, I struggled to progress. Sure, I was faster but running became a chore, an activity I did to keep up with this perceived image of myself. I eventually stopped training with that coach, opting to take a more relaxed approach to training. This led to a 5k PR, one I tried to achieve for a long time. Instead of feeling accomplished, deep down, I was still running to prove myself to others.
Thankfully (really!), I had the breakdown of breakdowns in 2013, sparked by the death of my beloved grandfather. It was as if my running died with him. Heck, not just running but my entire self. My story as a runner seemed to come to an abrupt and sudden end. I took a month off from running after I entered an intensive outpatient program and not once was bothered by it. The break from running and life was a mental cleanse. Though hesitant to share this episode publicly, it became a critical part of my story.
In the spring of 2015, I began to train again. This time for a marathon, focusing on qualifying for Boston. I felt that I was in a good place mentally and physically to take on the challenge, and yet I still struggled with comparison. This time, though, I was comparing my current self to my old self.
I played around on various running calculators. Even if I was modest with entering my current fitness, it still put me well within the range of being able to run a Boston qualifier. I assumed that if I just put in the work, the rest would take care of itself.
After I bombed my first BQ attempt, I contemplated whether I wanted continue chasing the Boston goal. This contemplation was important because I was questioning my motivation: did I want to qualify to prove my identity as a runner or did I want to qualify to work hard toward a long time goal and see it realized? As I entered my second BQ attempt, I was at that fork in the road. Nearing the finish of another failed attempt, the light bulb went off — and I chose to enjoy the process of working toward a big goal.
I am now gearing up for my sixth marathon and third BQ attempt. After choosing to surrender to the process, training has become much more fun. I’ve focused more on battling my mental demons than testing my physical boundaries. And while this has resulted in some faster workouts, it has also resulted in a lot of messy workouts where my splits are imperfect and my post-run satisfaction is from working through the rough spots of the workout rather than nailing it.
When we turn the focus inward, we set ourselves up for success that can only be defined by ourselves. Thus, comparison slowly subsides.
May you all run and live your own stories.
Do you struggle with comparison? How do you deal with it?