Avoiding the Running Comparison Trap

Apples & Oranges - They Don't Compare
You and the runner you’re comparing yourself to.

How many times have these thoughts crossed your mind? “I can’t run with her – she’s faster than me.” “I wish I could run in cute shorts like her! She is so much skinnier than me.” “We’ve done all the same workouts, why did she PR and I didn’t?”

And sometimes we’re not putting ourselves down, but thinking things like “I’m better than her because I run full marathons, she only runs halves.” “I’m such a better runner than she ever will be.”

And the list goes on and on.

We’re compared to others as babies and it continues through the rest of our lives. We get ranked in school, graded on a curve, told not to act like the bad kids. As adults, it’s hard to avoid getting stuck in the comparison trap and we spend a lot of time comparing ourselves to other runners, coworkers, friends and even strangers we interact with.

As runners, comparisons are everywhere. We’re ranked by age group and gender placements. We’re put in corrals at race starts based on our previous or estimated performances. We only attend group runs with runners of similar pace. It gets old after a while, and to be honest, I’m sick of people telling me that I’m a better runner than they are because I run more miles in a week or being afraid to run with a local group because I think it’s full of better runners than I.

So how do we break out of the comparison trap?

Remember that we all start somewhere. That woman you run with who always pushes the pace and consistently places in races? She didn’t start out that way! Remember, it took hard work to get to where you are now, the same way it took that woman in your running group to get where she is. We’re all human and we all have to put in the work to get good results.

Make a list of your achievements. During my most recent training cycle, I was having a hard time not comparing my training to a friend of mine who is also running the same race as his first 100. One day when I was feeling a little down and thinking I wasn’t running nearly enough, I sat down and made a list of all of the running achievements I’ve made since I started running four years ago. Seeing it all at once and on paper really put it into perspective and reminded me of the work I’ve done and the amazing memories I have since I began running.

Kamloops Marathon 2012 | Day 2 #77
You never know what can happen when you run your own race! (Photo credit: Thompson Rivers)

Run your own race. This is so important, especially in longer distance running. When I ran the Chicago Marathon in 2011, I started with a friend that wanted to run around a 4:15 marathon. Within the first few miles, he got increasingly frustrated that a woman who was race walking was ahead of him. Instead of not worrying about her or anyone else around him, he pushed the pace and eventually bonked, finishing the marathon in about five hours.

The only runner you have to be better than is yourself! The only person that can get you up in the morning for a training run and get you to the finish line is you! You only have to be better than your last race or your last training run. By adopting an attitude where you’re only competing against yourself, every race and every run’s outcome will be a win, no matter what your time or place.

Do you find yourself comparing your running to others? Has doing so ever psyched you out? How do you avoid it?

Trail and 100 mile ultra runner who still loves a good road marathon every now and then. Lifetime Northeast Ohio resident that dreams of the mountains out west, but loves CLE too much. Sometimes a vegan, sometimes does yoga, always loves a good craft beer and post race donuts.

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  1. This is one of the drawbacks of Dailymile. My weekly mileage can feel pathetic. I try to blame genetics. Another mantra of mine is “they have age groups for a reason”

    1. This is why I avoid daily mile! I had it for about a month when I was training for my first marathon. I had my then-highest mileage week ever and some stranger commented that I could have done better! Not helpful!

  2. How interesting. Zen Habits had a post yesterday about comparison as well (http://zenhabits.net/) and his example was about running.

    I’m with Mark. That is definitely one of the drawbacks of DailyMile – you see both the mileage and the pace of the others in your circle. But I run for me and not for them so I just try to admire their effort and move on.

  3. It’s so easy to get caught up in comparison with others. The way I try to avoid it is to focus on comparisons with myself. Where am I compared to where I was a year ago? 6 months ago? If I’m seeing improvement then I feel good about my running

    1. Comparing yourself to yourself is a great way to look at it, and a great way to learn from your past training to improve and figure out what works and what doesn’t.

  4. Absolutely. It is a terrible habit to compare yourself to other runners. I adore reading running blogs but I’ve caught myself wincing when thinking “She is so much speedier than I am,” “She runs more mileage.” etc. It’s completely self-destructive and I always am quick to call myself out for it. I’d rather be happy for that person instead. We all deserve the hard work we have earned.

    1. I have the same thoughts when reading running blogs and find myself comparing my times and training to people I “know” because of their blog. You’re right, we work hard and earn it and it’s better to be happy for that person!

  5. This was so interesting that this was the blog for today! Just last night in my Abe’s Army training, we had a practice 5k. My friend and I have religiously been getting our mileage in and pushing ourselves, getting in 10-15 miles a week. Being on the obese scale, and only at this for 4 months now, I have been really enjoying the run/walking and very proud of how far I have come. That was until last night! For some reason, I went straight into comparison mode. I was so frustrated that with all the work we were doing and pushing just a bit further each time we go, we were next to last- only 2 people behind us. I watched walkers looking like they were moving at a moderate pace pass me one after the other. And my jog was slower than these walkers. This was completely frustrating and had me in the mindset to want to quit completely. The only thing that has me still going is that I am enjoying what I am doing on the other nights, we shaved over 2min. off of our 5k time last night and we had never been able to do over a mile doing straight intervals but last night we did intervals the whole 5k. I see progress, I see our weekly distances going up but our pace staying the same (which is very slow). I just can’t shake comparing and getting so frustrated!

    1. I definitely know where you’re coming from. When I started running, I was losing weight with Weight Watchers and there was another girl in my group that was also starting to run and had lost more pounds than I and was about the same age. I would get so upset when she’d report the amount of time she ran that week and that she had lost more. It’s hard not to. But look at how much progress you’ve made! I can’t promise when and how long it will take, but if you keep moving forward, you’ll get faster and stronger and able to run more than walk. Good luck!

  6. Thank you for this. I just finished walk/running my 2nd 5k. My run buddy just finished her 1st half marathon, and I feel so bad that she isn’t “running” her pace when we do the 5ks together. But ya know what, we laugh, chat and enjoy a few moments of alone time. Me gasping for breath and her doing most of the talking. Her motivation gets me across the line. Thank you for helping me keep the focus on me!

  7. I realize this is an old post, but I was looking up this topic because I have been getting so down on myself and comparing myself to everyone around me. It’s robbing my joy from the one thing I do for myself that’s keeping me sane! I’m happy for others no matter what their distance or pace, I need to remember that for myself as well. Thank you for writing this!

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Jean and so glad the post helped a little. We all go through it and have good days with it and worse days with it. But you are good enough. You can want to be better, there’s nothing wrong with that! But you, doing your thing, being the best you you can be is good enough!