Writing Our Own Running Story

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?

I write about mindfulness, mental health, and the professional sport of running with the occasional poking fun at the sport. When I am not running, I'm either helping people as a counselor or trying to make them laugh as an amateur open mic comedian.

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15 comments

  1. I really love this and the honesty of it. As a blogger and writer and person living deep in the world of social media, it’s impossible not to compare! I’m struggling with my own big goals right now and questioning if I even want to achieve them and, if so, why? It seems like it should be an easy thing to answer but…
    Thanks for this. I needed it today.
    Good luck in your quest for Boston!

  2. I think one of the best parts about SR is that it’s a community. Reading your story, I can relate. Many of us will be reminded that we’re not the only ones who struggle with comparison and defeat, and that’s what I love about this post. Thank you for sharing. Sending you all the speedy vibes for your marathon. I’ll be cheering for you!!

    1. Thanks, Maple! You inspire me a ton! I loved following along your journey on Insta this last training cycle. I feel like we are BQ buddies. Seriously, seeing how hard you worked and how committed you were to your goal helped so much. I think that actually helped me in understanding that at the end of the day, it’s about the process.

  3. My comment has nothing to do with your question- I just clicked on the other links and I LOVE your honesty and how real you are about your life. ❤️ You’re a beautiful soul.

  4. Great post, and timely or me too. I live in the Boston area so it seems everyone is running and/or trying to qualify for it. Its almost the first question anyone asks when they know you are a runner. I have found it very hard to separate the process and joy of running from the outside benchmark imposed by the BAA…. why run a marathon if the goal isn’t to qualify for Boston? I managed to BQ 2x in 2015 but neither was quite fast enough to actually get me in… luckily being a local I have other entry options available. The mental letdown in 2016 led to an epic blowup in my next marathon. It took me a full year of inner work to get back to a place where I could run this year and not worry about the qualifying time, or what kind of times my running club friends were running (I managed to run a happy, joyous race this year in Boston…. BQ+3 minutes…. so close, but I didn’t freak out about it, which I definitely would have in previous years… progress!). Its a constant balancing act, requiring constant re-evaluation of why the heck am I doing this in the first place?

    1. That has been a fear of mine actually – qualifying but not fast enough to get in. Thanks for the reminder that it’s not worth it to freak out over. If it happens, it’s just another part of the story. So happy you had a good race!

      1. I was a mess that year when it happened… again, being local I have other options for entry so it wasn’t the end of the world (I know some people have strong feelings about invitational entries, I personally see the value of having local running clubs, charity runners, etc. involved because I see the tremendous impact on our local community). Living here, it is almost impossible to avoid it. I’m glad after 4 years I’m finally somewhat at peace with the situation.

  5. Ahh I love this post so much! I have really been doing my best just to focus on my own running rather than getting caught up in comparisons- but it’s always so tempting to try and conform to how other runners train rather than just doing what *I* need to do. I’ve stopped trying to hurry towards what I think I’m supposed to be as a runner and just focus on the here and now.

    1. I literally just realized that I’ve been doing this exact same thing – comparing and feeling frustrated with where I am – and i just need to chill and appreciate the freedom that comes with being where I am. (That sentence totally makes sense in my head…)

      Thanks for the epiphany, Ginger!

      1. It’s funny because the epiphany really just occurred to me as well. And I’m sure there will be more to discover down the road. That’s the cool thing about life.

  6. Thank you so much for sharing this post. I tend to gravitate towards posts that show our flaw and embrace and love them, because it really does help me feel better that I have them to. Thanks for being so open about your journey and reminding me about comparisons! Big hugs.