Run for Yourself and Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

There’s a famous quote, most often attributed to former U.S. president Teddy Roosevelt, that I’ve seen numerous times across Pinterest and the blogosphere. “Comparison is the thief of joy.” These words are so prolifically quoted because the sentiment holds true for anyone seeking any goal: you diminish your sense of accomplishment and pride when you compare what you have done to what others did.

When I began running six years ago, I ran only for my own health, fitness, and personal enjoyment. I didn’t care that lots of people were running faster paces or more miles than I was. As I progressed as a runner, I tried to focus on running for myself rather than comparing myself to others. However, I’m a somewhat competitive person and so I push myself to do better than other and better than I have before, especially now that I’m beginning to race. While it can be healthy to want to compete and to want to break your previous personal records, it is important to keep a healthy perspective about why you run and to avoid constantly comparing yourself to others.

Last week was not my best week of training. I was aiming for a 40 mile week, which I reminded myself is relatively low compared to what many other half and full marathoners regularly run in a week. For me, though, a 40 mile week is a big deal, since this is my first half marathon training cycle. I was doing great in my training during the first half of the week: my speed workout went great and I was taking it easy on the other runs so that I did not burn myself out for the rest of the week. Then, as I recounted in yesterday’s post, a trip on Friday’s run and overheating on Saturday’s long run cut both of those runs down to significantly shorter than intended.

Comparison is the thief of joy

As Ryan sat me down and handed me my Nuun after I returned from only 9 miles (I was supposed to do 13), I thought that I could have kept going. I could have powered through overheating and the discomfort from not having enough water. After all, for lots of runners 13 miles does not even qualify as a “long” run—and certainly nine doesn’t, even in half-marathon training. I had only been out running for about 75 minutes.

I knew though that Saturday I could take two routes after my long run gone bad: dwell on what I didn’t do, or be happy with what I did and move on with my day. I don’t run because its my job and my payday depends on how I place in a race. I don’t run to earn scholarship for school. I run because I love the feeling of my legs moving quickly underneath me, because I love the quiet moments in the fresh morning air, because I can push myself to what I thought was impossible and go even further than that. I run for myself; as far as I want, as fast as I want, as frequently as I want.  

In the grand scheme of things, it does not matter if I logged as many training miles as other runners. It does not matter where I finish this 13.1 race in comparison to the other runners in the race, to my friends who have run half marathons, or to other running bloggers out there. If I run a sub-1:50 half marathon, that is a huge accomplishment, but an accomplishment that I could quickly diminish by looking at all the runners who ran sub-1:40, sub-1:30, or faster halfs. Comparison is the thief of joy when we focus on what others did rather than on what we did. At the end of that race day, I will still have completed 14 weeks of training; I will still have ran for 13.1 miles; I will still likely have finished above the national average half marathon time. Crossing the finish line is an achievement and a joy in and of itself; don’t let comparison steal that joy.


Questions of the Day:
Do you find yourself frequently comparing yourself to others? How do you overcome the comparison trap?
How do you celebrate your achievements?

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6 Responses

  1. I think anyone with a competitive streak struggles with comparing his or her self to others – I know I do! When I’m feeling down on myself, that is my internal signal telling me I need to take a break mentally and regroup. I try to go back and do things that remind me how far I have come and how much I *have* achieved. For me – since I’m currently plodding through the sometimes-desert that can be the PhD – that can often mean re-reading an old term paper or grant proposal, or skimming through my dissertation proposal or prelim exam presentation. It puts my short-term struggles in context by reminding me of the reasons that led me to pursue that particular goal to start with, and encourages me because it shows me what I *am* capable of. I end up feeling a fresh wave of passion and determination for it all over again, and that helps me continue pushing onwards and upwards.

    1. Erin, thanks for the comment! I can empathize with your experience in academia – when I was working on my master’s degree I was always super hard on myself, even though I was at the top of my class. Good for you for work so hard on a PhD! It was when I was in grad school that I really fell in love with running because it allowed me to see that I was good enough, strong enough, disciplined enough. I hope your studies continue to go well and don’t let the competition get you down 🙂

  2. Thank you for posting this inspiring blog. As runners not only does comparing ourselves to others make it easy to diminish our accomplishments, but it also prevents us from achieving our own goals. This is exactly what I needed to read as I prepare for an upcoming race. There is always a range in times, but a half under 1:50 especially for someone relatively new to running is a great time.

    1. Thank you for the kind words, Lisa, and I’m glad you enjoyed the post! I actually ran the race in 1:46 and it definitely helped me to focus on just my own goals and not what others were doing. Good luck on your upcoming race!

  3. Thank you for this article. I have taken this quote and placed it on a place I can’t avoid it so I don’t forget that my biggest competitor is myself. When I think like this is when I truly thrive. When I start comparing myself with others… That’s when I start to fall apart:) thanks again!!

    1. I’m glad you found it helpful! I definitely remind myself of that quote frequently! The beautiful thing about running as a sport is we are really only competing against ourselves.

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