“The marathon is too hard a race to waste energy hating your competitors.” –Frank Shorter
Bear with me. There is something that has been bothering me lately. It has to do with what I perceive to be a judgmental attitude that pervades the running world. Some—certainly not all—runners compare themselves to others in terms of their running abilities, pace, race times, etc. I’m not sure why it tends to happen. Perhaps it allows some individuals to build up their running egos (“I run faster!”), but whatever the reason, it perpetuates a sense of superiority based on running pace and finish times.
I see this on blogs, discussion forums, and in magazines in the form of snarky comments and written commentary. Daily Mile even promotes this comparison trap in a way, by allowing you to compare your stats to others. While not all comparison is bad (like when used for constructive reasons, such as learning from others) it can certainly promote an “I’m better than you” mentality. And let’s be honest, don’t we have enough of that already in the rest of our lives?
I think we can all agree on one thing: the vast majority of us runners are not elites, we’re amateurs. If you can’t run a marathon in 2:30, for instance, I hate to say this, but you’re an amateur. If you’re not paid to train (in Mammonth Lakes ;-)) and don’t have sponsors, you’re considered an amateur. Running a marathon at in 3:00 is great, and impressive, and I’m sure it makes you very gifted, but it doesn’t make you a “better” runner than someone who finished the same marathon in 4:30.
Wait wait WAIT…if I have insulted you by calling you an “amateur”…just hold on a sec. I don’t mean amateur in that you don’t know what you’re doing, but rather amateur in its literal definition, a person who engages in a pursuit, especially a sport, on an unpaid basis.
I don’t know about you, but I got into the sport of running because it is by and large an independent pursuit. It is one of the only activities where it is you against yourself for the most part.
You might say, “well, I’m running against others in a race!” and you are right! You are. You can be running with 50 or 30,000 other runners, but the race is still against yourself (unless, like I said, you are in the special elite corral).Unless you are toeing the line and have the opportunity to win some major moolah, you are pretty much in the same boat as everyone else.
I needed some support or affirmation or something to back up how I’ve been perceiving this “I’m better than you because I ran a marathon 20 minutes faster than you” situation. I searched the web and ran across a blog post by George Beinhorn of Fitness Intuition that basically says what I can’t seem to find the words to say:
“The 3-hour marathoners aren’t elites, by a long shot, nor are they ‘recreational marathoners.’ They’re somewhere in the middle, in limbo-land. And I wonder if that’s why they’re so tenacious in clinging to whatever ego-satisfactions they can squeeze from the marathon. They do work hard, no doubt about it, but perhaps the whiners among them are working hard for some of the wrong reasons – not in hopes that training for a fast marathon will expand their body, heart, will, mind, and soul, but in pursuit of “I-my-me-mine” ego balm”
What makes us (and I say “us” as in many people not everyone and not necessarily you there reading this ranting post) think that someone who can run a 5k in sub 20 minutes is better than someone who can run one in 25 minutes? Everyone’s body is different and every runner has different struggles. I, for instance, know that I have the capacity to be a much faster runner than my race times show. My 5k pr is around 20 minutes and my half pr is right at 1:40. But most of my other races are run at much slower paces. I have never broken the 4 hour mark for the marathon. The two main reasons for that?
1) I am injury prone. No matter how much I work on my gait, cadence, muscles, or flexibility, I have to acknowledge that was I was born a certain way and there is only so much I can change. I choose not to train at a more rigorous level (higher weekly mileage and speedwork) because I choose not to get injured. Working through my ongoing (cartilage) injuries makes running a struggle for me and I’ll bet good money that those of us training through some sort of adversity, even if we’re doing it at slower paces, have more to overcome and thus more to brag about than those who aren’t.
2) I run for stress relief and for reasons that are personal and unique to me. My goal with my running is not to set crazy PRs and brag to everyone. It’s just not why I got into the sport, and as you can see from my menu selections at the top, I have a life. Running is a part of my life but it’s not my whole life.
I didn’t qualify for the Boston Marathon, I raised money, trained, and ran it in a time that allowed me to enjoy all the sights from Hopkinton to Back Bay, where I lived for 5 years. Just because I haven’t set a BQ, and probably never will, does not make me less of a runner than someone who has. I’ll finish my rant for the day and I’m so sorry if I turned you off but I just feel so strongly that we should help create a more inclusive rather than exclusive running community. Let’s be proud of ourselves that we stick with a sport that can test us mentally and physically. In my humble opinion, it’s one of the greatest sports in the world.
Young or old, female or male, short or tall, fast or slow: If you run–no matter how far– you are a runner.
“I often hear someone say I’m not a real runner. We are all runners, some just run faster than others. I never met a fake runner.”
UPDATED TO SAY: Already you guys have left some really insightful and thought-provoking comments! I think what I didn’t do well in this post when I was writing it late last night was highlight that there is a fine line between feeling proud and sharing your running accomplishments and PRs and comparing yourself to others and possibly putting them down. Keep the comments coming, I love a good discussion! 🙂
Have you felt like a victim with the comparison trap in the running world?
And here is the grand daddy of them all: why do you run?