On competition and comparison.
“Comparision is the thief of joy”
“You are your only competition”
These are things that you will see a whole lot in running circles. And they are so true. Intellectually, you know they are true. Emotionally, you know how much better you feel when you don’t compare. But somehow, sometimes you do anyway. Because it’s human nature. And the problem isn’t just comparing your beginning to someone else’s middle or your life to someone’s highlight reel. The problem is that it is natural to gauge our improvements based on the improvements of others around us.
Most of the time when you start something like running, you do that with people who are starting in the same place. Often, you will improve at a similar rate and your journey will be connected in so many ways. Those paths will diverge and come back together in ways that you can’t possibly expect or anticipate. Differences in improvement may come down to differences in training or motivation or natural ability. And those things can be negatively impacted by injury and illness. Life likes to throw you little curve balls along the way to keep things interesting.
I think you can see that in Kate’s and my running journey. It has connected and diverged and connected again as time has gone on. And we’d be lying if we told you at different points that one of us hadn’t felt a pang of comparison with regard to the achievements of the other. That is human nature. It happens. But I think for the most part we have been able to find inspiration in one another’s achievements rather than comparison and competition. And more than that an understanding that making memories is more important than smashing out running records.
If I’m honest, there was a time when I would have been scared to run in a race with Kate because I felt like my achievement would disappear being in the shadow of the woman who inspires the Operation Move community. And how sad would it have been if I’d continued to feel that way? What things would I have missed out on if I had let that path go on? But I didn’t let it go on. I acknowledged that I am a highly neurotic person with a whole lot of hang ups and I moved on from that.
What I learnt from busting my ass in several races was that a time doesn’t mean anything. That was a hard lesson to learn, but it was my most valuable lesson as a runner. Improving will always be a great motivator in my training, but it’s not what it’s about. I sign up for races to be with other runners. So I see myself making the choice to be with the people I care about. There will be no regret in that.
Comparison is natural. Competition is natural. But it is also meaningless and irrelevant and a poor distraction from the things that will enrich your life.
One of the reasons I started running was because I would see Zoey tweet about her runs most evenings. 8kms on the treadmill at the gym. I would think HOLY COW imagine running 8 kilometres in one hour?! How do people even do that? So I started, and I figured out how people do that, and I created Operation Move so that someone else would kick my butt when I decided I’d had enough, and two years later here we are.
It took a few months before I really enjoyed running. I always liked how I felt when I was finished, but it took a while for me to appreciate the process. I always knew I could never be as quick or run as far as Zoey did but that was okay.
And then she developed shin splints, and stepped back her mileage to transition to barefoot and I had a streak of amazing gains and suddenly I was getting quicker. I’m not going to lie, there was a little thrill in comparing our numbers and coming out ahead. Not in a mean spirited way, but in a competitive-by-nature way.
We ran our first half marathon together a year ago this week. I was running off the back of an injury with a double ear infection having quit smoking a few weeks earlier. She was still a smoker. It was a hard run for both of us, but we did it and we did it TOGETHER and crossing that finish line with her will be forever etched in my memory.
A few weeks later I blitzed her in the Melbourne half, and I would be lying if I said that didn’t give me a little thrill. Again, not in a mean way, just in a WOW kind of way,
And then a series of unfortunate (and stupid) events saw me out of action for 8 weeks and while I was walking a lot and trying to maintain my fitness as best I could, she was out there working her butt off. She was doing CrossFit and developing her own training plans and putting them into action.
I think we all know what the results of her training looked like. She came in half an hour before me at the Great Ocean Road, then smashed out a sub 2 hour AND a sub 1:50 half marathon in quick succession. Times I still have no chance of reaching.
Along the way though, there was a shift in both of us. The GOR reframed my thoughts on race days completely, and I don’t know that I’ll ever actually RACE an event in which my friends are running again. And while I was having epiphanies around what running is to me, I was just so PROUD of Zoey. For not one second did I think ‘Oh I should be able to do that’, because it WASN’T ABOUT ME. It was about celebrating that my beautiful, inspiring friend was achieving things she had worked so hard for.
I’m human. I will always have moments of jealousy and comparison just like you will. I’ll look at race times or what people can lift (because apparently I’ve caught that crazy too) and think ‘I wish…’.
But you know what? If I want it so bad, I’ll get it. I’ll do the work. Not so I can say ‘Look. I am better than you.’
But so I can say ‘Look, I am better than ME.’
And my friendship with Zoey will always be a far greater achievement than any race outcome could ever be.