Running can be so fickle. One day you may feel as if you can run for miles, but then the next it feels as if there are cinder blocks on your feet. However, there is a part of running that I struggle with, more than the high mileage per week, or the tough workouts, and the hilly long runs, all that is marathon training; I struggle most with comparing myself, not to others, but to myself. Let me explain.
Training for a marathon is hard. It requires a lot of dedication, time and sacrifice. What I love about marathon training is the fitness that it brings. Having been plugging away at 26.2 miles for the past two years, the fitness builds upon itself. I have learned, to achieve my goals in the marathon, it will take several so-called marathon (training) cycles. To put things in perspective, these marathon cycles will take several years, if I am willing to put in the work. In each marathon cycle, workouts get faster, longer and harder, and the overall volume increases, but because my body is callused, I can handle those variations.
Throughout a marathon cycle, it is always good to “test” your fitness. I do this by running in a few races. As I am building up for the Chicago Marathon this October, I have entered myself in races ranging from a 5k to 10k, with a 20k coming in early September! It is important for me to understand that these races serve a different purpose; rather than gun for a personal best, these races are just stepping stones to the big goal.
I recently raced in New Hampshire’s biggest 5k in downtown Manchester. The Cigna Elliot 5k is notoriously fast and stacked with good competition. I would be lying if I were to say I did not go in with an expectation on my performance. What is running without goals? In 2014, I placed 8th in the time of 15:30. This year, I finished 6th in the time of 16:00. I was frustrated. How could I have run slower? I am a stronger runner than I was four years ago. I have more miles under my belt. What went wrong?
The answer is nothing.
It is tough to not compare yourself to others, but it is really easy to compare yourself to yourself. Comparing past results, whether they were from a few months ago or years ago, and immediately categorizing your efforts as a pass/fail. There are many factors that go into your performance in a race. Weather plays a tremendous role in your performance! You are most certainly going to run faster on a cool day than a hot humid day! Age is another significant factor. A 10-year-younger self is going to be a lot more nimble than an older version of you. Most importantly, you have to take into account what you are training for in the moment! Five thousand meter training is a lot different than marathon training. The weekly mileage is different, as well as the specific workouts. At the end of the day, last Thursday was a huge success in confidence, knowing that I could string together a solid effort on tired legs and knowing I want to peak for October, not the beginning of August!
Always put things into perspective. Find the positives out of every performance and take those with you to your next race. Fitness builds upon itself. Not every race can be a PR performance. You will grow as a runner, mentally and physically, if you keep that in mind.