Who should we really be competing with?Often times, it's difficult to know just where one belongs in the field of fellow runners. Whether you're just starting out, or have been running for awhile, it's tough to know just where you belong.
Pin on a race bib, and it can get even more complicated. All of these fellow racers toeing the start line; all from varied life experiences, genetic lines and training regimens...are any of them actually realistic competition for you or me?
I have given this plenty of thought. After all, I have been lacing up my running shoes for 16+ years. Here's my take on who we (realistically) should be competing with....
---Someone who has a similar (if not exact) athletic ability as you.
This person (if they even exist) will be very difficult to find. Having a similar genetic composition as you will ensure neither of you will have an unfair advantage (or disadvantage). Yes, I'm playing the genetics card here. Like it or not, some runners are just more naturally gifted than others. Some can hold a 5:30 pace (easily) for a 5K, and others have to give it their all (or nearly die trying) to finish the same distance in twice the time. Neither is better (or worse) than the other, so it is foolish to compare their talents.
---Someone who has similar (if not exact) physical features as you.
Genetics play into this as well. Two runners of different heights (in other words, who probably have legs of different lengths) will have to work differently...the taller one will probably have a longer stride (thus needing fewer steps to cover ground), and the shorter one will need to take more steps (but will have less "leg" weight to propel with each step). Does this all balance out? Not really (but it would be nice if it did). Also, keep in mind, being the same height does not guarantee they will share the same length of legs (not all torsos are created equal, by the way). And I haven't even touched on the body weight issue...people of equal heights quite often are not of the same weight, body fat percentage or muscle tone.
---Someone with a similar (if not exact) training plan.
This will be the most challenging thing to match up with someone else. Why? Because for every runner, there is a different desired method of training. All of us are created differently, as are our preferences, and most of us have experienced different challenges in our running. For example, Have they been running as long as you, or longer? Is this particular event one they have raced before? Did they start their training on the exact same day as you? Did they follow the same plan (same weekly miles, same speed sessions, same cross-training, same diet)? Did they encounter any injuries while training (if so, hopefully they experienced the same injuries as you), or have they been injury-free?
---Someone with a similar (if not exact) family and/or social life as you.
Kids are big obstacles (in a very GOOD way) in training for a race, as are family and social obligations. There will be times when scheduled training runs may need rescheduling due to non-training events (vacations, dinners out, children's activities, etc.). And, let's not forget friends! Friends are a vital part of our well-being, and they deserve our time and attention as well. If you repeatedly neglect your friends (due to a "more important" training schedule), they will not be your friends much longer. The runner who is constantly training 24/7 may have an unfair advantage over those who occasionally choose other activities, so be mindful in choosing someone whose lifestyle is comparable to yours.
---Someone with a similar (if not exact) competitive drive.
Some people thrive on constantly trying to run faster and further than other runners, some simply enjoy the passion of the sport in and of itself. Trying to compete with others who are not in sync with your level of competitiveness will frustrate you to no end....you will either resent the other person's constant "need" to always finish ahead of you, or (conversely) you may think the other is not taking the sport seriously.
So.....do any of these "someones" exist? Probably not. No two runners have the same experiences (in running or in life). Also, very few share the same attributes, goals or priorities in their everyday existence. My advice, to new runners or anyone struggling to find their groove, is to not overthink it. Go ahead, race with other runners, but compete with yourself. Respect that all runners are not created equal, so they shouldn't expect equal results. And, bottom line, run for yourself, but support your fellow runners. Celebrate their victories as well as your own. Running is a privilege; be thankful you're able to do it.
What do you think? Have you ever tried to compete (intentionally or otherwise) with someone who had different aspirations? Have you ever felt like the one being "competed against?"
**some of this text is from a previous post, Who is My Ultimate Competitor?