Monday Musings: On the Perils of Comparison

I have a confession to make. I judge ultra runners.  I like to think of them as mildly unhinged, perhaps somewhat masochistic, and certainly a little bit athletically elitist.  In my mind, they obsess about their gear, their PRs, their training, their distance, and the next big trend in fuelling gels. I imagine that they are constantly irritated by having to put up with all of us ‘non-runners’ who have the audacity to be out on sidewalks and roadways generally getting in their way, and even going so far as to enter races we have no business entering.

If I let my tendency for gross and unfair generalizations take over, I’d imagine a human pyramid of runners. In this pyramid, the lowly 5k runner is stuck on the bottom of the heap holding up the next echelon of barely-better 10k runners. Getting closer to the top of the pyramid, you’d have your worthy-of-some-respect half marathoners hoisting up the worthy-of-even-more-respect marathoners. But at the very top of the pile you would have your ultra runners, all of whom would be puffing their chests out, sounding horns and brandishing expressions of smug superiority.

As I said, I recognize this is an unjust characterization.  Not only is it unjust, but given that I’ve just signed up for an ultra, it is also hypocritical.

So why do I do it?  For no other reason than evil, evil comparison. I read enough running blogs to know just how much time, effort, and thought a ‘serious’ runner puts into his or her training.  And I see how it pays off. I read about their races, their placements, their paces, their ever-increasing distances and it’s all just so very…discouraging.

When it comes down to it, I am a delicate flower who likes to occasionally dive into a very dark and defensive place.  I don’t like to recognize that I’m not good at something, that I might have to work at running and that, even if I work at it, it may not translate into greatness.

Rather than respect an ultra runner’s accomplishments, it’s just so much easier to be dismissive of their effort and assume they have a ‘natural gift’. It’s easier to judge them as elitist runners who take themselves too seriously so when I don’t take my own training seriously I can laugh off an abysmal finish and say ‘at least I’m fun’. It’s easier to look at their running prowess and wonder why I should even bother trying.

Comparison and its ensuing defensive judgment is not a pretty colour on me (nor anyone, I imagine).  Comparison takes that tiny (or not-so-tiny, as the case may be) ember of self doubt and fans it into a towering flame of confidence-crushing, motivation-shattering limiting beliefs.

Think I’m being overly dramatic? I’ll invite you to consider something that you really want to be doing, but aren’t doing right now.  Then I’ll invite you to consider why you’re not doing it. Chances are, if you strip down all the layers of excuses you’ll get to some sort of limiting belief about yourself.  Chances are even stronger that if you examine that limiting belief, you’ll see it amplifies every time you start to compare yourself to others. It’s like the cute little mogwai that, when fed after midnight, turns into a hideous and destructive gremlin.

gizmoWhy hello, I’m the adorable limiting belief hiding in your subconscious. 

Uh oh, you’ve started to make comparisons and now I’ve turned into a heinous Gremlin.

See? I told you it’s not a pretty colour on anyone. Unfortunately, if you were looking for tips on silencing the comparison monster and learning to appreciate your own unique gifts, you are reading the wrong blog.  I have not been tearing you down in order to build you back up. I have no answers.

What I can say is that, although it will require constant effort, I need to try to shake that comparison gremlin for my own sanity in this ultra training process,  I’ve no doubt that if I can, I might just be able to transform myself from a runner who places in the bottom 10 to one who places in the bottom 15. And that, my friends, is a win for this runner.


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