Your Mileage May Vary: How to focus on your running efforts and ignore the chatter
It happened to me. I stumbled through the door after a lousy run feeling disheartened about my sluggish effort, various aches in my legs and an ever-nearing race date. In an attempt to distract myself, I grabbed my phone and scrolled through Instagram. It started innocently enough: chuckling at cute kids and double tapping sunset photos. But inevitably, I stumbled upon smiling, sweat-drenched faces with text overlays boasting double-digit mileage at impressively fast paces. And soon, I began to question my training plan, my ability, and my dedication as I scrolled through photos of people who appeared to be faster or stronger or more dedicated.
“She ran 3 more miles than I did. Should I have run further? Should I be running mile repeats like him instead of 800s to train for my half? Wow, look at her abs. I need to do more core work. He’s been running for 240 straight days?! Does taking two rest days a week hurt me?”
Yes, I succumbed to a classic case of Instagram envy and emerged from it feeling rotten about my training plan and myself. Maybe it’s happened to you, too, or maybe something similar has occurred on Strava or Facebook or while talking to a fellow runner at happy hour.
Your Mileage May Vary
When unwelcome envy plants seeds of self-doubt, I counter by reminding myself of a key lesson I’ve learned on my running journey: Your Mileage May Vary. What works for some runners may not work for me, and what works for me might not work for you. When you find yourself falling down that slippery comparison slope, here are a few ways to reaffirm yourself:
Trust Your Training
Provided you’re following a smart, balanced training plan, the biggest way to erase running doubts is simply to trust the plan. Bad runs sometimes happen. Slow runs need to happen. Rest days are important. Your best effort may result in different paces from week to week.
Some runners thrive on high mileage, and that’s fantastic. Others arrive the healthiest at the starting line when their mileage falls on the lower end of the spectrum. That’s fantastic too. Don’t let another runner’s training plan derail your own. Trust the process, and results will follow. You’ll always have time to re-evaluate a plan after the race, but if you constantly rewrite the plan, you’ll never know what went wrong or right in your training.
Embrace Your Strengths
Some people have the explosive and powerful muscles perfect for shorter races, and others have a mental ability to run for hours and tune out discomfort. We each bring a different set of skills, talents, and strengths to running.
Whenever I find myself in the comparison game, I instead count my running strengths. Personally, my biggest strength is short speed. I’m dedicated when following a training plan, and I’m good at keeping my life, diet, and schedule balanced without being too restrictive or demanding. In addition to helping me become a better runner, embracing these particular strengths helps me find confidence when I’m questioning myself.
Are you a distance fiend, speed demon, or somewhere in between? Are you great at following training plans or getting out the door in the morning? What do you love about running? What are you good at? Focus on these strengths when you need a boost of confidence.
Own Your Weaknesses
Your list of weaknesses will likely be longer and easier to diagnose. We all know our shortcomings.
I consistently crash and burn on tempo runs and interval workouts. (Remember my speed strength? The downfall is I go out way too hard.) When a workout calls for half marathon race pace, I’ve been known to accidentally run 5k pace…and yes, even sometimes faster-than-mile pace. Oops! Interval pacing is clearly my weakness, so I’m addressing it head-on. I now check my pace at shorter intervals to ensure I’m not going out too fast, and instead of beating myself up over mistakes, I forgive myself and adjust the workout as needed.
Awareness of your weaknesses and addressing them helps when you fall into your runner’s dark place. Small goals can help you focus on the process, and seeing improvement is a great motivator.
What are your weaknesses? And how can you set achievable, realistic goals to improve?
Find Your Support Crew
Put down your phone and get outside of your head. When I measure myself against other runners, it’s often because I’m really thinking, “I’m worried that I will fail”—a thought that can fester internally.
Make room for positive thoughts by saying your fears out loud to someone who knows you best. Say them out loud to your partner, and you’ll hear, “I believe in you, and I’m proud of you no matter what.” Say them out loud to a fellow runner, and you’ll hear, “Look at all the miles you’ve logged and workouts you’ve dominated. You’re going to have a great race!”
Take strength from your support crew when you need it. Odds are, they see your potential more than you do.
Run the Mile You Are In
Not only is this a great mantra for mentally tackling a long race or a tempo run that seems never-ending, but it’s helpful when thinking about your running journey as a whole. The runner you are today is not the runner you will be next year, nor are you the runner you were last year. Injuries, age, race training, illness, pregnancy, and life make each season different.
Focusing on future goals and remembering past races can be motivating, but if you find yourself getting too negative with your current running abilities, it’s time to narrow your focus on the here and now. Run the mile you are in, and run it well.
Do What Works for You
Above all, find what works for you. Maybe that Instagram superstar has been racing marathons for 10 years, and you started running 6 months ago. Maybe he has a flexible work schedule that helps him fit in more workouts. Maybe she’s focusing on speedwork before a 5k, while you’re training for a marathon. Maybe his high mileage before a half marathon is groundwork for an upcoming marathon.
Maybe the advice above only works for me, but that’s the point: do what works for you.
I don’t want to run marathons, so it’s useless to compare my mileage and pace to a marathoner. Some runners may #nevermissamonday. I miss every single Monday because it’s always a rest day, but I’ve PRed in almost every race I’ve run over the past few years. It works for me. I’m in the middle of my annual off-season and I just returned from a long international adventure where running was often impossible, so my current stats aren’t particularly boast-worthy. This is me—this year, this season, this week.
It’s easy to look at the mileage, pace—or if we’re honest, abs—of other runners and feel a bit of panic that our own training and abilities aren’t up to par. But in an era of posted running stats and ease of comparison, it’s important to remember that your mileage may vary.
How Do You Combat Comparison?
Comparison is said to be the thief of joy, and can rob you of running happiness. How do you deal with comparison to other runners’ mileage or workouts? How do you boost yourself up when you’re feeling down? Share with us below!