Last Saturday, I ran the East of Ireland Marathons 10k race in Staplestown, Co. Kildare. There were also Half Marathon and Marathon options. The 10k people did one loop, the Half Marathoners did 2 loops and a bit extra, while the Marathoners did 4 loops and a bigger bit extra! This suited me, as it meant there would always be people out on the course, rather than my finding myself alone on country roads. I had heard a lot about East Of Ireland Marathons, as being a friendly bunch of organisers and runners. I wasn’t disappointed. There was a nice bit of banter and good craic at the briefing before the off.
I had decided in advance to pace myself for 7 minute kilometres, knowing that this would bring me in around the 1hour 10 minute mark – should be doable. Well, I seem to have paced myself very nicely, thank you, as I finished in 1 hour 8 minutes and 22 seconds. We had been told to shout out when we came across the finish line so that the organisers would know that we were finishing the 10k and would take note of our finish times. (Other runners would be crossing the line at the same time but would be continuing on to the next lap for the half or full marathon). I was a bit puzzled when I went to the organiser to give my name and he said he already had it – I knew he didn’t know me. Then he gently pointed out that I was last person home on the 10k, so he knew it was me.
So there you have it, I came in last. We all hear people to tell us not to compare ourselves to others, but it can be difficult. There’s no getting away from the fact that everyone there this morning was faster than me. And the vast majority of runners were going much longer distances than me. I heard the comparisons coming into my head, but I just thought “So what?”. I worked my butt off out there to finish. I could have stayed in bed, but what makes me feel better – having a lie-in or finishing a 10k?
Why should I compare myself to other runners? I’m pretty sure they don’t compare themselves with me! Everybody is running their own run, doing their best. None of us know what influences anyone else in their running. We have no idea what burdens another runner is carrying that is making their legs heavy, but they are still getting out there and doing it. And in fairness, I received huge encouragement and support by all of the runners as they ran past me. I didn’t hear anyone say I shouldn’t be there, or that I was too slow.
At a race, it’s kinda ‘in your face’, the position you’re in relative to everyone else. But that’s not the end of it. On facebook, I’ll see great posts from runners who went out for ‘an easy 10k, just to loosen the legs after a marathon at the weekend’, or ‘a nice steady pace, for my easy run. 5k in 24:53’. Or, ‘Just back from injury, my first run in 6 weeks, had to take it handy’ and they’ve completed a 5 miler in 40 minutes. Good for them. That works for them. And they are entitled to be very proud, and to be congratulated for their successes. They too are working hard on their training, getting out on runs every week in all weathers. It will do nothing for me if I allow their success to demoralise me. Their ability does not, in any way, undermine mine. I, too, am entitled to celebrate my successes and be congratulated for my achievements.
So how do I keep positive, if I feel I’m being bombarded with those who are fitter and faster. I look at where I am and compare my current running to where I was before. In comparison to my last 10k, I might not see much difference – I was all of 30 seconds faster this time – a PB, that’s progress. But if I look back to my first 10k, (1 hour 15 minutes last June) I see that I’m a little bit faster. So, over time, I might see some improvements. But where I really see progress, is when I look back at where I was when I first hit my 5k. For over a year, 5k was my longest run. Every week I ran 2.5-3k twice a week, with my 5k ‘long run’ at the weekend. It was a really big deal for me. 5k was massive, and I worked really hard almost every weekend to complete my 5k. I would hear people talking about the 10k, or the half marathon they were training for, and would dismiss such distances as ‘not for me’. So, the fact that I can now run continuously for 10k is a massive improvement.
If I look back even further, I remember that 3 years ago I could not run at all. When I started my own Couch 2 5k plan, that first minute running seemed to last forever – I thought I was going to die! Then, to add insult to injury, the 2 minutes walk was gone in a flash!! I can still see myself puffing and panting, my legs feeling like jelly, and I had only run 1 minute intervals. And I was sooooo slow!! Walkers were passing me out on my running phase!! (In fairness, that still happens – What can I say? Some people are very fast walkers, I’m a slow runner). So nowadays, I compare myself with my pre-running self, and I feel very proud. Every milestone along the way matters. I know how much flippin’ hard work I put in over the past 3 years to get to where I am today. I will keep on keeping on, to maintain my fitness. Whether or not I ‘measure up’ to anyone else’s place is totally irrelevant.
Sometimes, I won’t be working my butt off out there. Maybe there’s just too much else going on in my life, sapping my energy, and preventing me from giving it everything. And that’s ok too. On those days, I just need to run, put one foot in front of the other, and get the run done. In those circumstances, I can still say that I did my best on the day.
I think it’s perfectly natural to want to catch up on the person in front of you, to want to be faster, and to not be the last person home. And these can be powerful motivators to get us to push ourselves. But let’s not get hung up on it. If we don’t manage to catch up, we have to let it go and see all that’s positive. We’re getting out there, doing our best on any given day, putting one foot in front of the other, we’re doing it!
I have a choice: I can compare myself to the other runners and come away from this race thinking “I’m very slow, I came last, I made a show of myself, it’s embarrassing to have everyone running past me and seeing me struggle” OR I can come away thinking “I completed another 10k, I did my best, I got rid of all the ‘stuff’ that was stuck in my head for the past few days, I met some lovely people, (Hi, Orna Cunningham Doyle and Laura Cunningham, lovely to meet you both), I got a medal, I actually got myself a 10k PB!!” I mentioned in my first blog that I usually come in the top 5 in my runs and races, as long as you count from the back of the field. Well, today I came first in this category! And let’s face it, I get better value for my race money! Orna and Laura were able to add to their list of positives, as they came in the top 3 females – well done ladies.
Celebrate every step, be very proud and enjoy the buzz.