Runners and other high-performance athletes share a lot in common with those who drive the wheels of leading companies. They’re passionate, driven and ceaselessly unforgiving hard markers when it comes to evaluating their own performance and progress. Do you ever have private silver medal moments where second place just isn’t good enough for you? The tearful proclamations of failure by some of our swimmers this week while sporting silver or bronze medals shows how easy it is to lose all perspective and forget just how much your failure could be considered ludicrous and outrageous success by normal humans.
So with the Olympics currently dominating our lives it’s perhaps a good time to reflect on how we benchmark our performance as runners. Do we really want to be quite so unforgiving on ourselves that we lose all enjoyment of the pleasurable and rewarding pastime of running? Even if you’re aiming to compete or try and beat your best times in running, it’s a good idea to keep a firm grip on the idea that you are doing this for fun. Small, self administered pats on the back are permitted from time to time.
Can’t see the wood for the trees
Success and failure in running is often only measured against the stopwatch. But there are many more helpful benchmarks that can be used to track progress. Not everyone runs competitively in organised races, but even runners who say they run only for fitness can tend towards overemphasis on comparing the now to past achievements. They might not be competing against other runners, but their running mind is crowded with competition of their own making; every stride dogged by former, fitter, younger, more focused, faster versions of themselves.
External factors like work, family, stress, age, mental state and the weather are rarely considered in this very personal race. Keep in mind that whatever your level there is almost complete futility in trying to directly compare performances past and present.
Relativity needs to be considered
Considering the merits of any given performance on the basis of your preparation; what might look like an average performance to an outsider, could be something of a personal triumph given the circumstances leading up to it. How your latest running race sits and fits with the rest of life’s challenges and complexities can’t be ignored. A personal best you could on the day, if you like.
Enjoyment as a success measure?
Not every running outing is going to end up in a personal best performance. For this reason alone I believe it’s just as important to focus on how much you’re enjoying your running rather than solely thinking about how fast you’re running. If you only run for personal bests there will be many days that end up in bitter disappointment.
This healthier approach to your running is integral to having a good relationship with yourself, other competitors, a coach and training partners. Being outside running some miles pain free in a pleasant environment such as a park or forest is a simple pleasure. Running without pain or injury is a valid benchmark for success; a few months or a year of injury-free running is definitely a win worth savoring. As is the chance to get out and train with people you enjoy spending time with: you run, you talk, and share a special experience each and every time.
Conclusion: objectivity is the key
OK, so we all know that the driven among us tend to succeed in our chosen disciplines – there’s no denying it and I don’t want you to lose that spark or irrepressible energy to push yourself that little bit harder.
But too much of a good thing can quickly become destructive in running so you need to keep those urges under control. One thing to consider is who you’re sharing your running time with. If you’re surrounded by intensely competitive Type As every day at the office, perhaps your running group or training partners should be a bit less hardcore in their outlook?
Try to maintain a sense of objectivity when it comes to evaluating the achievement of your running goals. If you find yourself having multiple bouts of silver medal tears it might be time for a reality check.