Mark Armstrong: Why it's okay to compare yourself to others

Mark Armstrong out on a training run. Picture: Alison Armstrong

Mark Armstrong out on a training run. Picture: Alison Armstrong - Credit: Archant

One of the first pieces of advice you are told as a runner is to ‘never compare yourself to others’. 

It’s good advice, but it’s also unrealistic. 

It’s human nature to compare yourself to others in everything we do, to a greater or lesser extent. 

Growing up, I always wanted to be the best at everything – primarily football in the formative years of my life. However, as you grow up and your world gets bigger you realise this isn’t going to be possible. 

Of course, it’s part of maturing and accepting that there is very likely to be someone better than you at anything and everything. It’s how you respond to that which defines the journey into adulthood. 

Running is no different.  

When I started running it was initially in my nature to hare after anyone that had the audacity to overtake me at a parkrun for instance... it’s almost embarrassing to look back at now. 

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I soon realised that if I was going to get any enjoyment out of running then I had to let this go – there are A LOT of people faster and fitter than me... and that’s okay. 

I’ve since readjusted my goals to being the best that I can be – something within my control and a lot more realistic. 

Do I still compare myself to others? Of course I do to some degree – and I think anyone that says otherwise isn’t telling you the truth. 

But you can use others to inspire you on to becoming a better runner in whatever form that takes. If you’re undecided on whether you’re going for a run that day then sometimes just the mere fact someone else has managed to get out the door will make you do the same. 

I gain so much from following other runners on Strava and can keep a level of accountability. But it can also go the other way – everyone is on their own separate running journey and just because your friend has smashed out a 5K PB it doesn’t mean that you then have to give it a try. 

It is also an excellent way to log your miles but you can definitely let yourself go down a bit of a rabbit warren. 

As you scroll through people’s runs you will suddenly see someone’s average pace that will make you sit up and take notice...  

Then of course there are the Strava segments – here’s where things can get really interesting.  

I’ve never sought out a segment in my local area but I’ve been fortunate enough to have a few ‘crowns’ whereby I’ve run the fastest time on a route – normally on one of the lung-busting interval sessions that Neil has set me. 

When you get that email through from Strava that someone has taken your crown, initially, it gets your back up... then I realise there are far more important things to concern myself with! 

It made me laugh this week when I saw a post of someone jokingly complain that Wymondham AC member Juliette Watkinson (and reigning Sportlink GP winner) has just moved to a different area and taken all the Strava crowns within a week! 

It can be quite good fun... my wife, Alison, went after a Strava segment when we were on holiday in what feels like a lifetime ago. I pipped her only to then realise that I had run the segment in the wrong direction so it didn’t count and she took the crown! I still made her buy the ice creams in the afternoon. 

So compare yourself to others as much as you like, but don’t let it define your running. 

We’re all on our own separate paths – some are faster or longer than others – it doesn’t make them any less worthy.