Comparison – A Double-Edged Sword of Reliability – 8/29/12

Coach: “How did your race/workout go?”

Athlete: “I did okay, 10 seconds faster than I did at this race last year.” Or alternatively, “This was a terrible workout. Half of the team got through it in better splits than me.”

At one point or another in our career all of us have made comparisons with our running. We compare ourselves to other runners, whether they are professionals, teammates, rivals or siblings. The other party we compare ourselves to is ourselves. We make comparisons based on weekly miles, workouts, races and results. When looking at the right numbers, comparing can give us peace of mind and high amounts of confidence. But conversely, obsessing over the numbers and results can eat away at our minds, causing us to second-guess ourselves and lose confidence in our training and future races. In this post I am going to explain the pros and cons of comparing ourselves to others and ourselves.

Comparing to Others:

In the early stages of my career I have been compared to my brother. It started out nice because at the year when I started running, he was deep into basketball so in a sense I was ahead of him. But when we both ran the 800m, both myself and other people that I knew reminded me of his times, the workouts he was running, and the races he won. But in both time and place, I never quite amounted to the stats that he achieved. It turns out that I am more suitable for longer distances because our cross country times are very far apart. I admit, this is a no-brainer of an example, but the point I am trying to get across is that everyone is different. People respond to miles, speed, stretching, recovery, and everything else all different from the next person. There are probably high school runners out there that run faster on easy days than some elites. The difference is that elites are so experienced that they know the right amount of effort to put forth each day.

Comparing to others is like comparing apples to oranges.

Some positive results can occur by comparing yourself to others. If you happen to have access to a running log or workouts of a fellow competitor and if you have been running better times then this could provide a psychological edge on race day. Knowing that you have been out-performing someone day in and day out will surely give you peace of mind for a race. Sometimes it also works out when you mimic the career of a parent or sibling. You have complete access to their training, including more details like their nutrition and psychological tendencies to relate to. A lot of valuable information can be extracted from others if you know where and when to look.

Comparing to oneself:

Some people are 100% sold on the idea that race and workout times from year to year will assure a runner of improvement or regression. Some will even say that this will work on a month to month basis. My words to these statements are simply “proceed with caution.” My point is that comparing one arbitrary day (current workout) to another arbitrary day (same workout 1-2 years ago) can provide a false sense of security or depression. Just how the lives of two random runners are much different, your own life can vary greatly from year to year. One year you could be in your final semester in college on cruise control with nothing but running on your plate at sea level to working 60 hours a week plus commute on a job in high altitude. From two separate time periods, one must consider mileage, nutrition, climate and many other factors to be able to come to a reasonable conclusion. All of this combined can yield vast results with respect to two “similar” workouts.

I don’t intend to be completely negative about looking up past results. They are still a great tool and I a firm believer that no matter how you perform you are (for the most part) going to improve every time you run. Sometimes people simply get carried away with short-term results.

The moral of the story is to be aware of everything that happened in the past, but not to take it as gospel. Find the positives in the good results, and try to learn from the bad. Don’t let short-term results get you down and keep your head held high. If you keep your head down, you may┬ámiss the turn toward your next breakout race.

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