Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Dare (not) to Compare

Within our community, our peers, our friends, how much time is spent comparing ourselves to one another?

I always say that its a good thing when life gets in the way of blogging. When life is busy and full, the first things to go are blogging, facebook, email; without a doubt, question or wisp of guilt. I blog when the mood strikes me, when I have a story to tell or recipe that I absolutely must share.

Imagine then if I woke up tomorrow and decided to start blogging absolutely everything I ate, every workout and most of the rest of my life in between. Putting aside completely my motivation for doing such thing, what would you think? As a reader, what would that mean to you? Would you think I am the kind of person you'd like to invite to a dinner party and ask to bring the bake goods and wine suggestions (like Eat Live Run)? Marvel at my ability to train for a marathon, blog all my food for the day, participate in numerous blog related events and activities, and work a full time job (like Meals and Miles)? Or would you find me endearing and relatable, the kind of person you'd consider being friends with (like Healthy Tipping Point)? Or would you merely be fascinated by the number of different ways I can make oatmeal (like KERF)? You may be inspired, enamored, fascinated or curious? You also may be triggered (as in disordered eating/eating disorder), competitive, comparative, pressured or like you don't measure up. There is a infinite spectrum of emotions that may arise for you the reader, if that were the content of my blog (I am choosing not to discuss the writer responsibilities of popular blogs, simply addressing the perspective of the readers and the community as a whole).

There is, in fact, a very large community of these blogs in existence. They have their own community known as "healthy living blogs". Recently there was a Marie Claire article about the "big six" (the four I mentioned above are considered part of the "big six"-a term used by the article but not widely used in the community) and the healthy living blogging community that sparked a firestorm of angry reactions (as well it should it was a horribly written personal attack on these ladies) as well as some acknowledgement of legitimate concerns about the group conscious. The concern seems to be that this community supports unhealthy behaviours such as disordered eating and excessive exercise. I have read most of these ladies blogs and I do not think that they suffer from or encourage these things. In fact, I think they are like most health conscious ladies. That is to say, they try but they are not perfect. They do the best they can to navigate the deep deep sea of information about healthy living and synthesize that into their own lives. They are human, they can be insecure, they can falter, they can make bad choices, like everyone else. They just record every single solitary moment of it. And they have a wide readership that responds to it in the ways I described above. 

And the whole thing got me thinking about what I started this whole post out with:Within our community, our peers, our friends, how much time is spent comparing ourselves to one another? 

It seems like a lot of time and energy is spent on that. Whether it is comparing mileage, racing schedule, workouts, paces, nutrition, body weight, etc it appears to be an ingrained part of the running community. And for the most part I think this is not done in the open. We look at what our peers are doing and say to ourselves, well maybe they have it right, I should be doing that. We run 10 miles because our training partner did, we wait at the dining table to see what others order after a nice long group run to see what others order. There is all sorts of weird maneuvering and thought process that seems to go on. Instead of just being. Instead of just responding to our individual needs, wants and desires, we are responding to what we think we should be doing. I don't like it, but know how easily it is to fall into it. Recently I have had a few moments where I was doing a lot of comparing myself because of comments made by others or because of the fact that I haven't finished a race since Miwok. I caught myself and pulled myself up short, who cares what anyone else is doing, it's got nothing to do with me, it's no reflection on me and it is a freaking ridiculous unfounded thought process!

Unlike the healthy living blogging community, there is no forum where the ultrarunning community comes together and discusses things like this. We don't hold meetings or address community conscious. We don't even do it on a small scale. We just don't even talk about it. We don't talk about triggering behaviour, we don't talk about insecurities or stupidities. While running is a competitive sport and thus we want to be doing whatever we can to do our personal best, it also seems to be a very comparative sport. I honestly think it should be more of a collaborative sport. We should be allies in one another successes, we should be advocates for their health, safety and sanity. We should inspire and encourage and lift one another up. We should simplify and try and remember that running is suppose to be fun, healthy and make us happy (even when its challenging us).

This past week especially, instead of my running being complicated, comparative, competitive or anything like that, it has just been simple and beautiful and fun and made me very happy. I think it should be that way. Just like life.

“Winners compare their achievements with their goals, while losers compare their achievements with those of other people”- Nido Qubein


  1. Hey Devon, thanks for the blog post. I know as a newbie to the sport of ultrarunning, I find myself reading the blogs of the "elite" athletes in the community to gain inspiration, encouragement and ideas. Will I ever "compete" in a race? Hard to say, it depends on the consciousness in competing. I compete against myself because this is a personal journey and I want to improve against myself. Compete in the regular sense of the word?? Not anytime soon but slowly but surely make my way up the finishing order and just enjoy the fact that a new challenge has been completed.

  2. Bill Bowerman said, on running, to treat yourself as an experiment of one, rather than slavishly copy others.Try new workouts and methods often, discard and keep thoise that work for you. Truly words to live by.

  3. Competitive Camaraderie is a rare commodity but when you find it I feel it should be nourished. People compare and copy it's simply part of the growth process if it comes from the right frame of mind it's powerful. I am often inspired to try new things by reading the ideas of someone I respect. The beauty of ultra running is exactly what you described. The distance, the elements, the mental state of the runner are so much part of the success on any given day it makes it almost impossible to compare times. Often times very fast talented ultra runners use events as training or a time to be social so comparing is a fairly useless exercise. However it will continue and we all will have our doubts but being authentic with yourself on where you are and why pretty much nips mindless brain chatter. As for picking my reads I choose to read blogs and advice that is real! Life is big and if someone continues to write about how perfect training and life is frankly I get bored and uninspired and don't continue to read. I know better than to buy into that as anything I want to be. I want to have a full life and to do so means there are challenges mixed in.

  4. Rooster you are spot on. I have loved finding a group of runners with the "competitive camaraderie" and it definitely is a rare and beautiful commodity.

    There is room for healthy competition, there is a positive benefit to shared knowledge. For each and every person there is a vital tipping point over to the shadow side and I think it is important for everyone to be aware of theirs.

  5. I can't imagine how deeply disturbingly delusional I would have to be to compare myself to you or Rhonda or any other ultrarunner. I find the ultrarunning community to be cool because people like you and Rhonda deign to include me in their community, despite my complete insignificance to the sport and despite my back-of-packness. I love seeing what others are up to and reading about their journey -- it inspires me and motivates me. There is one blog I started reading as the result of an unhealthy fascination but it has developed into a healthy blog relationship. I have made some good real-life friends as a result (direct or indirect) of social networking and don't find my interactions to be unhealthy.

    I appreciate that you're selective in your blogging. I should be more selective myself but when I don't post anything I get emails from my family!

  6. I think comparing ourselves to others happens mostly at the beginning of any endevour we start. Then - it's important, and even often unhealthy (in terms of envy and trying to "like them"). As we develop our own relationship with whatever it is, comparing becomes un-essential, yet, like Ronda said, we tend to look up at those others for advice and change of "pace". We also realize that none of us is alike or can repeat what had been done by others. It comes with experience. Aging helps:)

  7. Comparing doesn't necessarily mean copying. I often read posts about training or food and think how dumb something sounds, and choose to do just the opposite (not your posts of course! though I could never hope to copy your training). For example, I don't buy into the "replace carbs ASAP after training" belief that so many espouse. Still, trying something out isn't necessarily bad either, as long as you try to see objectively whether it works for you.

    Humans (especially women) are concensus builders, and we want agreement. If you choose to disagree and be different, you have to be strong enough in your own identity to withstand not being in harmony with the community. That exercise is harder for some than others. I think that we each have to find our own way, which may include some emulating behaviors or may not, hopefully with lessons learned without any real damage done.

  8. I'm pretty sure I'm taller than you in that picture! Booya, however, yes, I know your slightly leaning over...whatever...

    I have had my share of comparing or being afraid of other people at the start line because I know they are faster than me or skinnier than me or whatever. Sometimes I beat em' sometimes I don't. I found before western, I was getting way to caught up in it (weight, right amount of training) and I got to the tipping point of why the hell I got into running in the first place. I took a few months off racing post western to just get back to me and just run for the fun of it without the need to be out there for hours because that's what I always do. I tried other sports. It was awesome and I finally feel like I'm ready to start training again. Life is good.

  9. Dr. C- I totally agree with you. I think there should be a way of sharing, community building and information sharing that goes about comparing/competitiveness.

    Nicola, thanks for sharing your experience. And yes, you are taller than me in that picture, how tall are you really? I am there with you about comparing oneself via weight and training, it is hard thing to avoid. I am glad you are finally feeling back to you. That is great.

  10. The comparison is out of control. And I think there's a lot of fakeness out there in an attempt to appear better than others. Its sad.

  11. I'm a Williams student, and someone on my team recently sent your blog out to our cross country listserv. You have a great, relevant perspective. Here's an editorial I recently wrote for our school newspaper that discusses similar issues: http://celeste-berg.blogspot.com/2012/02/my-op-ed-for-williams-record-282012.html
    Also, check out my full blog at celeste-berg.blogspot.com


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