It’s very hard in the beginning to understand that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners. Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit.

George Sheehan

I hate the way my brain works at times. Well, most of the time to be honest.

Take running. I’m always looking at what others are doing and wondering why I can’t do that.

If someone I know, or even don’t but have some kind of connection to – via social media, for example – runs a sub-25 or sub-20 5k, or a sub-2 hour half marathon, my immediate reaction is to despise them for being faster than me. And then question myself about what I’m doing to get to that spot.

And it doesn’t matter how much faster I get – setting a sub-28 minute 5k Parkrun PB on Saturday, besting my previous course PB at that particular course by over one minute, wasn’t good enough once I found out that someone I used to call a friend but who I fell out with some years ago ran a 31-plus minute 5k at that same parkrun on that same weekend.

This is completely despite the fact that I was well over 3 minutes faster over the course.

Because the way my mind was thinking, they aren’t a ‘runner’, they were there to support their child. They didn’t have great shoes on, and were wearing jorts, for fuck’s sake (shorts made out of denim, for anyone wondering) – hardly the apparel for the dedicated runner!

Which is precisely why I was pissed about it. Imagine if they put in the effort. Imagine if they trained a few times a week, bought semi-decent footwear and got some decent running apparel. That three minute buffer would surely be written off and quickly.

And I am the runner – it’s a complete part of my identity. I’ve invested God knows how much money and time into my running. I’ve had the magazine subscriptions. I’ve read all the books, and even gotten the qualifications to coach, and they’re still going to end up faster than me.

This whole idea that I’m racing against myself and that’s all is all fine, until I know someone who’s also running.

Call it a long-form version of imposter syndrome. I talk about running all the time, and ‘promote’ myself and my running, and have let it become my identity. And at the same time, I beat myself up over times and race results and how I let the little voice in my head win more often than not. I’m not a real runner, I can’t be a real runner whilst I’m buried in the back half of the mid-pack.

Today I watched a YouTuber complete a half marathon at sub-2 hours and immediately thought I should be doing that. Now, my 5k pace would enable me to do that, but I also have to be a tad real here and say that my current half marathon PB is some 2:21-ish, so I’d be looking to remove 21-something minutes to set a sub-2 hour PB.

Possible? Yes. Likely? Doubt it. But that doesn’t stop this head of mine from instantly comparing myself, unfavourably, to everyone else who I see as better than me.

It’s insane; call it a form of madness. But it comes from a long trend of not being comfortable in my own skin – whether that be superficial looks, my body composition and weight, my running times – it’s all linked into an overtly negative view of myself, laced with goofishly positive thoughts about where my ‘ability’ should take me.

So the question then becomes: how do I fix this? In the end I feel constrained by my thoughts, which then feeds itself into race day efforts and ultimately results. So in one sense the first thing I need to do is to broaden my positivity and suffocate the negativity.

Which is easier said than done. One thing is for certain – this trail is long, crooked and twisted, and the end is not going to be clear at times. But it’s the one I’m on.

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