Keep my sister's accomplishments from running over mine
April 1, 2012 6:24 PM   Subscribe

How do I stop diminishing my (fitness/athletic) accomplishments when hearing about friends' and family's accomplishments?

I started with couch to 5k in October, though later found that I run faster and better with interval training. I still can't run for more than 15 minutes straight. My goal for 2012 has been "12 races in 2012." My 10 year older sister and I are independently training for a half marathon in May and just the other week I did my first 10k (finished in 1:18:45 or a 12:40 pace). Apart from her, I think I would be very proud of this. In fact I was glowing after the race, knowing that I had smashed my goal of finishing in less than 1:30:00. She is very supportive and happy for me, but I can't hold these feelings back.

When I hear how well she's doing and that she runs so much faster than me (10:30 min/mile) I can't help but get jealous and frustrated. Part of this is that I feel she kind of stole my thunder, as I had been planning on the 10k as my big goal and then she invited me to do the half with her. Part is the frustration that she is 11 years older (34), has a 3 year old, does lots of yoga before but not much running and she's still way faster than me.

I would like to just chalk this all up to sibling rivalry, but the same emotions crop up when I realize that my slightly overweight, mostly couch potato boyfriend can also knock out a faster mile than me. Or my friend who is 5 years older and was a heavy smoker smoke my butt on the track.

TL:DR How do I stay focused and happy with my goal of finishing a half marathon in 2h45min when I see people who put "less" effort in than myself do better?
posted by raccoon409 to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I would never have started really running if I hadn't joined up with a class of other beginners. I initially tried to run with my husband, and he did everything right as far as being supportive, but I had the same feelings that you describe, because he was just better. I really liked running with others at my level because I never felt like I was holding anyone up, and sometimes, I got to be faster than somebody! So I would recommend finding some other people who are your level. Maybe at the Y? Our Y lets people come to their (informal) runs even if they're not members. If there's a fleet feet, or similar store, they also might do something like this. And I see people looking for "12-min milers" too on Craigslist.

BTW, after a while, I was ok running with my husband (sometimes -- I still do prefer running with my 'crowd') -- we usually do a few 5Ks together per year, but he goes off with the 8 min'ers and I stay with the 12 min crowd. I would rather run alone than feel like I'm holding him up or push myself to keep up with him. Everybody just gets a T-shirt at the end, right? so it doesn't matter how fast we're going.....
posted by Tandem Affinity at 6:40 PM on April 1, 2012

I guess I didn't answer your 'real' question, but I guess my answer is that maybe there isn't a way.. so get the thing that is distracting you and bringing you down off your mind while you run -- don't run with faster people!
posted by Tandem Affinity at 6:41 PM on April 1, 2012

There's always going to be someone faster or stronger or better. But we're not competing on a level playing field. Some people are genetically better at [insert athletic pursuit], some people have the benefit of years of experience and practice. You can only really judge yourself against your own performance.

If it makes you feel any better, all those people that are doing better than you? They're similarly frustrated by someone who is doing better than them.
posted by ghharr at 6:45 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Stick with it. Remember that you're doing something awesome for yourself, and with every run you are getting better and better. It took me years to get over the same feelings that you have, since I am just NOT athletic, and even though I try SO hard, I am still worse than a lot of my friends. Now, I am just so freakin' proud of everything that I can do. So, I don't have any advice other than to say stick with it, and it can take a long long time.
posted by at 6:56 PM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Are you doing this because you want to, or because you want the accolades for having done it?
posted by gjc at 7:00 PM on April 1, 2012

Age means little - the fastest guy in my club for many years was in his mid and late 50's - he was doing sub 35 minutes for 10kms.

He's still doing roughly the same pace into his early 60's - the only reason why he's not the fastest any more is that we got a few new members who can beat him.
posted by trialex at 7:02 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

My brother and I are both runners and always have been, but he's definitely the athlete of the two of us. He will always be faster than I am and he'll never have to work for it at all — and I know a lot of people just like him. I take pride in the fact that I keep running, and choose to see myself as the persistent one who sticks with something to achieve a goal. I think there's a lot to admire about that.
posted by adiabat at 7:15 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't worry about comparing yourself to others. The only person you need to compete with is yourself.

Try to characterise your sister's achievements as inspiration material, rather than envy material.

If it makes you feel any better, you could kick my arse up and down the street, any day of the week.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:19 PM on April 1, 2012

Become the faster/longer-running person. Take it at a goal you have to beat, but understand that just being out there is, like, 99% of the accomplishment both in terms of health and in terms of will.
posted by cmoj at 8:25 PM on April 1, 2012

I would like to just chalk this all up to sibling rivalry, but the same emotions crop up when I realize that my slightly overweight, mostly couch potato boyfriend can also knock out a faster mile than me

I just want to say if you are a woman, *especially* don't worry about this. Men have a major physiological advantage. I remember being a freshman in college having run competitively for the past 4 years, when one day I convinced my video-game-glued, junk-food-eating, non-exercising 14 year old brother to come jogging with me. It was the first time he had ever jogged and he smoked my ass. It's not unusual.
posted by cairdeas at 8:47 PM on April 1, 2012

I think it's important to figure out, really, what your goal is. And then remind yourself, really, what your goal is when the feelings crop up. Is your goal to finish a 10k? Then congrats on achieving your goal and skip the half. Is your goal to finish a half? Then finish the half and who cares if your sister has packed up and gone home by the time you hit mile 8. Is your goal to beat your sister? Then train hard, for a long time, and beat her. (Personally I feel like it can be disappointing to set goals you don't have entire control over yourself, like competing against someone else, but some people dig it. YMMV.)

Point is, decide what you're trying to do and then do whatever you can to achieve that goal — and forget everything else.

I set a goal to finish a marathon, within the course time limit. I wound up finishing about 10 minutes before the course closed, and last or second to last in my age group. Probably pretty close to last overall.

But my goal was to finish, and I achieved my goal.

I could look at the results and be embarrassed at all of the older (much older) people who finished faster (much faster) than me. Or the fact that the water stations were closing up on the last few miles, with only a table or two left open for us stragglers.

But I. Finished. a Marathon. I got a medal. I did it. I set a goal, worked hard and didn't give up the approximately 1 million times that I wanted to during training and the race. I have a couple friends who also run, and who have also run marathons, and who have smoked me. Sure, it'd be awesome if I could beat their time someday, but I did what I set out to do. I finished. I finished and probably tens or a hundred people who started didn't finish. Most people never started. Anyone who knew me 10 years ago would have laughed in my face if I'd said I was going to run a marathon. But I did.


Also, the first half-marathon, a year before the marathon, I ran along with my boss. I'm a man, she's a woman. There's also a (significantly) greater age gap between her and me than between you and your sister. But she's in fantastic shape and it was my first half. I started in a corral ahead of her based on my training. I saw her on an out-and-back part of the course, around mile 10 (I was ahead, coming back toward the finish, she was still heading out. I waved.). She blew by me at mile 11 or so, and I never saw her again until the meet-up area after the finish line.

Same deal applies. Was it discouraging that my boss beat me? Not really, because I wasn't racing against my boss. I wanted to finish. I did. I won.
posted by brentajones at 9:40 PM on April 1, 2012

Always, always, always try to fall back to the idea that you are competing against yourself, not other people.

I mean, if you can beat the other guy, great. But if not, you're still great! Just be a better you, and find happiness and comfort in that struggle. Trying and succeeding is victory. Trying and failing is also victory. Only not trying to do something that you care about is shameful.

You will never be the best at running, whatever the distance might be. Like, never. Not to be a downer, but you (and I) will probably never be the best in anything. Not one single fucking thing.

But we can do better than what we did the last time. And that story of personal growth and discovery is a very positive, warm and fuzzy and awesome narrative to have and hold onto.

You can't change the reality: other people will finish the race before you do. All you can change is the story you tell yourself about the reality. Are you awesome because you worked hard and improved yourself, or are you a failure because someone else ran an eight minute mile? Absolutely no one else can answer that question but you, and whichever story you decide to internalize, you'll be right. It's the nature of the beast.

Good luck!
posted by jsturgill at 10:55 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Not really in reply to your question, but if you can finish 12 races in 12 months, by next year at this time you will be a million times healthier and I'm guessing you won't care if someone is faster than you.
posted by katinka-katinka at 6:09 AM on April 2, 2012

I have a similar experience with pottery; it doesn't come naturally to me but I pay attention to the teacher and show up every week and enjoy it. A while ago, I watched a brand new student come to her first lesson and pull an amazing pot (something that I've never consistently achieved - or possibly never achieved, depending on your definiton of amazing).

I had my moment of "WOW" jealousy and frustration, as you are experiencing, but then I realized that her brilliance and natural talent didn't really change my situation. I didn't stop liking pottery because she was better and I was still sitting at my wheel with a lump of clay, so thought I'd better get on with it.

Your situation is more difficult because it's your sister, which stirs up all kinds of touchy sibling history that I didn't have to cope with, but I think the principles are the same. And I think the real question is, would you stop running if you knew you'd never be better than any of your peers? I hope the answer is "no" because you needn't stop reaping the benefits of running because you aren't the best or the most gifted.
posted by cranberrymonger at 6:49 AM on April 2, 2012

One of my own biggest weaknesses is comparing myself and my work to others, so I understand how deeply it can suck all the joy and accomplishment out of what you're doing. There are two things I use to remind myself:

"Comparison is a thief of joy."

"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. ... No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others." --Martha Graham

That bolded bit is actually on my chalkboard right now, because I found myself really needing it last week.

You are the only one who can do what you do, and getting out there to run at all is so big, there are people who want to and will never do that. Don't downplay that. You're doing something awesome for yourself. Let yourself enjoy it.
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:22 AM on April 2, 2012 [8 favorites]

I try very hard to compare myself to my Younger self. So I did a (not very fast) sprint tri last summer, and considering how overweight and out of shape I've been in this life, that was Amazing. This summer I want to beat my last summer's time.

Maybe it's coming from a relationship where my brother's always been skinny and fast, but I would never compare myself to him. He's just born with a different body. And now that we're grown-ups he's really nice about occasionally going for a slow run with me or otherwise encouraging me - maybe ask your sister to be as encouraging as possible? But mostly, compare yourself to your (even one month) younger self, and try to beat her.
posted by ldthomps at 8:10 AM on April 2, 2012

My nephew does Little Athletics in Australia (i don't know if they have it in the US) the kids don't race against each other they race against their own times. They win awards for beating their PB's and my nephew has a ball. He does not get jealous of his friends running faster than him he gets super excited as they both beat their PB's.

Maybe try to think of it like that, think of it as " Oh that's a great run sis we both beat our PB's we both are amazing and high fives all around". Restate in your head the terms of the competition and remember if you focus on your PB's and how you are doing everyone can win.

Focus on what you do and how you are doing and let the other people worry about their times. I know it's easier said than done when some people do things easier/better than you but keep trying to refocus on what you are doing and how you are doing. If you feel yourself slipping into a jealous headspace try to pull your focus back on what is important, that you have gotten off the couch and are running and it feels amazing and that you are getting better each time.

If you focus on the jealousy you will give it power, and it might be the thing that ends up talking you out of doing your runs if you get into a whole "Why should I bother I'll never be as good as so and so." mindset. Make jokes about it with the people involved, compliment them on their times, be happy for them (even if you have to fake it until you make it) remove the power from the jealousy and it won't hurt as much if they do beat you.
posted by wwax at 8:17 AM on April 2, 2012

Some people have genetic advantages that make them great runners.

Some people have genetic traits that make them overheat easily or have trouble building up muscle.

Some people have recently recovered from injuries and illnesses.

Some people have the kind of lifestyle that allows them to train for really long runs.

Some people have the kind of lifestyle that allows them to train with short runs, but can do them every single day.

Some people have running buddies that they enjoy and who keep them motivated and encourage them to improve their pace.

Some people really really enjoy running alone.

Some people have asthma that troubles them.

Some people with asthma have Albuterol inhalers that are basically a performance-enhancing drug.

Some people are really stressed about work.

Some people have worries about their families.

Some people have a tiny rock in their shoe, right under the ball of their left toe, and are constantly debating whether it's worth it to stop and get it out.

Some people are wishing they wore a different pair of shorts, because these are riding up funny, though they've never done that before.

Lots and lots of people fall into multiple categories above.

Sports aren't fair. We try to create an illusion of fairness by having everybody start at the same time and run the same course, but every runner is different and is struggling with different difficulties and leveraging different strengths.

If people ask me if I run, I say that I run short distances, slowly. And that's okay, because it's better for my health (mental and physical) than being a person who sits on the couch. If I seriously compared myself with anyone else I'd give up. If I beat the walkers in the 5K fun walk/runs that I do, I'm happy. And you did a half marathon! You go! That is awesome!
posted by BrashTech at 9:59 AM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thank you everyone for your fantastic input. I marked a few best answers that spoke to be more than others, though all are great. These are things I that I have mostly been telling myself, but it's great to have them written out in much more eloquent ways. I'll still check back in if there are others who have something to add. Thank you all so much!
posted by raccoon409 at 3:05 PM on April 2, 2012

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