Thursday, January 28, 2016

On Making Comparisons: Your Mileage May Vary

This post was originally featured on Salty Running.

This week, I posted my first training log with a little bit of hesitation. You might look at my training and think it’s a lot. But sadly, I look at it and think it doesn’t compare to what my peers are doing.

It's the Internet's fault. I’ll be scrolling through other runners’ Twitter, Instagram, or blogs and suddenly come across posts/photos/workouts that make me feel really bad about myself. How can So-and-so run those workouts? That many miles each week? That fast?

I don’t mean superstars like Shalane and Desi. Obviously I can’t do what they do, so I look at their posts with pure admiration. But I mean the women I’m supposedly close in ability to, other Trials qualifiers with marathon PRs similar to mine. They all seem to be logging much higher mileage, running more workouts, doing more pull-ups (I can do exactly zero pull-ups), just absolutely crushing it day after day after day. It’s hard for me to look at the mileage and workouts others do and not feel totally inadequate.

It only matters what I do and what I've done
when I'm on the race course.
For years, I thought there was no way I—or anyone—could qualify for the Trials on less than 90-mile weeks. In general, the more you run, the faster you’ll be. To me, 90 seemed like the magic number everyone else was hitting. It’s not the 100-plus weeks that the professionals do (although some of my non-pro peers do over 100 as well) but it was the next tier down. The tier I assumed I’d need to be at to get to the Trials. I told myself I wouldn’t make it on my “measly” 70-mile weeks.

So I kept gently bumping up the mileage. And ended up burnt out, feeling flat, or, worst of all, hurt. I am not an “in general” case; I’m not faster on more miles, I’m broken. When I went back to focusing on nailing the hard workouts and taking it easier on the others, I ran better. I did qualify on 70-mile weeks.

Any good coach will tell you that you need to individualize your training to what works for you. But that’s easier said than done, especially for the uber-competitive types. I often feel like my training is so inadequate it’s embarrassing. I’ve never hit 90 for a single week. I still take a day off every week. When this somehow comes up when talking to other qualifiers, my admission of a day off is met with silence that I feel acutely. A day off? Every week?? I jump in to explain myself, “Yeah, I know it’s nuts ... hahaha ... but I’m just coming back from injury…”

In my head, I start making excuses: if only I had all the luxuries that pro-runners have, maybe then I could do it. But my teammates, all non-professional runners with seriously time-consuming day jobs, can do back-to-back long runs and I just can’t. We debate the Saturday verse Sunday long run; I always pull for Sunday because I need to take Saturday off, after a long-ish run Friday. I feel like an overprotected child that isn’t allowed to cross the street. Oh sorry, Mommy says I can’t do that because I might get hurt.

But why do I need to make excuses? And why am I so embarrassed by what I need to do to stay healthy? Fixating on these things devolves into thinking I’m not good enough or I can’t be at this level. Obviously there’s a lot of insecurity here (clearly these girls are going to kick my butt on Feb. 13!!) and a hefty dose of jealousy (why can’t I run that much??). I tried to explain these insecurities to my husband and he didn’t get it. Because, obviously, it shouldn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. I am at this level aren’t I? I may run less, but I still made it. And do my teammates really care or think I’m a baby? No. Is the silence following my day off admission all in my head? Probably.
Years ago, psyched for my first 80-mile week.
It seems obvious, but sometimes we get so caught up in comparing ourselves to others, being wowed by what they can do, that we forget to be proud of what we can do. Seventy-mile weeks was not something I would have dreamed possible years ago, and now I’m complaining about it? Really? I’ve come so far as a runner, and I’ve learned along the way what works and what doesn’t work for me. Knowing my limits is an asset, one that will hopefully carry me to the Olympic Trials starting line injury-free. Comparing myself to others serves no purpose but to make me feel bad about myself. And running is such a mental sport, getting down on myself will only hurt me. So I’m trying—really trying—not to do it.

And I urge you not to do it either. Stop comparing; stop feeling like less of a runner because of what someone else is doing. Your mileage may vary, and you have to do what works for you. Not what works “in general,” but what works for your body, your schedule, and your personality.

If you run ten-mile or 100-mile weeks, go three days a week or every day for three weeks, great. If you like strength training or hate it, like running in the cold or prefer the treadmill, enjoy double days or would rather just shower once (an under-appreciated perk of single days!), that’s fine. Don’t let what you read make you feel bad about what you’re doing. There will always be people doing more and other people doing less. But if you find what works for you, and stick to that, you’ll get a lot farther than if you try to force yourself into someone else’s training plan. Do your own thing and be proud of where it takes you.

Do your own thing... and be proud of it.
Dream big, 


  1. Chris Clark, complete surprise winner of the 2000 Olympic Marathon Trials, won in 2:33, shaving 7 minutes off her PR - famously off "only" 60-70 miles per week, with a day off, and most of her training on the treadmill (she's from Anchorage, AK). She was 37, worked part time as a physician as well, with two young children. She went on to PR in the Olympics as well. So...if there's every any question, there's that!

    Get inspired, girlfriend!

  3. I read this on Salty Running and loved it. Your blog always inspires me and I think it's good to know that you can achieve success with hard work but also balance. I too know runners and athletes who never take a day off, but like you, I do take one day of rest each week (Honestly, I'm pretty active on that day- running errands, doing household and yard chores, etc- I still walk a lot!).

    This is an individual sport and you have found what works for you. With all the time you've dropped, I say don't change anything- you are obviously doing something right!

    Can't wait to watch you in the trials!

  4. Teal, read about your blog in the recent article , "10 Locals…" Love reading your thoughts and observations here, thanks for taking the time to share. We will be cheering for you from Florida and wish you all the best on Feb 13 -- run that dream! Sue and Lee Allen (Kerry's parents)

    1. Thanks for reading!! Kerry has been such an amazing help to me this season (and every season!) :)

  5. Don't feel inadequate! An equally plausible alternative conclusion is that you are just as good of a runner while having to run less mileage to get there! That is impressive! I know you said you can't bump up to more mileage- but have you considered doing some more strength training or cross training to get in more workouts without pounding your legs? Just a thought!

    1. Haha, I guess so. Although I love running so much, I do seriously wish I could do more. I did up the strength training and did a little extra cross training this season, we'll see what happens!