Runners-to-Runners is not Apples-to-Apples

A common reasoning goes something like this:
Everyone is created equal.
Everyone can do anything they put their minds to.
If Jane trains 100 miles a week and runs a 3-hour marathon…
Then if I train 100 miles per week I will run a 3-hour marathon.

This and variations on this reasoning are based on myths. Though for social purposes we might say everyone is created equal it most certainly is anything but the truth in physical or even mental capacities. Come on think about it – not everyone is Olympic caliber and not everyone is a genius. It is equally in err to say that people can do anything they put their minds to. If falsely implies that it’s “all in your head” and that if you don’t achieve something you simply are not trying. Because of course if you were REALLY putting your mind to it – and just tried harder – it would be yours.

That leads us to the false yet ever so common comparison athletes do the one of “Joe or Jane Runner” to me. You are not Joe or Jane –physically or mentally!

So everyone clearly is NOT created equal. What runners do is use filtered and selective information in order to “make things equal”. But when we compare ourselves to other runners with all the built in assumptions and conditions it leads us to errant comparisons.

For one thing Joe and Jane may have been running longer or training smarter. If we stop there then of course the reasoning continues, “if I just trained exactly like Joe and Jane I would be just as good”. If only it were that easy.

It’s possible that Joe and Jane have genetics that allow them to run those miles consistently without injury and you don’t; or their toleration for pain and discomfort is higher than yours; or their diet is well controlled, or they take better care of their hydration or other health factors are at play.

There is simply no such thing as an apples-to-apples comparison when it comes to runners and running performances. Look at it this way. If in fact this Apples-to-Apples Belief were factual then everyone in the world – who really wanted to – could simply follow the same training program and live the same lifestyle as the world record holder in the marathon and become the world record holder in the marathon.

These types of social comparisons are dangerous. They erode our self-confidence, diminish our own accomplishments, create doubts about our capabilities, minimize the progress we have made personally and puts your focus on something you do not control – someone else.

And for parents and coaches with youth runners who make such comparisons (“If Jane can do it so can you.” “You could be as good as Joe if you really wanted to.”) you are sending another very negative message. You are sending the message that they are not good enough. In my work with youth athletes the common refrain is that it is demotivating, demeaning and puts a lot of stress while straining some peer relations at the same time. This type of “negative” motivation rarely if ever works. Stop comparing!

The fix is to refocus on you, your goals, your progress, improving or being the best YOU that you can be. In the case of a youth athlete – coaches and parents should focus on and have the youth focus on themselves.

You need specific achievable goals with manageable objectives paving the way. If you don’t have these you need to create them! You need to turn your attention to what is within your control today – right now – to improve your performance.

Besides, when you focus on being YOUR best, you never know when that in fact is faster yet than the Joes or Janes of the world.


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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