There’s no better feeling than that moment during a run when everything just clicks—you’re in the zone, running at a speed that feels both light and powerful. You feel invincible, completely absorbed in your potential.
And there’s no quicker way to lose that feeling than to compare yourself to others and let the nagging thoughts creep in: I’m not as fit as he is. Why can’t I run as far as her? I’m so slow, I shouldn’t even call this running.
Instantly, your run morphs from an outlet that was once joyful and unscripted, to a tedious chore with a storyline you didn’t write. See, the running and fitness industries often sell a particular story that, like most narratives, has a beginning (the imperfect you), a middle (the still imperfect you striving toward the idea of perfection, often related to size, speed, or distance), and an end that includes an astounding transformation or achievement, a grand finale.
More From Runner's World
This sells. It might even push you to begin your own story. But more often than not, these very ideals teach an implicit lesson that our bodies are supposed to look a certain way or perform at a certain level, and if we don’t achieve that, then maybe running isn’t even worth it.
Take it from me: It is worth it. No matter the result. And these negative storylines only hinder our own personal progress.
I know this because the story didn’t quite play out that way for me. I fell in love with running in high school, when I used it as a means to improve my general fitness, not to achieve a certain body ideal. I loved how it made me feel: powerful and capable of handling anything that came my way. Now, more than 25 years later, I continue to run for that same reason—to be my best self, not someone else’s version of my best.
The problem with being a character in someone else’s story is exactly that: You don’t own it. You fall prey to others’ expectations and risk living with a level of disappointment that might deter your individual progress.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s value in being inspired by the energy, enthusiasm, and work ethic of others. Ultimately, however, we must write and star in our own running narrative by identifying what deeply motivates us. Doing so will help you develop an internal confidence and sustained pride that can’t be swayed by any other author.
Write your own rules. Edit them at any time. And once you have your own reasons for what you do, you’ll have a guide to pursue your own beautiful, adventurous path.
This essay originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of Runner’s World. Mirna Valerio is a 14-time ultrarunner, certified USA Track & Field Coach, author ofA Beautiful Work in Progress, speaker, anti-racism activist, and is now the newest Lululemon ambassador. You can read more about her story here or follow her at @TheMirnavator on Instagram and Twitter.