My dad always used to tell me something when we first started running together:
“Don’t judge someone for how quick they’re going; you don’t know how far they’ve run.”
He was always keen to make sure I had an idea of perspective; you can never tell just how hard someone is fighting based on your perception. You can never know someone’s full journey based on where they are now. You need perspective. You need to understand that this might be the 20th mile they’ve run, so of course they’re moving more slowly than you would having only ran the last 200m. You need to understand that they could be recovering from an injury, or that today is their recovery run.
You especially need to realise that just because you think you can do better, sat comfortably in your car seat as you drive past an exhausted runner, you might be very, very wrong. ‘Everyone’s a critic,’ as they say.
Picture the scene. It’s Great North Run Day. You speed past an older gentleman just at the two-mile marker, gloating internally about your prowess, thinking of how well you trained in the lead-up and wondering whether the old-timer will make it to the finish line. With three miles to go you’re desperately looking for a water stand, when suddenly it happens. It’s him. He breezes past you. He looks exactly as tired as he did at the second mile meanwhile you are sucking in air like a Dyson. Damn. You find out from him at the finish line that he’s not only been doing this race for 40 years, but he is planning on running back to his house in Whitley Bay afterwards.
We’ve all been there. You thought you were superior, you thought you had the edge, you thought you could make it. You feel a bit silly now. You certainly look a lot worse for wear.
A bit of perspective changes everything. A bit of humility goes a long way.
Because of this, running is an ugly, egoless sport. You have to accept everything about yourself. You have to be very honest with yourself about your capabilities, and you have to realise that trying to ‘look good’ or outdo others is only going to damage your own progress. First and foremost, the running gods reward patience and consistency.
No one looks good when they’re all red-faced and sweaty and wearing highlighter coloured Lycra. I still find it embarrassing running past anyone I recognise, trying to muster up the oxygen to get out a ‘Hi!’ as I attempt not to look or sound as close to keeling over as I feel. You really have to park your ego when you lace up those running shoes. It’s so easy to be self-conscious about what others think of you when you’re out, but honestly one of the amazing things I’ve found on my journey has been that it genuinely trains you to not care. After a while, you realise you’re not bothered about other people and their opinions, you’re just focused on getting in those extra few miles. Every runner knows that it’s harder than it looks. When I pass someone these days, no matter their speed, I don’t think ‘I could go faster than that’, I think, ‘I should really go for a run’. We all have our own goals and we all start from different places. We all eventually come to the same conclusion though, once you get some perspective — you’re not really racing anyone but yourself.
It doesn’t matter how fast you are or how you look, what matters is how far you’ve come on your journey.
In deciding to even start, you’ve taken a step that very few people in the world are brave enough to take. You’re further down the road than you think. You just need to keep going.