Comparison: The Thief of Joy

comparison, thief of joy

In the above photos, I’m running my fastest 5k of 2014, a not so great 5k and finally a 10k PR.  

They say that “Comparison is the thief of joy”.

Comparison to others…

Comparison to yourself in the past…

Comparison to yourself in the present…

Comparison to yourself in the potential future…

The comparison game is tough.  The comparison game is something I am struggling with in running right now.

During the last few weeks I’ve found myself thinking and comparing to previous fitness levels. When I was previously training for 5ks in 2012, I was consistently running 19:00-19:10 5ks. Almost every 5k I did was logged in that second frame.

I didn’t run each 5k within seconds of each other on on purpose but that was where my fitness was. In fact I began to get frustrated with those races too! I remember thinking I would never break the 19 minute barrier (spoiler: I did).  Running is a funny sport that you never seem to feel satisfied!

I would run 19:30+ on cross country and hilly courses. When I ran a time in that frame, I believed the race wasn’t as successful.

The truth is I’m not at the fitness level right now and that would be a be a great time for me. In fact, the 19:40 I ran on Sunday was my most successful 5k of the summer!

As life changes, it’s important to realize that fitness changes too.  For instance in college, I was probably in the best shape of my life. Not only was I recording PRs with cardio (cross country and swimming), I was also strong. I had a lot more time to workout. I was overall strong and my fitness reflected that.

Now over three years after college, my time is more limited. While I don’t have children, I don’t have unlimited time to work out. First, I’m not on any “teams”. I don’t have a plethora of time to spend dedicated to working out. I run in the morning and generally go to work.

This has led me to some serious thinking about goals for myself. I think it’s important to make goals for where you are currently. While facing the reality of not being as “fit” stinks, making goals that are unattainable only sets you up for more disaster.

Being honest with yourself is one of the most important things you can do for yourself. I’ve stopped comparing myself with old fitness levels and past races.

In life you must grow and adapt to the place you are, not the place you were. The past helps most the future but we can’t let the past take up too much time in the present.

Categories: Tags: , , , , , ,


  1. It’s still early in the summer too! I’m pulling for you to get to the low 19’s still. You’ve had a rough year with injuries too so don’t be too hard on yourself. Recovering and staying injury-free is an accomplishment on its own (although a boring one lol). I’ve also been stuck in a rut so I get it but hopefully we’ll both hit better days soon!

  2. I’ve never been much of a runner (so I don’t have a lot of times to compare myself too) but I’ve definitely had this same feeling with just fitness in general. I think it’s hard because we want to keep ourselves motivated and we want to set big goals for ourselves but I think it’s easy to end up being too hard on ourselves. It’s definitely a tough balance!

  3. I’m so stuck in this right now, and I have been for the past year. I can’t train the way I used to because of my back, and I’m having a really hard time accepting the fact that I might be running really, really slow marathons forever. I guess there are worse things, like not running at all, but sometimes it doesn’t seem fair. I took all the right precautions this training cycle and still got hurt again. Our lives do change and so do our fitness levels, so sometimes I think it is best to reframe our PRs and think about them as our “post-college PR” or “post-surgery PR” or whatever. But yeah, it’s really hard, and if I knew how to deal with it better, i probably would not be so grumpy 🙂

  4. I’ve never really had a problem with comparing myself to others, but comparing my current self to my past self has definitely been a struggle at times. It’s hard to look back and realize that you’re not as good at something as you once were, but you’re right — life changes, circumstances change, and it’s not so much a negative reflection on us, as it is an example of changing priorities.

  5. I think it’s very common for runners to lose speed as soon as they put marathons into the mix. Sure, some people can get faster at the shorter distances while training for a marathon, but it takes meticulous adherence to a training plan and a huge amount of discipline. In hindsight I regret jumping up the distances while I still hadn’t accomplished the goals I wanted to at the 5K, 10K and half marathon, but as it turns out I probably would have slowed down anyway due to general deterioration of the state of my back.

    I do think you aren’t past the point of no return as I am though. It will just take time for your body to adjust, and I’m sure you will get back to the speed you need to PR. Despite having less time, it’s the quality of the miles that count (clearly, as I’m the Queen of quantity!) and a lot of your races this year have been in hard conditions or on long courses.

    Don’t write yourself off just yet!

  6. I used to struggle a lot with the comparisons against the way things “used to be.” At one point I even thought about going back to swimming for my senior year but I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle racing and not coming close to the times I used to swim. I think it just takes time to adapt to the races you’re training for and you’ve spent a few years really focusing on halves and fulls, so now that you’re switching back to shorter distances, it can take time for your body to adapt to that. Not that I’m any pro runner (ha) but I definitely don’t have the same fast turnover I had in college when I was actively training for 5Ks on the track now that my average runs are slower and longer.

  7. I think as runners we’re ourselves hardest critics. We need to stop picking on ourselves and really celebrate all of our victories, no matter how small or big!

  8. Love this! I’ve been struggling with not being as fast as I used to be when I was in high school, but then again I was constantly injured and eventually pulled my hamstring. I have to just be happy with being slower and not compare myself to people who can run a 1:30 half every weekend! So, basically I’m guilty of all the different comparisons you mentioned. Great post, Hollie!

  9. I wrote about this on my blog a couple weeks ago. I’m always convinced I’m getting slower , always. I feel sluggish and heavy and slower but then I match PRs or put up similar times. It sucks, especially because progress can be slow in running!

  10. It’s my biggest downfall. I compare myself to 6 years ago when I was in the best shape of my life, and constantly fall short. It’s hard for me to be happy with what I’m doing now, knowing what I’ve done in the past. I would love to get back there, but the task seems insurmountable.

  11. These were my thoughts on my last run (yesterday). I felt just so… blah and was thinking about my times before I had surgery. It causes me a lot of regret comparing my life then to now. I try my best to live in the present because you can never change the past and you cannot create the future. You can only do the best you can with what you have right now!

  12. It’s true, you have to adjust for just…life. The truth is none of us will ever have as much time as we did back in college but all you can do is all you can do, you know? Great post, Hollie!

  13. I don’t think that your goals are unrealistic. butt. you’re being very honest with yourself, and you know that you’re not in the best shape you were in once. and I get that. Your goal of Pr’ing might not come this summer, but who’s to say that it wont come next summer. That’s up to you and life. You’ve gone through a lot the last months, you’ve been busy.!! and struggled with injuries. But you’re an amazing and very determined runner.
    You’ll find a way to do what you want in life and running 🙂

    cheering you on girl.!

  14. This is so insightful. In the same way we compare ourselves to others, we often run the comparathon with our former selves. Life gets in the way of chasing PRs. We get injured, we decided to make more time for others than for training. I’ve had to realize that spending time with other people and accepting a slower pace for now has made me just as happy as running a fast race or nailing a workout.

  15. I absolutely do this! I love your picture comparison because it’s the perfect expression of what you’re writing about. I have yet to break 19 in the 5K (19:03PR!) and now, with my bum hamstring, not sure it will happen this summer but I’m ok with that 🙂 Really. Thanks Hollie!

  16. During the drive to and from Lake Placid this weekend, we spent a lot of time talking about comparison. With any sport–running and triathloning in particular–it’s easy to get caught up in what everyone else is doing: “Oh, they’re running this far at this pace. Should I be doing that?” However, when all is said and done, the most important thing is to do you, do what’s comfortable, and not fall victim to comparison–which is easier said than done.

Comments are closed.