Next to me at the gym today was a woman about half my size who looked as if she could bench press me 100 times, throw me up over her head and drop into a dozen squats without breaking a sweat. I looked in the mirror at my poorly lit reflection and thought, “That woman could eat you for lunch, but keep going with what you are doing, you are just fine.” Being a girl nearly 6 feet tall with broad shoulders and wide hips, I spent much of my adolescence comparing myself to my 5-feet-nothing, featherweight friends. It wasn’t until I started working with my figure and setting personal challenges, that I could recognize my accomplishments. I find that too often we all have a tendency to compare ourselves to those around us, looking at their goals to define our own. For the majority of us, it is essential to set personal goals that fit within our own parameters in order to feel success and to keep motivated.
Following a four-year stint as a college athlete, where I spent most of my time in a pool rather than on solid ground, I decided to take up running. Prior to this point, I had used running for cross training and always enjoyed the freedom of being outdoors, but had never dedicated consistent time and effort to the sport. I had also relocated to a new city where I sought fresh challenges. My only friend in the new city was one of the 5-foot-nothing featherweights who had about ten marathons under her belt. Being young, in excellent cardiovascular shape, and accustomed to exercising four hours each day, I immediately set my sights on running a marathon. I asked my friend for a training schedule and followed it diligently. It turns out that my body wasn’t ready for her aggressive, experienced runner’s program. I ended up developing a stress fracture, which after going untreated, eventually resulted in my tibia (shin bone) being in three pieces rather than one. I finished the marathon, but didn’t run for nearly two years following.
From this experience, I realized that I needed to listen to my own body. Although my runner friend could consistently pound the pavement, I would be able to meet my goals by following a path more appropriate for my body. I have since run other marathons, and have concluded that on a consistent basis, my knees, hips and back strongly prefer that I keep to 4 running sessions per week and use the other days for cross training. This schedule has kept me injury free and still allowed me to shave nearly twenty minutes off of my marathon time.
I will never be the 5-foot-nothing featherweight that I see in the gym or on the road, but I know that by setting realistic goals that are appropriate for my skills and body, I will be able to push my own limits and meet new and challenging targets. With an inherently competitive spirit, I often have to remind myself of this lesson. As long as I am not the world champion, there will always be someone faster than me, but I can certainly strive for my personal best by limiting comparison and focusing on my own goals.