Get Your Own PR! Why You Never Want to Chase Another Runner’s Pace.

While channel surfing one Sunday in November 2017, I stumbled across the NYC marathon and caught a glimpse of a woman running to the finish line without a single soul in her wake. I was in absolute awe in that moment, but not because she was an American, a woman or because she had just run 26 miles. Instead, I was amazed that she kept an average pace of about 5 min per mile. To me, this was absolutely astonishing since it took me 12 minutes to run a single mile. After all, I had only taken up running as an adult and only started running consistently in my thirties so being able to run a mile without stopping and not having to puke my guts out at the end was a major accomplishment.

Witnessing Shalayne Flanagan win the New York Marathon opened my mind to what the human body was capable of. On that day, I evolved. I was no longer just a casual runner, I had become a competitor, at least in my mind. From that day forward, my goal would no longer be to just finish, I was determined to be “faster”. I became obsessed with my pace.  My husband didn’t understand why I couldn’t just take my time as long as I finished. After all, we weren’t Olympians and at the end of the day finishing was the ultimate goal, or so he thought. The truth was, I didn’t want to just say I was a marathon finisher, I wanted to run fast and be considered a “real” runner. Don’t get me wrong, I never aspired to be fast enough to win the NYC marathon, but I could totally qualify for Boston, right?

I started learning and using the runner lingo, “PR/PB, BQ, negative splits”. I even did research to find out what pace I needed to keep in order to qualify for Boston and started training with that goal pace in mind. I never told anyone that my actual goal was to qualify for Boston because what if I never made it? Wouldn’t that be embarrassing? I started following other runners on social media and found myself thinking, “well if they can do it, so can I”. I started to notice and probably even obsess over other people’s pace, PR/PBs and finish times. Not only did I notice their times, I felt empowered to push myself to achieve paces I had never run before. In other words, I started chasing another runner’s pace.

Like magic, I gradually watched my average minute per mile drop but then, it happened. My progress came to a screeching halt thanks to the summer slowdown. I ran a 10K at the beginning of summer 2019 and had to stop to walk for the first time in a year and I was simply devastated. I had worked so hard to run “faster” and thought that I had finally become a “real” runner, but I found myself walking during an actual race. Even though I noticed several others walking, there were plenty of people who still finished with good times and I felt that I should have been one of those people. Running in the Texas heat and humidity can be absolutely suffocating, and you start to poop out much quicker. The air becomes soggy, and your body goes through physiological changes that make your heart rate skyrocket and exercise tolerance plummet in an effort to keep your core body temperature from going through the roof.

At the time, I didn’t understand what had happened to me and my spirit was broken. I felt totally defeated and all of the progress that I made was lost in that one singular race.  I started to think that I would never get fast enough to qualify for Boston, but I kept running through the rest of the summer. I struggled every time I ran, and I beat myself up for struggling after every single run. Soon, running became a chore instead of the one activity that I looked forward to. Instead of relieving the stress from my work day, running added stress to my day simply because I put undue pressure on myself for not being as fast as the next person. I had been chasing other people’s pace and had become so miserable that I couldn’t even appreciate the progress that I had actually made.

One day, I decided to take a scroll through my running app and noted my times from seasons past. That brief moment of reflection made me recognize that after almost two years of consistent training, I had actually made significant progress and had reduced my average pace by two minutes per mile. Although I was “faster”, I couldn’t appreciate it before because I had become too busy chasing someone else’s personal best. This experience taught me that you have to run your own race and run it at your own pace. Focusing on other people’s success kept me from appreciating my own progress and I felt like I was a failure because I wasn’t as fast as people who had been training for 10 years longer than me in some cases. While it’s acceptable to set goals based on what others have achieved, there is absolutely no need to continue to compare yourself to others.  We all start somewhere and if we remain diligent and keep running, we will achieve our own personal best at just the right time. And when we finally get that BQ, it will be because we stayed the course, put in the work and caused ourselves to be “faster”. Now go get that PR!

Blog written by #houambassador Latania Booker