In my day job as a pediatric endocrinologist, one of my professional responsibilities is to evaluate and manage kids with short stature. In a given week, although there are many patients that come to my office with a growth problem as their chief complaint, surprising few have a clearly defined medical condition that causes short stature. No clear etiology exists for the majority of these children. Without a clear diagnosis, it is often hard to justify treatment unless the kid is severely short. But how short is considered "too short" to warrant treatment? For many reasons, the answer isn't always so clear. What is "short" for one child in one family wouldn't be "short" for the same child in another family. Moreover, some kids who have always been labeled as "short" aren't really all that short once they finish growing. Some of them who were once considered "short" as children are now taller than me! This is precisely the reason why I often hesitate to put labels such as short (or tall) in the medical record of children who are still growing. These terms create biases that may not be clinically warranted and in many cases are subject to personal interpretation.
In thinking about running these days, I perceive speed in much the same way. Although I know in relation to me what's fast and what's slow, I really have no clue how those terms would translate to somebody else. Because speed is so relative and everyone is by default faster or slower than somebody else, I learned early on not to alter my perception of my own speed based on the performance of others. In my mind this is a pointless exercise because in the end my main competition is really only against myself and what someone else does in their training or racing really has no bearing on me.
Over the past several weeks, I've told by several newer runners that my speed in training "intimidates" them. I've been told that because I run so fast and so far they in turn feel as if their running and training is insufficient or inadequate. They feel varying degrees of shame because they often "see" me lapping them in a theoretical race when they are running and training outside on a daily basis. As you can imagine, this news comes as a huge shock to me. To learn that I've caused others to negatively view their own training is extremely upsetting to me. I can't imagine why anyone would use me as their benchmark to assess their own speed or fitness. First of all, in a global sense, I am not really all that fast - never been, probably never will be. Second of all, why does it matter anyway? Although I initially tried hard to perceive myself through the prism of another set of eyes to gain perspective, I eventually came to the conclusion that this is ludicrous to me and not something that I can ever full appreciate. The thing is, we are all unique and come to this sport from entirely different backgrounds and talent. Also, our experience and training are not at the same level. Most of the people who make these comparisons are just starting out in this sport. I'd argue that they have not yet learned what fast or slow (for them) really means. It would be like a child telling me that I'm really tall when I'm just 5'6" (or 5'7" if I cheat a little bit). From my perspective, it is wrong and often detrimental to think "Wow that guy is fast so I must be slow" or "I'm never fast enough for anything so I must suck!" Instead, what you should be thinking is "Wow, I ran 4 miles, 4 city blocks, or 4 light poles...something I couldn't do 6 months, 6 years, or 6 decades ago.." or "Wow, I'm running 30 secs/mile faster than I did when I started running...that's really cool!" If you can look inwardly and concentrate on your own journey and successes along the way instead of comparing yourself against the barometer of others you will always be fast enough for YOU! Enjoy and revel in YOUR OWN speed because just as surely as you are impressed by what you see in me, there is another who is impressed by what YOU do as well (even if that may not be so apparent right now)!
So run YOUR OWN pace, enjoy YOUR OWN race, set YOUR OWN goals and don't let me or anyone else dictate YOUR OWN awesomeness!