About a year and a half ago, I decided I wanted to run a marathon. I was interested in getting more fit anyway, and that seemed like it'd be kind of cool to be able to put one of those "26.2" stickers on my car. Except I'd never run before. So I did some reading and most people seemed to say that before you start training for a marathon, you should be able to run about three miles non-stop. My first day on the treadmill was not nearly that; I think I did maybe one slow mile and had to slow down even further to a walk for a bit in the middle.
But I improved over time and eventually got myself to where I got run four miles non-stop. It wound up being a little late for me to sign up for that year's marathons -- the ones I could reasonably get to sold out MUCH earlier than I would've guessed -- but I went ahead with training anyway, just to see what I could do. Last summer, I was able to regularly put in runs over 15 miles. But since I wasn't actually signed up for a marathon and my runs were starting to get well past three hours each, I opted to cut back to a reasonable holding pattern of 6-7 mile runs until I could sign up for the next marathon I could get to.
All of which is a preface to say that six and a half miles on the treadmill at the gym is no big deal for me.
Late last year, I had a really bad day at work. Lots of stress from a major project that wasn't going well, plus an unusual number of annoyances. I went to the gym mad and ready to burn off some adrenalin. On the treadmill. Go!
I'd been on the treadmill maybe 5-10 minutes, and I see a guy start up on the one next to me. Mid-20s, looked to be in reasonably good health. He warmed up walking for a minute or two before cranking the speed up to a run. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him glance over in my direction several times, but I assumed he was looking past me at some woman working out on the level below or something. After he ran for about 15 minutes, he slowed down to a walk again. Another minute later, he's back to running. That lasted maybe 6-7 minutes.
I'm actually starting to notice him now because he's still glancing over at me. I finally realized that he was looking at the readout on my treadmill. He was trying to see how fast and how far I was going. At this point, I'd been running just shy of 7 miles an hour for nearly 30 minutes. I was sweaty, sure, but not out of breath.
Unlike my friend who, by now, has planted his feet on the unmoving sides of the treadmill, squatted down while holding the hand rails, and begun heaving trying to catch his breath. He eventually stood back up, walked for a bit longer and finally turned the treadmill off, looking over at me one more time while he wiped the machine down.
Now, I'm relaying this story not as a way to try to brag about my running ability. Really, I've got nothing compared any number of folks at my gym alone. I'm relaying the story to highlight where your competition really is.
See, this guy next to me? He was trying to compete with me. He didn't know that I can easily outlast any of the treadmills at our gym (which all cut out after an hour). He didn't know that I'm aiming to run a marathon and have been specifically training myself to run long distances. He didn't know that I'd had a crappy day and had more adrenaline flowing than usual.
By the same token, I don't know the stories of anyone else at the gym either. I don't know how much of their lives have been in training, or whether they're recovering from some injury or illness, or how much sleep they got the night before, or what their diet is, or anything. There's no reason for me to try to compete with them on any level, because I frankly don't know what level they're at!
My competition, really, is myself. I need to run farther this week than I did last week. I need to run farther still next week. But those benchmarks are against my own record, not anybody else's. I don't care how fast the guy next to me runs, or how long, or what his heart rate is. The only thing that matters is how I do compared to myself.
That holds for all other aspects of life, as well. Don't compare your comic book sales against the Action Comics. Don't compare your web stats against Penny Arcade's. Don't compare your place against Joe Quesada's. Just do better than you did before.
After all, isn't that something you learned from the comics themselves anyway? Onward and upward to greater glory? Excelsior!
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