Running without Ego

I have a philosophy that I try to embue in the people around me who are also participating in endurance sports. It is symbolized by the phrase, “Run Without Ego.”

What it means is that you should be running/biking/swimming/rowing/whatevering for you, and not for anyone else. The converse to that is that it’s about you, and not anyone else. This is important for several reasons:

  • If you’re only competing with yourself, you don’t have to worry about anyone else’s goals and/or abilities. I recall the situation of a friend (Hi Mike!) who decided, more or less randomly, to run a 10k. He turned in something like 1 hour, with no training. Grrrr… However, I retreated to my philosophy wherein it’s more important that I congratulate him for his ability to do that, rather than be envious or angry that he could beat my 10k time (of that moment) without having put in the effort I had.
  • When I’m training, and doing something like a run-walk program, there is a temptation to modify the speed—or convert the walk to a run—if someone else is watching. The evil thought goes through your head, “That girl/guy is a runner. And (s)he’s watching2. I’d better pick it up so I don’t look like a doofus.” No, no, no. It’s always important to stick with your training program and not give in to those fears. Run for yourself, and not for what other people think.
  • Mental health during competitive sports, in my opinion, means concentrating on yourself and not so much the other person.

When racing, I am competitive with the people around me, but only in the sense that a person may be ahead of me, or coming up from behind me, and I want to keep my ranking as high as I can. Using other people as Rabbits in a race is an excellent motivator. However, my philosophy of Running without Ego lets me use those people not as race competitors, but as mental incentives. Honestly, Running without Ego doesn’t get much of a test during races for me because, as I’ll never be near the top of a race, it doesn’t matter so much who is around me. Only in triathlons, where a person’s age group is written on their calf, will I have any idea if the person I’m competing against is someone who’s name may be near mine in the age group rankings. I just try to turn in my best time and one of these days, I may place in the top three of my age group.

This philosophical outlook gets tested occasionally. For example, today I ran across a posting entitled How to Hack a Marathon if you aren’t a Runner1.

A few years ago I ran the San Francisco marathon without training and finished it in 4 hours and 28 minutes.

Instantly, a rage blazed up within me, consuming all coherent thought. How dare this person do that! I’ve trained for three marathons (completing only one) and I just barely broke 5 hours, and it sucked! [mental screaming ensued]3

But, then I backed off and thought about it and grudgingly thought, “good for him.” If he can put down his pen and then go run a marathon, more power to him. Maybe he should train some and then he’ll run a marathon really damn fast but in the grand scheme of things, it’s about him and not me.

I keep this attitude, especially when I’m encouraging new runners who are having difficulties and/or referring to themselves as “slow”. You’re only as slow as your pace. Your fast pace may be my slow pace, but that doesn’t make you slow. It makes you going your own fast pace. If you work at it, that pace may improve. Or it may not, depending on factors that might be beyond your control. The important thing is to be competitive with yourself and not with anyone else.


1: Although by my definition, you are a runner if you sign up for a marathon.

2: Possibly, “…and she’s hot!”

3: Actually, the real reason this angered me wasn’t because of the article itself. If you click through, you’ll see that the attitude of the post was, “hey, we thought why the hell not, so we did.” BUT! The article had been linked from Lifehacker&mdas;hwho will receive NO linkbait from me on this one—with the title of (basically) “Go out and run a marathon without training. Here’s how!” Personally, I find that irresponsible because they’re asking people to injure themselves if they try. Sure, some people will manage, but others could have serious problems.

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