Shannon Payne asks “What’s Enough?”

Written by Shannon Payne (pictured left, #4853) – BRC/Adidas Racing Team, winner of the 2014 Mt. Washington Road Race and member of Team USA at the 2014 WMRA World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships at Pikes Peak.

Every time the beginning of a new year rolls around, it seems as though you can take a walk down any magazine aisle or stand in the checkout line at the grocery and every single print publication on the shelf screams the same thing: “NEW YEAR NEW YOU!!!”

Runner’s World magazine has seriously had that as their December issue every year for the last decade, I swear. I know, it’s March. I know New Year’s is passed, but nonetheless, we should address this. After all, why wait for January to come around to make new goals and resolutions? Plus, without intending to sound cynical, even when it’s a “new” year, you’re still the same you; sorry. It’s not as though we’re all like a bunch of little caterpillars emerging from their cocoons as pretty new creatures just because the clock struck 12 on New Year’s Eve, I hate to rain on anyone’s parade here, but you kind of still are where you’re at. Still, I think something in our human psyche likes the idea of a clean slate and a new starting point and maybe even a Do-Over on some things, even though there are no real Do-Overs, there are only Try-Again-And-Do-Betters.

Try-Again-And-Do-Betters…I like the sound of that. So that said, I’ll play along. After all, there’s nothing wrong with a good, solid, healthy session of SELF-REFLECTION and GOAL SETTING is there? YEAH! Virtual fist-bump via this e-newsletter! And what better time to do it than teetering on the edge of a new season of epic mountain and trail races?

I actually only have one goal for the season, or resolution, or whatever you want to call it. And I guess it’s applicable to both Running and Life, but since this article is about running, we’ll stick to that to keep things relatively concise and uncomplicated. Anyway, see, when it comes to running, I’ve got this little problematic mindset called Nothing’s Ever Enough, and I hardly believe that I’m the only one afflicted with such a attitude, and I think it would be a good thing to be shut of. I think most of the entire Western culture is affected in one way or another by this rather unsavory and icky ailment since we live in a world of constant competition in everything and constant comparison to everyone else and constant need for instant gratification and constant want for more, be it through materialism or kind of whatever, it’s just how we’ve managed to set things up; always trying to keep up with the Joneses. And for what? Some all-consuming need for validation? I guess so.

Anyhow, while that’s applicable to many things in this life, as far as running goes, I think it’s safe to say that we’re mostly all competitive people here to some extent. And it’s great to be competitive, and it’s great to let the accomplishments of other people set the bar for us to some degree. After all, if you always only set your own standard and “good enough” is always fine, then you never have any need to rise above it, and you never get any better. But taken too far, too much competitive drive and close examination of everyone else’s accomplishments to the point of never-ending comparison to everyone else doesn’t so much drive the desire to get better as much as it does flatten it altogether. Because ever notice that no matter how much you do and no matter how well you do it, there will always be someone who seems to be doing more, and doing it better? Always. And that is when this icky downward spiral into Nothing’s Ever Enough happens.

Hold on a sec while I digress a little bit. So there is this woman, who I greatly admire and who was, at one time, one of the greatest runners in the nation in her younger days and the Pikes Peak Ascent’s youngest female victor. Anyway, after her short but brilliant running career came to a close she became — many years after — a writer. She once wrote a post on her blog about how she was considering quitting the writing profession altogether, because she knew she’d never be a Steinbeck or a Dickens or a Hemmingway or any of those other people who are considered to be “the best,” and everything she wrote would always pale in comparison to their stuff, so what was even the point in doing it at all? At the time I thought that was such a sad way to look at something that you love to do and are good at doing even though you’re not necessarily what the rest of the world deems to be “the best.”

Then I realized I do that very thing all the time, I mean ALL THE TIME. Here in Colorado we have such an abundance of incredibly talented runners, and it becomes easy to begin measuring yourself against say, a bunch of Olympians. While there is nothing wrong with setting high goals for yourself, there is a difference between aspiring to become better versus simply comparing and ultimately cutting yourself down over falling “short.” For instance, I’ll be all excited because I hit some certain number of miles in a week that to me indicates that things are really going well, only to hear about someone doing twice that. Or I’ll run a PR, but maybe it’s not even within 90-plus seconds of what people I know are doing. Or I’ll have some workout or race that, for me, is great, and I should be happy with it, and I am, till I realize that’s someone else’s worst day. And it’s this endless cycle of comparing, and of needing to control the uncontrollable, and being constantly reminded of where you are versus where “The Best” are, and of your best never being quite “enough,” when really, you ought to just be satisfied and thankful with what you just did, and the fact that you can do it at all. But instead you’re wondering whether you should hang them up because you’re not “the best” and because it seems that Nothing’s Ever Enough. But at the end of the day, would you be hanging them up because you really want to, or because you felt that you “failed” to measure up to…uh…someone’s — actually I’m not even really sure whose — standard(s)?

All this is to say, I haven’t entirely figured out how to quash this often self-sabatoging attitude, in running or any other area of life. It’s a constant work in progress with no actual end in sight, and I know I’m not the only one. Maybe use other people’s accomplishments as a standard to strive for rather than a mandatory bar to be reached? After all, sooner or later someone will always move the bar just a little bit higher.

Ultimately, we’re all competitors, and competition is a wonderful and valuable thing that brings out the best in all of us, but only if you’re using it as a means of avoiding complacency rather than a destructive means of self-comparison. And that is my goal for the season: to remember that.

So whenever you go about doing whatever it is that you do, whether in running or life, I think Henry Vandyke said it best…“Use what talents you possess, the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best.”