While at the pool recently, I paid attention to a guy swimming in a lane near me. He was an older gentleman, and to be honest, he wasn’t the best swimmer. But man, was he dedicated. And the longer he was in the water, the better he got. I’m not sure if he was battling arthritis or tight muscles or just struggling to wake up in the morning (I certainly know that feeling), but it was easy for me to look at him and think “Oh, that guy’s not very fast,” and yet by the end of his workout, he had built some good speed, and given that he got into the pool before I did and was still there when I left, he probably put in more distance than I did.
It’s easy to look at someone and underestimate them, and it’s also easy to underestimate yourself. Now, it’s one thing to understand your abilities and limitations. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I think that there’s strength in that. If you’ve never run a sub-6 hour marathon and you start proclaiming that you’re going to run a 3:30 marathon next summer, well, you might be a bit off base. But you can say “Hey, I’m going to be faster next summer and set a new PR.”
And those small victories should be celebrated. Doesn’t matter if you’re still one of the slowest runners in the race – if you’ve made improvements, you should be proud of that and you should be allowed to shout it from the rooftops.
It’s all too easy to say “Well, I’m slow. I’ll never get faster.” It’s harder to work at trying to get faster. And mentally, it’s harder to say “Well, I’ll never be what some people consider fast, but if I work at it, I can be faster than I am today.” Get yourself out of the comparison trap and only compare to who you were before and who you want to be. Are you now slower than you were two years ago? Well get out there and work! You can get that level of fitness back. Have you had a health setback and are struggling to get back to where you were? Then set a new normal. Don’t worry about where you were. Where are you now? Start there, and work towards improvement.
It’s one thing to accept your limitations, but it’s another thing to artificially create them for yourself. Just work on being better than you were the day before. One day at a time.