Winning is Personal

06/11/2018 - 15:24

By Richard Ferguson
Running is the most primeval of all physical activities. Pre-historic man ran simply to survive through hunting and gathering, as well as fleeing from predators. For early man, success through running simply meant living to see the sun rise on another day.

Today, success is certainly defined in a much different way. Unfortunately, in the running world success is too often associated with winning, and to most laymen, winning means finishing first. But do you really have to win or finish first to be a successful runner? I would say most certainly not.

Success is far too often associated with some particular outcome, such as a championship, trophy or medal. For others success may mean having great wealth, fame or a position of power. of these definitions of success are really external in their nature. By external I mean these things are what others or society usually expects. Too often we have to look to other people to let us know we are a success.

Even when we are successful according to the external norms of society, it may never be enough. If we don’t continue to better our previous levels and do more and more then we may no longer feel successful. What a pity! So many people walking around who have done, and are continuing to do great things, yet they feel like miserable failures.

I see this so often in runners. They run well, but for some reason, are never happy with what they’ve accomplished. No matter how they run, they view themselves as failures. While setting high standards is a must to achieving your potential, standards which are set too high and by external others can lead to constant feelings of failure and very high levels of frustration.

Runners need to find a definition of success that is personal and internal. A running definition of success which runners set, not some running shoe advertisement or local running statistics maniac, who seems to know everyone’s times and places from races for the last half century. In all reality, running success is a very subjective feeling. Success is really about how YOU feel about what you’re doing. No one else can really define success for YOU.

Many individuals often look to some end product in defining their success as runners. A performance time, event run, or place in a race are usually used as a measure of success. But running is a process; a long-term process in which about 99% is preparation and training, while only about 1% is performance or racing. Yet we judge our success so much on the 1%. What about the journey of running itself? Don’t we feel success just by being out on the road or trail? I would hope all of us feel a great deal of success simply by being runners. Too often we forget the joys and pleasures that present themselves in our daily run. Maybe it’s time we “stop and smell the roses,” both literally and figuratively, on our daily run.

The act of running and moving is a joy in, and of itself. To feel successful you really don’t need a race, a clock or a measured distance. I know many runners that are very, very talented, but have not run a race in years. They still run a lot every week, but they don’t compete. Why? They really don’t like to race, but they love to run. Are these runners not successful because they no longer race? I would say they are very successful in running because they love to run and they are very happy about their running.

All of us have different goals for our running. No matter what the goal is, when we reach them we have a success story! This July thousands of runners will make the trek down Peachtree Street in Atlanta for the Peachtree Road Race. Only one runner will be first, so are the others losers? No way! For many on July 4 there will be feelings of success that will be unmatched in their entire lifetimes. Goals will be reached and runners will feel good about their accomplishments.

I know so many runners who always finish in the back quarter of every race, yet they absolutely love to run and participate in races. Are they losers because they finish at the tail end of the field? No way! If they have met their own personal goal then they are successful. I guess the thing that makes running so unique is really the personal nature of the sport. Sure, you often compete against other people, but you always have some type of competition going on with yourself and your own personal, internal goals. The challenge may lie in just getting out the door each day or it may lie in trying to reach that marathon PR.

So set some personal goals and go after them! Don’t worry about other people and their goals or what goals they think you should set. Other people can’t set goals for you. Only you can decide what you want to accomplish! This is one of the basic premises of goal setting strategy.

Whatever your goal may be, when you reach it feel good about what you’ve done. Enjoy the feelings of success! Don’t let others rain on your parade. When you reach a personal goal you deserve to feel good. Even though another runner may not understand your goals, it’s ok, because success is a personal thing! Enjoy it!

Richard Ferguson is Chair of the Physical Education, Wellness, and Sport Science Department of Averett University and is an AASP Certified Sport Psychology Consultant. He may be reached via email at

This article appeared in the June issue of Running Journal.

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