Getty Images - Design: Alex Sandoval
Oh, the good old Instagram scroll, where it looks like everyone's lives are better, their vacations more fun, their houses bigger, and their running pace faster than yours. I call this the "unhealthy Instagram deep dive" (not all that different from doomscrolling), and I've noticed myself doing it a lot recently.
As a runner, I follow a lot of fellow runners on social media, meaning my feed is flooded daily with pictures of Garmin watch stats, Strava routes, and Nike Run Club workouts. It may seem harmless to tap past another's accomplishments, but I noticed this was triggering me as an athlete. Every time I saw someone post a sub 4-hour marathon or sub 2-hour half marathon, I felt a wave of pressure wash over me. (Related: What Really Makes You a Runner?)
That's why, several months ago, I started hiding my pace when sharing my mapped running routes on social media, specifically on Instagram. Now, I always cover my pace with a scribble or caption to ensure it's private. Appropriately so, my motto became "no pace, no problem!"
I personally entered the world of running to feel stronger, make friends, and give back to the community through the sport (namely, volunteering as a guide supporting runners with special needs with Achilles International) — but soon began the "icky" feelings of inadequacy when I saw many of my peers stressing time rather than progress or pleasure. While the onus was on me for allowing anxious thoughts to creep into my psyche, I knew I had to shift the paradigm myself to mitigate discomfort I was feeling. Historically, I had shared snaps of run maps including calorie burn, pace, and distance without giving it another thought. But as I got more entrenched in the running world, racking up race after race, I've notice my peers making comments such as, "I'd love to run with you, but I'm not fast enough" or "I want to run, but I can't run like you." These comments and conversations became all too repetitive and got me thinking: Not only was I feeling pressure myself, but I was also inducing pressure on others. The only way to ease the stress on both sides was to take matters into my own hands and refrain from sharing my pace indefinitely. Yes, I still had to face my peers posting their speeds, but at least I was doing the one thing I could control, helping to ease my own feelings and also potentially sparing someone else of them as well. Ultimately, I decided to focus on being happy for my friends and acquaintances, gloss over their paces, and focus on the overall efforts on their runs.
I'm not alone in feeling pressured by other people's success and the idea of not measuring up. It all comes down to anxiety and expectations, which go hand in hand. "Anxiety is often associated with needing to meet expectations," says Alex Diaz, Ph.D., sports psychologist at Sports Mental Edge. "Whether it's yours or somebody else's run, it is quite common to find yourself mentally distracted by wanting to please yourself and others; however, this distraction tends to emotionally backfire, as you then lose focus."
Truly, running from the heart and not entirely from the head can make for a way better experience — and better athletic results. "Your best performances occur when you fully embrace both the joy and challenges of a run aiming to do your best," says Diaz. Again, that's your best, not the best of someone else you follow on IG. You can't compare your life or running journey directly to someone else, so why would you compare your pace?
"Yes, we run being aware of our ideal pace and wanting to perform to achieve goals; however, overthinking often leads to feeling more pressure, and consequently, more muscle tension. That, in turn, may lead to negative thinking and, therefore, underperforming," he says. (Really, running should do the opposite; research shows it can help clear your mind of emotional stress.)
Once I truly disconnected from my pace, my runs began to feel different — they felt more fun and liberating. I started to look at my watch less and instead look at the view, take in my surroundings, and just let my body enjoy each step. As my own running because increasingly more joyful, I started to care less and less about other peoples' paces on IG. I no longer felt the need to compare. With every run that I tagged "no pace, no problem," on Instagram, positive reactions from people on social media trickled in. Encouragement from friends and followers alike flooded my inbox, making me feel even more confident in my decision to ditch the pace. (Related: How Mindful Running Can Help You Get Past Mental Roadblocks)
For those struggling with the pressures and expectations of running know that you are not alone and you can do something about it. Redefine the expectation, stand true to who you are, and encourage your community to support you based on your passion and effort rather than your speed. Hey, no pace, no problem.