When it comes to running long distances, there is only one rival. Yourself. In every race, the person you want to beat the most is not other runners, but yourself. It's not about being the best in the world. It's not about being faster that 90% of the people who run the race. It's about beating yourself, making a PR (personal record), it's about doing your best and making progress. The joy doesn't come from being ahead of people, it's from being faster than what you were. The despair isn't from being behind people, it's being slower than what you were. Sure racing others help with improving how fast you are and how long you can run, but that doesn't give you the sense of accomplishment that you could get if you look behind at what you were. I look back and I see my first few mile times. I see how slow I was, and how out of shape I was a month ago. I look at myself now, and I see that I've grown a lot since then, and was able to change my body, and run faster.
It's all great to run marathons and get first place in my age group, but to me, I get my pride from my times as well as my distance. I remember my first (and only) half marathon. I went beyond the pain and worked hard to finish as best I could, a distance that I have never raced before. My time was decent, I got that first place in my age group... but I was proud that I finished the whole 13.1 miles. I remember training for my first marathon, running by myself, pushing myself to go a distance I've never gone before, training my body to race 26.2 miles. The starting line was one of the scariest places to be in that race, because I didn't know what I was getting myself into. As I started the race, I was taking it easy, running smoothly, and as the race went on, I thought I was going at a decent pace. I remember the 19th mile when I started getting cramps in my right hamstring, and the 20th mile when my left hamstring joined in, the 21st mile when my calves started screaming. I remember Doc Reece cheering me on as I pushed through and had a couple miles to go. I remember the last mile as I slowly and painfully picked up the pace. I remember finishing the race, feeling accomplished, running that distance... The memories I have regarding my first marathon is something precious to me because I beat myself. I ran the longest I've ever raced that April 1st, 2007. That is what kept me going longer and longer, testing my limits, winning races against myself, running longer and faster.
Having that desire to run and beat myself has definitely encouraged me to grow as a runner. By far, my number one rival is myself, and beating myself is something I am proud of doing... and I plan on continuing to beat myself, over and over again.