Winning is Personal

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Winning is Personal

Written by Richard Ferguson, Ph.D. on 24 March 2016.

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 sports world success is too often associated with winning and to most laymen, winning means finishing first. But do you really have to 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 some, success may mean having great wealth, fame, or a position of power. All of these definitions of success are really external in their nature. By external I mean these things are what others, or society usually expect. Too often we have to look to other people to let us know if 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 are walking around having accomplished great things, and are continuing to do great things, yet they feel like utter 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 that are set too high and by external others can lead to constant feelings of inadequacy and frustration.

Runners need to find a definition of success, which is personal and internal. A definition of success which they set, not one set by some running shoe advertisement, or local running statistics maniac who seems to know everyone’s times and places from races during the last half century. In all reality 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 percent is preparation and training, while only about one percent is performance or racing. Yet we judge our success so much on the one percent. 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, as we 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. My wife, Jill, has won a number of Master’s titles in very competitive races, yet she has not run a race in many, many years. Why? She really doesn’t like to race, but she loves to run. I guess that’s why she still runs 30 or so miles every week for the sheer pleasure of it. Is Jill not successful because she no longer races? I would say Jill is very successful in running because she loves to run and she is very happy about her running, much happier in fact than when she was dealing with expectations about race performances.

All of us have different goals for our running. No matter what the goal is, when we reach them we have a success story! In summer races 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, then that’s OK. Winning is a personal thing! Enjoy your personal wins!

Richard Ferguson is Chair of the Physical Education, Wellness, and Sport Science Department at Averett University and is an AASP Certified Sport Psychology Consultant. He may be reached via e-mail at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Read more of Dr. Ferguson articles on -

Affirm Your Greatness!!! -

What is Tired? -   

The Reason We Run -

Some New Recruits -   

Are You a RUNNER? -

A Different View -

The Components of Peak Performance -

Running and Sleep -

Don’t Panic! -

The Mental Maximization of Training -

With the Help of a Friend -

Beating the Winter Blues-

Go For It -

Beating Burnout -

A New Outlook -

Expect the Unexpected -

Pain or Discomfort ? -

Keep Your Eye on the Prize -

 Running Free -

Running and Role Models -


- See more at:




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