Ignore FOMO: Race Yourself, Not Others

It’s early. You just woke up. Your head is still a bit foggy from the deep sleep you were just in. You walk downstairs, pour yourself a glass of water to rehydrate. It’s your off-day today after your long run yesterday. Your legs are a bit sore, but you surprisingly feel good for how tired your legs were post-run yesterday.

While you drink your glass of water, you pop open Strava. I just want to clear the notifications from all the kudos, you think to yourself.

But, before you do, a massive long run pops up on your screen from one of the runners you see at all the local races. Wow. They ran 10 miles further than you, and, oh my, look at that pace!

And just like that, the FOMO has begun.

The hell is a FOMO?

Fear of missing out (FOMO) can be caused by a variety of situations. Your friends are going to a concert and posting everything on social media. People you follow on Strava posting long and adventurous runs with incredible pictures. It could even be the new TV your neighbor bought, which triggers you to go and buy a new one as well.

Ever heard of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’? Say hello to its 21st-century cousin.

For runners, this feeling often comes from the thought that others are out getting fitness gains while we’re sitting on the couch. Your feet are propped up on the table. You’re watching your sixth episode of that Netflix show you can’t get enough of, and pizza is on the way. Would Kilian Jornet be doing this? But, as much as we (maybe only me) wish, we’re nothing like Kilian Jornet.

But, what is FOMO exactly?

FOMO is a huge problem in our hyperconnected world.
Photo by Abigail on Unsplash

FOMO is defined as “a feeling of anxiety or insecurity over the possibility of missing out on something, such as an event or an opportunity.” In our hyper-connected world, this is exacerbated by social media.

Unsurprisingly, a decrease in social media use has been linked with reductions in loneliness and depression. As a result, the anxiety and FOMO an individual feels drops.

Yet, fighting this feeling is complicated. It’s a feeling that you can’t shake. While you’re relaxing and recovering, that little person on your shoulder is on the treadmill telling you that you could’ve worked harder.

But, it’s time to be like Jay-Z and brush that shoulder off.

FOMO in Training

In sports, where everything depends on your skills and abilities, the urge to continue pushing and working is ever-present.

However, the chance for your body to rest is essential for your fitness gains. We view fitness as only coming through the actual act of exercise or training, which isn’t incorrect.

We often overlook the time for your body to rest, absorb, and repair. As we increase the intensity and frequency of our runs, tiny tears form in our muscles. Similar to weightlifting, these micro-tears, and their healing, lead to strength increases.

The less time you give your body to rest and repair, the more these micro-tears will worsen into a full-blown injury.

Avoiding overuse injuries

Runners are no strangers to overuse injuries. The constant, repetitive motion is a perfect storm for any number of injuries. Runner’s knee, shin splints, IT band problems, Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, stress fractures—call out ‘BINGO’ when I’ve mentioned yours.

Allowing yourself the time to rest gives your body a chance to:

  • Repair and strengthen your muscles
  • Replenish the muscle’s energy stores
  • Body tissue has time to repair

Have you ever had one of those workouts where you thought to yourself, wow, I feel great today! I thought I’d be sorer after that workout. So, you decided you’re gonna put in another hard workout. But, once the workout starts, you realize that you’re far more tired than you realized.

You’re pressing the gas, but there’s none left. Your legs fatigue 1000x as fast as usual with every step. And your breathing feels labored.

Underlying processes are occurring in your body that your brain isn’t always quick to detect, especially when you see potential fitness gains left out on the trail.

However, your body needs that recovery to get those fitness gains. Otherwise, you’re risking overuse and any related injuries. And, if you think FOMO is bad now, imagine what it will be like when you’re sidelined by an injury.

Avoiding burnout

There is also the issue of making your current passion into something that feels like a job.

The thought of your scheduled workout fills you with dread. You’ve found that you’re not looking forward to your runs as much anymore.

Before, your shoes were on your feet hours before you were going to do your run. It would take a brick wall to keep you from going out and hitting the trails—and that may not have stopped you either!

Now, you’re slowly putting your training clothes on, you look like a five-year-old learning to tie their shoes for the first time. You slowly loop the laces, pull them tight…then you undo them and do it again.

If you’ve reached this point, it’s probably time for a short break. Or a vacation. Vacations are nice.

It’s understandable, though, and we all go through it at some point. It’s hard to keep your motivation levels up constantly. Life throws curveballs at you, events take over your life, and you get preoccupied with other obligations.

Burnout is one of the most common problems that derail people's training.
Photo by littlehenrabi

Running can be like a lover. Don’t see them enough, and the love may fade completely. See them far too much, and you may lose sight of what made you fall in love with them in the first place. The key is finding Goldilocks’s porridge—the amount that is just right.

If you’re feeling burnout set in, take some time off. Find other activities to occupy your time. There’s a good chance that it’s a signal from your body and mind telling you to back off the pedal.

However, backing off doesn’t mean that you have to stop exercising. Try out cross-training, or pick up an entirely new sport. Trying new things is a great way to refresh your mind and give your body a change that keeps it on its toes. And, trust me, your body will thank you for it.

Avoiding the comparison trap

Comparing yourself to others is one of the most important things you need to ignore. The constant feeling of needing to compare your progress/training to that of others.

And this message isn’t only for running. This message is for life in general. Ignore the pull of comparing yourself to other people.

You are not them. And they are not you. And that is perfectly fine.

Speaking metaphorically here, you are on your own journey and your own training path. You and the other people you see training aren’t even on the same mountain, nor are you running the same race.

Each runner has their history, stresses, injuries, and so on to determine where they are in their training. This isn’t even considering the fact that, biologically, you are not the same as others either.

The comparison you can focus on is that of yourself. Where are you compared to last week? Last year? How about compared to five years ago? It’s these comparisons where you see how far you have come.

Remember when you couldn’t run a 5k without gasping for air like Spongebob in Sandy’s dome? Now that distance is nothing to you. You may go out for a 5k run daily. So, you go ahead, Spongebob. Get that glass of water you’ve been craving.

Running is not something that should be viewed short-term. The gains are not going to be noticeable. When you zoom out to view the long term, that’s where the improvements will be realized.

Approach your training like the stock market.

You’re making regular investments and slowly growing your portfolio. If you look at it daily, you’ll be discouraged. It’s going to bounce up and down like a heartbeat monitor. But you’re not in it for the short term (at least you shouldn’t be).

Fast-forward a few years down the road, and that portfolio has grown considerably. You have an amount that you thought wasn’t even possible a few years ago.

The same is true for your training. There will be ups and downs, but keep making those investments in yourself and watch how far it takes you.

The problem is that most runners vastly overestimate how much they can improve in the short term. Meanwhile, they underestimate how much they can improve by looking at their training long-term. That easy run isn’t for today or even for this training block. It’s for years from now when you’ve banked a considerable base.

As humans, we’re always looking for that quick payoff. But, anything worth achieving isn’t going to come without hard work over a long period.

Treat your running as a long-term game against yourself. And remember, the other runners don’t matter in your personal training. You’re at the period in your training where you’re supposed to be.