To be the Best, Run with the Best

Since running my first marathon in 2009, it’s been in the back of my mind.  Can I run a sub-four-hour marathon?  Of the two I’ve done, I would have to shave more than twenty minutes off my time to do so.

This summer, I started running occasionally with someone who runs fast.  So fast, she has qualified for Boston and qualified this year to run the New York City Marathon. I think her marathon PR is around a 3:24. This means she has finished a marathon about an hour faster than I have. She typically runs each mile at least one to two minutes faster, if not more even during her casual runs, than I am used to running.   And the other people she runs with do the same.

I like her as a person and felt like her company would be nice. So I thought, well let’s just see if I can keep up.

Running is often a metaphor for leading and living, and what I’ve found to be true in this new occasional running group is to be better, you have to surround yourself with people who are better than you are.

Smarter, faster, stronger.  A better entrepreneur, wife, leader, heck, a better person in general.  If you want to be it, find someone or people who are that, and spend time with them.

The things that I think hold true for being around people that are better than you are:


1. You don’t have to be around them all the time to feel their impact. These ladies get up EARLY to run.  While in the summer that time was around 5 am, I went a couple times a week with them.  When that start time was pushed back to 4:30 am when school started back, I’ve found it hard to mentally wrap my mind around getting up that early.  Coupled with some inner ear problems I’ve had that is the worse first thing in the morning, I’ve only been running with them less than once a week now.  However, doing an 18-mile-long run with them showed me I could hold a sub-nine-minute mile for that long and make my sub-four hour marathon time possible.

So, if you can devote one hour a week to being around those that are better in the arena you are trying to improve in, do it.  Everyone has one hour they can carve out each week, and it is worth it.  Schedule that time and stick to it.


2. Their impact begins to become a habit or come naturally. When I’m not running with them, I’m still running faster than I used to.  Running in the nine to ten-minute mile pace has now become running in the eight to nine-minute mile pace for me.   The slower pace now seems weird or unnatural.  Running a half-marathon solo a couple of weeks ago led to a PR of 1:48:50 (8:18 per mile pace) and it felt good.

So, when you aren’t physically with those who are better than you are, harness what they’ve taught you and practice it solo.   You might even want to schedule a solo “race” or trial run to help you see if you can go it alone, using their positive influence to move you forward.


3. You’ll find that what you set out for them to help you improve in isn’t the only thing they make you better in. The person I started running with has a child the same age as one of mine.  They are both having a hard time reading in school.  I’ve found it hard to find people that I am friends with or that are good friends with my son who are dealing with the same challenge.  Talking about this while we run has helped me with perspective, insights, and calmness about the situation.  My husband ran with us for a bit right before the first report card of the year came out.  After we finished, he said, “Man, it was so good to hear her say she had the same worries that we do.  We aren’t the only ones dealing with this.”

So, when you surround yourself with better people, don’t silo them into the one area you think they can help you improve in.  Be open to their insights as it relates to all aspects of life by building a holistic relationship with them.  Conversely, don’t see them as perfect either.  Just because they are making you better in one area doesn’t mean they are a God.  Offer them grace (and yourself grace) when it comes to learning and growing.


4. Their impact allows you to have an impact on others.  The same child that struggles with reading does not struggle with running.  He loves it, and he is fast.  And if there is anything I’ve found to be true, it is when things are hard (like homework and school are for him right now) you’ve got to have an outlet to pursue some things you are great at and love.

Running with her has allowed me to see this running fast thing as an opportunity to connect with my speed-demon seven-year-old.  Running unites us in a common passion. We’ve signed up for the Huntsville Marathon together.  He will do the kids’ marathon, where he will run 25.2 miles before race day, keeping a log, and then run the last one mile on race day when I run the 26.2 miles all at once.  I may not make my PR and sub-4:00 goals, but if I were a betting person, he will at least win his age group if not more.  Seeing him excel at something he loves is way better than me hitting my goal.

My favorite runner is Shalane Flanagan.  She just finished 3rd in the New York City Marathon (where my fast friend finished in 3:42).  She’s my favorite because she seems to get this point so well.  She is committed to making herself and others better through creating opportunities for mutual gain.  To read more about this, check out the article from Runner’s World that was written after her stunning 2017 NYC Marathon win.


When you find the opportunity to grow and learn from someone who is better than you are, take that experience and use it to help someone else learn and grow.  Or at least use it to share a passion with someone.

How do you surround yourself with people who are better?


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Mary Ila Ward

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