What constitutes “improvement”?

I’m quite competitive with myself. I like to see evidence of improvement when I’m working on things. I enjoy running, for example, but I also want to get faster and more fit as part of my running. I’ve been working on improving my fitness in many ways, including by losing weight, for years now. I’ve been training in dog agility for 13 years this summer and I’d like to thinking I’m improving. I run some races year after year, looking for improvement in my times.

All of which begs the question: how do you measure improvement in these areas? Take weight management and a healthy diet, for example: Is it good enough to maintain a steady weight if the average Jane gains a few pounds every year? Exactly how much (how little?) sugar should there be in a healthy nutrition plan? Should you judge healthy nutrition by blood sugar and blood lipid levels?

Or my race times? I’ve steadily improved my Mt. Tabor Tar ‘N’ Trail 5K times over the years. October 1st will be my fifth running. If I don’t improve my time, is that a sign of impending decline? Or is holding steady good enough at my age, when the world record progression shows a steady and inexorable decline with age (See this link.) (I’ll note here that, if I were 83 (and not about-to-be-62, tomorrow), I’d currently hold the world record. Obviously, I’m not world class.)

And how do I measure improvement in dog agility? More Qs? More interesting Qs? Not worrying about Q-ing? For a long time, when I first started running Rush, my goal for any given run was not to be barked at; Rush was inclined to yell at me if he thought I was late with a cue. These days I mostly get through courses without being barked at, and sometimes we run clean, and sometimes I measure success by not getting lost and sometimes I measure success by directing Rush through a course faster than dogs we normally lose to. More often, though, I try to think of each agility course as a unique challenge and not compare my success with anyone else’s including my own ideal self.