“Be thankful for quality competitors who push you to your limits”
One of the best things about running is that anyone can do it. It’s not a sport only for those who have the luxury of time and can train hours every day. Not something a person has to naturally be good at or have God-given talent to do well. It’s not a sport afforded only by the wealthy, as it doesn’t require expensive equipment or machines; all a person really needs is a quality pair of shoes and some decent, weather-appropriate clothing.
And for those of us with a little bit of a competitor inside, running is a sport in which anyone can compete – as an amateur, joe-schmo adult. Competitive racing isn’t only reserved for high school athletes or those with college scholarships. Go online and you’ll find a nearby 5k, 10k or other race just about every weekend. Runners of all ages and abilities, shapes and sizes line up, weekend after weekend to compete. Granted, most adult runners don’t necessarily “compete”, in fact, most who run don’t do it for the thrill of competition at all. But there’s a school of thought among amateur runners and something I hear a lot that, when you run, it’s all about competing against yourself.
Where did this idea come from that runners should only worry about competing against themselves? Basically, we’re told we shouldn’t worry about trying to be better than anyone else, but focus on being better than you were yesterday. Am I the only one who thinks this is bullshit? Competition is about being the best, being better than others who are on a similar playing field. Yes, sometimes that means being better than yourself and pushing past your own limits but, in a lot of cases, that success only comes from the motivation and drive to be better than someone else.
I was thinking about this as I prepare for a 10k I’m racing on Thursday morning. I’ve been feeling a bit under the weather for several days now; as a result, haven’t been running as much or as intense as I normally would training for a 10k. See, when I signed up and started training for this race, my goal was to win it. That’s right, to be the first woman to cross the finish line. Period.
A lot of people will say this is a terrible attitude. Running should be about achieving your personal best, not running faster than someone else. And, you can’t control how others perform, only yourself, so why set yourself up to potentially fail at something, no matter how hard you try. There’s definite truth to all that and I certainly wouldn’t advise a first-time runner to try and beat other runners. But for me, the desire to be the fastest on that day, in that race, against whoever else shows up only fuels my training and performance.
When I train at a 7:15 min/mile pace, that doesn’t mean I’m planning to run the entire race at that pace. When I do sub-7 min/mile sprints and intervals, it’s not so I can sprint for one minute every five minutes during the race. It’s prepping my body, my legs, my lungs and my mind to be able to dig deep and push that hard if the situation warrants. If I’m in second place in the last mile and I can kick in the gas to pass that woman in front of me, I need to be able to do that. I want to be able to do that.
It’s like the first (and only) 10k race I ever won outright. Prior to that race, I felt breaking a 44:00 10k was out of my reach. I ran that race in 42:40. I didn’t train to run it that fast, I had never run more than 2 sub-7 min/miles in a row. But passing everyone within the first mile was encouraging. Hearing people cheer me at mile three at yell, “You’re the lead female!” was empowering. And knowing the next female was only a little ways behind me when I looked back after passing mile five lit a fire inside and drove me to push that last mile faster than I thought I could. It’s what made me win the race AND put up a personal best I never thought possible.
That’s the thing about the power others have over us. Sometimes, other people force us to push past the boundaries we’ve set for ourselves. Why do you think so many people hire personal trainers, go to group fitness classes, have a leg day buddy? Even the most self-motivated person sometimes needs an outside voice to tell them they can do more, and push them to do it.
I’m not saying you should always set a goal of winning a race, of placing top three in your age group, etc. Sometimes, a personal best or just finishing is a victory in itself. And yes, you can’t control what level of runners are going to show up that day and how other racers perform that day. But that’s not setting us up for failure, that’s the spirit of competition and what makes us the best we can be. If you push yourself to the max and give that race everything you have, you’re not a loser or a failure.
Due to this nasty cold bug I can’t seem to shake, I’ll probably go out there on Thursday no longer looking to win. I’ll mentally prep myself to enjoy the run and take it easy so I don’t make myself sicker. But if I happen to feel 100% within those first few paces, you bet your ass I’m running the rest of the way with every intention to be the first woman across the finish line.
I expect to get some backlash from this, so let’s hear it. Do you feel I’m wrong? Should running be all about personal victories? Or, do you think it’s okay, even healthy, to compete against others? Comment below or tweet me @runlikeagirl311.
I can see both sides. I like setting new PRs which is really competing against my (past) self. But I do most of my runs by myself and enjoy races where I get to test myself against other people – and you can’t deny that passing people out feels awesome.
Thanks for reading & commenting. I agree, this definitely isn’t a one-sided argument. I feel as though it has been engrained in us to only focus on yourself, we’re missing out on the upside healthy, peer-to-peer competition provides. I’ve thanked other runners who’ve beaten me, for setting a high standard and pushing me. I’ve had other runners thank me for the same reason. Definitely friendly competition and lots of positivity!