Thursday, June 7, 2012

Confession: competition - a four letter word?

Yes, I can do my arithmetic and see that there are more than four letters in the word "competition", but in a figurative sense, for me, at least, this concept can provoke a less-than-healthy response, leaning to the profane.  As much as I like to think of myself as a laid-back, take-it-easy individual, I'm not sure that is the case.  And my husband would definitely snort either in surprise, shock or disbelief if he heard me use such terms to describe myself.

So, yes, competition.  Over the past 2 years, since getting back into running and then delving more into other activities (triathlon), I've enjoyed being able to participate in a nice range of events.  These events - well, we can call them 'races' - have often inspired me to push myself out of my comfort zone, but, for the most part, they've also been fun experiences, sometimes taking us to explore different places, mainly here in Southern CA.  I tell myself that my experience of the race has nothing to do with the competition aspect of the race, or the event, that I can - or should - judge my performance based on different criteria.  First of all, did I enjoy the experience or not?  If I did, what made it a "fun" event - the course, the other people, the *vibe*, my mood?  Secondly, if I did enjoy it but especially if I did not enjoy the experience (or part of it, such as Wildflower 2012), what did I learn from it?  It may seem silly to analyze a race experience in such a way since I try not to take the running plus other sport thing as more than a healthy interest.  Considering the time that I'm spending on these endeavors, however, I might as well spend some time to reflect on an experience.  After all, I do make goals, whether I acknowledge them or not, and I invest not only time but also money in this "hobby".

With that in mind, I often try to move the competition idea to the back burner, either ignoring it or pretending to do so.  However, in the last two weeks, two events have led me to see that my competitive drive certainly hovers just under the surface and sometimes asserts itself with full force when provoked. The provocation is rare, especially if it's a race at which I know no one and have zero expectations of myself or other people.  That happens to be the usual experience, as I don't coordinate races with hundreds of my best friends.  Occasionally, however, my social/work life and the running/racing life intersect, and I will actually know people at a race/event.  Gasp!  It's usually really fun to wish each other well and cheer along the way or at the end.  Even more fun to grab some grub and libations afterwards!

In the last two events, however, I found that participating with someone with whom I work did not lead to the supportive, cheering, "go you, go me" attitude to which I am accustomed.  Instead, it worked up my competitive edge, which totally surprised me.  Surprise because this is a younger, far more athletic person than I.  I work with her, and all she talks about is her running and racing and training experience/schedule.  Lots and lots of talk.  Let me also say that she is young and cocky and immature in some ways.  And she definitely gets under my skin.  She is not in my age group, so I don't compare myself to her in terms of performance.  99 times out of 100, she'll kick my ass. However, we were both racing Mt. Wilson a few weeks ago.  When I passed her within the first mile or so of the Mt. Wilson trail, the notion that I could actually BEAT HER on this race fueled me on.  I knew that I needed a good margin on the uphill because she would make up major time on the downhill.  Which she did - she cruised by me, but at the end, I crossed the finish line right behind her.  When the official results were posted, however, I saw that I beat her.  Yes, I delighted a bit in this fact, despite knowing that it was probably a fluke event that I would never repeat.

Then, last Wednesday, while on the trip with the students, two other teachers and I went into Santa Barbara to participate in an aquathon - 1000 meter swim/5k run.  This person from the Mt. Wilson race was one of the three.  Now, I fully planned to view the swim-run as just a good opportunity for a brick workout.  Not a race.  I hoped to have a good, strong swim and then an easy 5k.  Well, the swim kicked my ass, but I knew that I exited the water with a strong time gap between this other woman (girl?) and me.  So, when I got to the run, instead of taking it easy, I freakin' booked it.  I'm not sure what my official 5K time was since I did not have a stopwatch and my "official" time included a lousy transition time, but it was probably around 24 or 25 minutes.  Did I beat this other person?  YES!

Now, the more important question - was it worth it?  The answer is more complicated than the simple and overly exuberant exclamation above.  Did it give me bragging rights?  Sort of, but I did very little with them.  Did it momentarily fill me with a petty sense of pride?  A definite yes, but let me stress the adverb there.  In addition to that fleeting sense of one-ups-manship, I did break one of my own cardinal rules - to never race twice in the same week, or within a week's period.  My body - my knee(s) - can't handle it, and that is a fact.  Did this race prove said fact?  Yes, it did because I tweaked my knee a bit running hard on the downhill and have been paying for my foolish, prideful decision to go hard just a few days after the Mt. Wilson race which had already put my body through the ringer.

So, I'm trying to stave off this impulse to race, race, race at every opportunity.  Or, if I plan to race, I need to go in with a strategy, stick to it and not ignore what good sense is telling me.  I hope to remember all of these platitudes this Sunday.  I have an Olympic Tri, a local race, and I want to use it both as a race but also as good training for Boulder.  No guts and glory, leave it all behind, bring my uber-competetive face to the starting line.  Just a smart and hopefully fun race!

I am still smug about edging out this other woman in two races?  Yes, I am - and my ego has certainly ballooned a bit.  I don't see competition as being inherently bad or evil, and I doubt that I'll ever beat her at another race again in my life or hers.  But it was awfully satisfying to think that a 40-year-old woman can still take on a 26-year-old hotrod for that rare race out of all of them and come out ahead!


Kimra said...

First of all -- KICKASS work beating a young'n, even if it was a "petty" delight. OK, now I'm just fanning the competitive flames. In all seriousness, I appreciate your reflections on the purpose of competing. Did I look up the finish times of all my tri club teammates after Wildflower? Yup. Did I assess where I ranked among them? Yup. Why? ...... I don't know! I think I just didn't want to be last, which is maybe a little sad to be worrying about in a hobby. I always say, oh, I'm just racing against myself, but in practice that's pretty hard to execute, I think.

Kristina said...

Kimra - Thanks for the congrats for the petty delight and for understanding! I hate calling running/tri stuff a "hobby" because it definitely feels like something bigger than that, but I also don't want it to become my entire identity. I think that it is hard to completely ignore the comparison game - after all, why are we doing all of this if not to thrive a bit from the competition?

Katie said...

interesting.....but while it's hard to ignore the comparison, I don't think it's wrong. sometimes you need that edge!

Kristina said...

Katie - Thanks for the comment. I suppose that I do think that there is healthy competition, and this one may be more on the mean, petty side. Ah well... And if I don't admit that I do love to compete at times, then I'd be lying to myself.

ChezJulie said...

I think it's great that you had good races, and that you have a competitive drive! But maybe the way to think about it is in terms of being more judicious about when you unleash it.

Running is extremely important to you, you do have more risk of injury at 40, and you don't want to just put the pedal to the metal anytime some annoying young thing is on the course with you. Maybe it is best to unleash that drive when you have planned to as you said (like once a week) or when you're competing in your age group, and start learning to be zen about the times when you can't.

I am in my mid-40s and have patellorfemoral syndrome, so I have to modify stuff all the time to avoid putting pressure on my knees. But I think it is better to modify and get to keep being active than to try to keep up and hurt myself.

Kristina said...

ChezJulie - Thanks for sharing your perspective and experience! My knee doc wants me to stay active, so he's very supportive of my activities. But, I do need to be smart about it. Or, like you say, judicious. Fortunately, the next race is just about finishing, so I won't be trying to beat anyone to the finish line - just want to get there myself!

mindful mule said...

I feel like competitiveness has an undeserved bad rap. But it can be an effective motivator and can lead to greater levels of experience. I say, follow it – just not off a cliff.