“Go fast enough to get there, but slow enough to see” (Jimmy Buffet)
What’s the first thing you say to people when they ask how you went in a race? For me that question has but one meaning, what was your time? I never really think to answer, it went fine, because I’m pretty sure what the follow up question would be.
I’m not sure what makes us so competitive, some of it is probably the way we’ve been brought up by our families and pushed to do better and better and some of it is probably our friend groups and the environment and interactions they promote.
Competitiveness it seems to me is both a blessing and a curse. It infiltrates many areas of my life, some are quite evident, some not so. To a degree I think most of us feel it, whether it is keeping up with the Jones sort of stuff or a desire to achieve bigger and better things than our contemporaries. The popularity of a range of different social media platforms provides us with multiple opportunities to take part in these ‘compare and contrast’ exercises. I don’t as I’m sure some people would have you believe, view these platforms as bad because the crux is, they provide us with ‘opportunities’ rather than make us feel one way or another. We all have free will to choose what we think and do.
The last few weeks leading into the marathon gave me a lot of time to reflect as I was completing the training runs. A friend suggested to me some months ago that I use Strava to record my runs and that way we could both view each other’s training and provide encouragement. It sounded like a fantastic idea at the time and I quickly signed up. Strava basically downloads the stats from my running watch and duplicates them into an interface through which people can view them. After a while, I decided to add a few other people and people started sending me requests and before you know it, I have 10 contacts. I then noticed that the app tracks your time over various segments of a run and compares this to everyone who has ever run that stretch. The app also has various challenges which you can compete in.
That’s maybe when the fun started. I call it ‘fun’ in a very tongue in cheek way. Part of me likes that drive, that competition and comparison to push things further but increasingly I tend to not enjoy that side of running. I’ve run some decent times in my day and to a degree can still manage a fair clip but lately I’ve begun to wonder whether it’s taking the fun out of running.
My choice to run the marathon with a friend of mine didn’t come about because of the purist motives of friendship. I was training well for the marathon but half way through I had to go on teaching placement for 4 weeks. Those 4 weeks were intense, and I had to drop my running program from three runs a week to one run and I quickly concluded that I wasn’t going to challenge my previous marathon time. At that point I considered dropping to the half marathon, but my friend convinced me to do the full marathon. My compromise was that I’d run the marathon at his pace instead of mine.
And so, to the race. For the first time for a long time, I thoroughly enjoyed a race. My pace meant I was able to do lots of things I could not do at my first marathon. I chatted to spectators, I danced past the bands, I high-fived lots of kids and adults along the route, stopped at water stations and generally felt more of the overall experience of a run than I ever have. On a few occasions as my feet naturally pushed me forward, my friend asked me to run ahead and leave him if I wanted but I refused every time, probably much to his dismay! However, I had a ball. I had a beaming smile on my face from about two kilometres out and I had that hair standing up on my neck feeling as I ran the last kilometre into the MCG. It was amazing. Plus, I could still easily walk afterwards with only a couple of slight pains and absolutely no cramp.
All of this has really led me to think about both my own competitive nature and the effect that social media platforms have on it. With that in mind, I’ve decided that after a parkrun this Saturday, I will delete Strava and try to run once again because I love running rather than running for times. I feel by removing it, I will not be able to compare my times with anyone else and no-one will be able to compare them with me. I don’t plan to stop running with a running watch on, but going forward those stats will be for my viewing and any competitiveness will be with myself, which I guess at the end of the day is the only person we really ever compete with.