Friday, January 16, 2015

On Being Competitive

I have a new running client who signed up with me with the goal of running a 5K at some point in the not-too-distant future.  He's starting from a point where he has some weight to lose and he hasn't been vigorously active for a few years.  After our first run, he seemed pleasantly surprised that he was capable of running at all.  When our second run was done and it was still very difficult, his enthusiasm for running began to visibly wane.  During our third run together, he talked about how he doesn't really want to run a 5K, but he'd like to look like he could.  He insisted that he didn't really like running all that much and wasn't interested in running long distances, and as for racing, well, "Pahla, I'm just not a competitive person."


When somebody says to me - and in my line of work as a fitness trainer, I hear this A LOT - that they're not competitive, what I hear is, "I am afraid."

I'm afraid it's going to be hard work.

I'm afraid people will laugh at me.

I'm afraid of changing my habits.

I'm afraid that even if I try really, really hard I might still fail.

The road to success is pretty much all uphill.
There was a time years ago when I told people I wasn't competitive, and believe me the laundry list of things that I was afraid of was as long as my arm.  Sometimes it still is.  But as I've learned to embrace being competitive, I've discovered that the things I was afraid of aren't that scary after all.  I love working hard.  WTF do I care if people are laughing at me?  Sometimes my mistakes are so funny I laugh at myself!  Habits change whether I intend them to or not, so I might as well take some control over what I do all day.  And, yeah, sometimes I'm going to fail.  In fact, long-time readers have been around for some pretty spectacular failures.  I lived to tell the tale and compete again.

I'm starting to get my competitive mojo back, after months of hanging out and waiting to feel better.  I'm excited about this year's racing plans and about the fact that I've put it out there:  I'm looking for a PR in 2015.  So this morning, for the first time in seven months, I did some speedwork.

I have to admit, I was a little bit afraid.  The comfort zone was calling out for me.  What if it sucks?  What if I can't actually run fast anymore?  It's a long road back to running PR paces, maybe I should just stay here in Easyville.

I set my bar pretty low, so as to feel successful even if it was as difficult as I feared.  The plan was to run two miles warm up, 1 mile at a speed somewhere in the (fingers crossed) mid- to low-8s, 1 mile of recovery, 1 mile at a speed as fast as I might get to after all that (maybe sub-9?), and then 1 mile cool down.

I went out a little fast on the warm up in giddy anticipation.  This would be the first time I'd really tested my legs in quite awhile and I was anxious to get to it.  I chose to run out-and-backs on the nature trail because there is only one time I cross a street and it's not a busy one, so my likelihood of needing to stop or even slow down in the middle of my "speedy" mile was very low.  I ran a lot of very successful speedwork and tempo miles on this trail when I was training for the 2013 CIM.  The first speedwork mile felt amazing!  For about half of it.  And then I remembered that running fast took a whole lot of work.  I held it together, but definitely felt the effort by the time my Garmin signaled the start of the recovery mile.  Mile 3 = 8:12!!!  I was ecstatic!

The whole recovery mile I debated whether or not I was going to run another speed mile.  One was good, right?  But the competitive girl inside of me wasn't having any of that.  Two miles on the plan means two miles get done.

The second speedy mile was much harder than the first.  My form felt awkward and my legs didn't really seem to know what they were doing, but I snuck a peek at my Garmin and I was still holding an incredible-for-me pace.  Not even halfway through, UltraIronHubs met me on the trail, finishing up his run.  I stopped very briefly to kiss him and he worriedly asked, "Are you alright?"  As I ran on, I had to laugh at that.  Apparently, the effort of my speedwork looked a little bit less like "Eye of the Tiger," and a little more like "I think I'm going to die."  Mile 5 = 8:15.  BOOM!

While I was floating on that last cool down mile home, I pondered the nature of my competitiveness.  I'll never be - objectively speaking - a fast runner.  But I am definitely a competitive one.  Running makes me feel fearless.  Of course it's hard.  Of course people could laugh at me.  Of course I could fail.  But I'm still going to put myself out there and compete.  Because it's totally worth it.

Have you always been competitive, or did running bring it out in you?


PahlaB said...

Of course! That's definitely the kind of competitive that I am, too. I only need to be as good as I am - not anybody else!

Laura said...

I have definitely always been competitive. If I'm honest with myself I have to admit that I want to be the best at everything I do. Which means I'm always failing because that's just ridiculous. I could stand to be a little less competitive or perfectionistic or whatever you want to call it.

But when it comes to running it at least balances out the part of me that's lazy. My husband is one of those people that would say he's not competitive, and I think it's actually true in his case. very little exercise happens with him...

Raina said...

I bet you must be a really great coach! I can see you understand people's thinking.. I would have just figured that person wasn't very motivated, but you are not going to give up on someone! A beginner really does need someone to help them be accountable and show them YES you CAN do this. And sometimes you have to inspire the "you WANT to" part as a coach. That can be a challenge!.

Tiina L said...

I think competitive means different people, but just being complacent is never okay. People need to have goals, *especially* if they are scary. Otherwise you run the risk of being stagnant. And then you're not too far from not living at all.