Thursday, March 16, 2006

Refusing Defeat

I never considered myself to be super competitive. I didn’t like to lose, but who does? But I was never one to get upset about not coming in first at a cross country race or cry if I didn’t win four square. I did get upset if I didn’t feel like I had performed up to my own expectations. I compete against myself for the most part and that is probably because I am not a participant in team sports. I do individual sports, which kind of breed a different kind of egotistical attitude. I do not think I am invincible even though I sometimes say I am. I do not think that I am a professional even though some people think I am. I do not even think that I am really better than anyone although some people might think I am being superficially humble. But if there is anything that I am a snob about besides peanut butter and grammar/spelling, it’s running.

I have been running for almost 2 decades. That doesn’t make me an expert. It just means that I have been doing something I like to do for a long time, and I am lucky enough to still like it and still be able to do it. I have learned a lot of techniques through trial and error, but I also know that not all people are the same, which means not all people run the same. However, during the many hundreds of loops I have done in Central Park, I have spent a lot of that time in observation of the other runners around me. I basically see the same people every morning, and I can usually tell who they are from behind or from fifty feet away just by how they are running. It’s quite fascinating. I have seen people with great form and people who look like they are struggling every step of the way. My initial reaction to the latter type is to be somewhat critical, but then I remind myself that I am happy they are at least out there running, which is more than I can say for a lot of people. So those critical thoughts flee. There have been a few people in which it pains me to watch them run. And I just want to stop them and tell them how they could be more efficient and use less energy and be more comfortable… but alas, I usually say nothing and continue on my way.

When I first moved here, I remember seeing a couple of runners who were quite fast and had excellent form. I watched them pass me many times. In fact, I was often passed by a lot of people going around that loop. Now, I am the one usually doing the passing. It has come full circle through a lot of hard work… mainly speed intervals around the reservoir. But this increased ability has brought with it a little bit of an ego problem, some stupidity and more competitive drive. I had a long training run last Saturday of 18 miles. It went well. I finished in good time, and was pleased when it was over. However, no more than an hour later, I started to experience an unfamiliar and acute pain in my left knee, which started to freak me out because knees are joints you don’t want to mess with and because the Boston Marathon is only 5 weeks away. So I nursed it, iced it, limped around the rest of the weekend. Monday morning rolled around, and I needed to go for a run. My usual loop around the park. My knee was still sore, but I told myself that the pain would probably go away once I started running. That’s the beginning of the stupidity. As I came into the park, I passed a man who was running just slightly slower than I was and only because he was running somewhat flat-footed, but since I hate it when people run right beside me or right on my heels I sped up a little to get back my personal runner’s space. I passed another gentleman a couple miles later, who really did his best to keep up with me, but I was getting annoyed by his presence on my heels.

He tried to come back at me about a mile later, but I was going to have none of that. This is where my ego problem comes in. I don’t like to be passed. If I know that the person is substantially faster than me, then I let them go. Otherwise, I will speed up and prevail. So I sped up. And then out of nowhere the first guy I passed caught up to me. I was not going to let him pass me either, so I just picked up the pace a little. I kept him on my heels for a good mile and a half. This again is where the stupidity comes in. Here I am running on a sore knee when I probably shouldn’t be running at all. And I am not only running but sprinting. Not such a smart move, but that cursed ego would not let me back down. It turned out fine. We pushed each other to run faster, and I finished the loop in under 45 minutes. Luckily, my knee did not rebel or get worse. I am racing my watch every time I put my running shoes on. It’s all about beating my best time or at least maintaining my normal speed… and not letting people pass me.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with a little competitive drive. It’s a natural motivator. And at the end of the day, I don’t really think I am better than anyone else. In fact, I rely on those people to get me to the condition I am in. It’s the same with other aspects of my life. I am surrounded by talented, amazing, successful people all day every day. As we all participate in the Ironman of life, we are pushing each other in our own way, motivating those around us whether we know it or not. As we strive to move beyond mediocrity and into the realm of excellence encouraged by the same movement of those around us, we are inevitably inspiring the same in others. As long as I remember to be grateful for those people who get me to where I am, then I am happy to have that competitive drive and small ego when I strap on the running shoes. That drive and determination is often the thing that gets me through those moments that would otherwise leave me feeling defeated in the running shoes and out. And I refuse to be defeated.

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