May 20, 2008
The true purpose of competition
I was out running in the beautiful sunshine at lunch today with one of my coworkers. As we jogged along, we got on the subject of athletic ability and being an athlete. I recently ran the cinco de mayo menudo 5k benefit run in West St. Paul and felt like it was a great race. But I didn't win, nor did I place in the top ten. I was close, but not quite there. Two people passed me close to the end but I just couldn't match their pace. My goal at that point was to just "not slack off" my own hard pace.
So our conversation today drifted toward 'gifted' athletes, like Lance Armstrong. Lance is a good one to use for an example because he has a heart of a bull and can pump oxygen through his veins at an astounding rate. Granted he's younger than me, and youth should be able to out-perform older people, if training properly and motivated, but his times at the recent boston marathon were much faster than my 5k run. He ran about 6.5 minute miles for 26 miles! I ran 7:40 miles for 3.1 miles and that was about the max I could do on that day. I once ran a two-miler at 10:24 but have never been able to quite repeat that stellar performance. I came close a few times, but gradually over the years my times crept up to around 8+ minutes per mile. That was when I was in the Army, training regularly. And this is now, after two kids, work, school, and countless other obligations and hobbies to take up my tiime. Even if I did train constantly and consistantly and properly, I don't think my heart or lungs would ever reach Lance's capacity. I'm just not wired that way. That doesn't mean I couldn't beat him some day if I worked really hard. Because he could have an off day, or not be as motivated or heaven forbid, stop training and take up knitting. Many less-gifted athletes have beaten the 'naturals' in races.
I have found though that I don't compete to beat other people. I race to motivate myself. I race to beat my best time at this stage in my life. I race to push my boundaries and feel the exhilaration of pushing my limits. I race to see what I can do. In my experience trying out the athletic lifestyle, competition is not really useful or meaningful if it's just to beat the other person.
Recently another person came into the bike shop and was scoping us out. He runs a business selling used stuff, including used bicycles. He admitted to me that he viewed our bike shop as competition. And that he would be looking for ways to beat us. He didn't come right out and say that last line, but it was strongly hinted. I had to chuckle because, we are not competing with anyone. We are simply creating something really cool. And honestly, beating us at our own game would not deter from our mission, just make it easier. Besides, monitarily, who can really compete with dozens of volunteers selflessing giving to the community? And if that person found a way to shut us down in the spirit of 'competition' would that make his business any better? I don't think so. In the end what he has to offer will sell itself.
In life we do not have to 'beat' others in order to win. If we use competition to better ourselves and our output, then we are benefiting ourselves and others. If we use competition just for the sake of winning, there is always another Lance Armstrong to come along and put us in our place. Even Lance did not win the Boston Marathon or set the world record. Maybe he could do it, but in the end old age will wipe that clean. In that light, winning, just for the sake of winning, could do more harm to us than help. Why not do what you can to stretch yourself and see what you can do. Be creative, be concious in life and use competition for it's true purpose, to better yourself and others.