The problem with competitive sports…
When I was in my twenties I did a lot of running races, bicycle racing and some biathlons and triathlons. I did pretty well considering I was studying full time at the university and doing practicums and working part to full time during those years. I would typically come in the top group of amateur finishers. On occasion I’d get 1st or 2nd in my age-group which was nice. I considered trying to make the transition into full-time triathlete but I really didn’t have the resources in place to do it. I really wanted to finish my degrees as I thought they were the most important thing to accomplish in my life. If you ask me now, were they? I’d have to say, no – there were many other things I could have done instead. Such is hindsight.
During my twenties I played competitive racquetball, tennis, basketball, volleyball, ran, swam, and biked. I enjoyed some success and competition was always fun to me. I’d not win everything – my younger brother would delight in telling you that. He’d destroy me in tennis and to help me get through a match he’d let me get a few points here and there. How sick is that for a brother to do?
I’ve always felt the need to punish myself during exercise. While running or biking for instance, if I had the smallest, flitting thought that it might be difficult to run up the hill in front of me instead of go the other way around it – I’d make myself run up it, and fast too. I always force myself to do what the mind doesn’t want to do. I enjoy that for some twisted reason – forcing the body to do what the mind doesn’t want to do.
During competition it’s easy to push yourself because there are others you can measure yourself against and set goals during the race to beat them. Competition drives us to excel from outside ourselves.
When I got into my thirties I ran less. Biked less. I competed much less. When I did compete I’d notice that occasionally there was a teenager blowing by me on the run. Perhaps a woman that passed me during the first couple miles of a run. Sometimes it was an older guy. Sure, these people were in amazing shape and had worked their ass off to get there. But in my mind I had no right competing at all if I was going to be bested by teens, ladies and old men. It just wasn’t my idea of competition. Instead of feeling good about a race I started to think – what’s the point? I could run 6 miles anywhere I chose – why do it here in front of all these people that could see a 14 year old run faster over 6 miles than me?
So began a foray into the non-competitive sports. I took up mountain biking instead of road racing. I ran through the woods instead of at the track or at races or with groups of people. I began hiking up some of the more difficult ridge hikes on Oahu. I didn’t crave competition as much – except in beach volleyball where I persisted for a number of years before finally dropping out of the competitive two on two tournaments and settling for pick-up games of 6 players at the beach with anyone that wanted to play. Volleyball became a way to pass the time, recreation instead of a serious competition. Running, cycling, swimming, all sports became the same thing – recreation.
The thing about competition is, there’s always a loser. Frequently there are two losers. For me, it wasn’t just about being able to beat someone in a game or a race, it was as much about being able to pull out the absolute peak performance from me while doing it. If I raced badly and still won – what was I going to celebrate? Beating a bunch of people that couldn’t beat me on a bad day? If I played racquetball 70% great and 30% slop and beat my opponent (friend), then I may feel good, I may not. In my mind the 30% slop would haunt me because I’d know I needed to eliminate that part of my game in order to be a perfect player.
Competition while you’re very young – under 30 seems like a good thing. At least the losing doesn’t bother you much when it happens.
After virtually stopping competitive activities there was always this nagging need inside to punish my body with strenuous effort. Since I wasn’t competing with anyone else I competed with myself. I made myself the ultimate opponent.
Competition in later years is best done with yourself. Against the clock and against your mind. Why? You’re always a winner.
The exercise I do now is mostly walking and running up some steps. I don’t do it against a group of people, but recently the few guys I know that go up often started comparing times. I got sucked in. The top guy, Sven, a 32 year old from Switzerland was getting to the top in 12:15. I seemed to be stuck at 12:30. Another friend, Jim (49 yrs?) from England was at 14:30 and Joe from England, 31 years old was at 13:30. It took me a few tries, but finally I beat Sven at the time of 12:01. It damn near killed me too!
Out of the blue I get an email from my French friend, Charles. He claims he has a friend from France here in Thailand on vacation in his early 30′s that’s doing it in 10:45. I was amazed. I’d been up and down that mountain 280 times as of yesterday, and I can’t see how I could possibly take another second off my time. I demanded to see photos of the guy. Charles sent back photos of the new champion – a 30 year old that weighed about 50Kg (122lbs) in a racing singlet. I felt better about losing the championship status to someone that was 40+ pounds lighter than me, but still it hurt. Competition hurts.
For a few minutes after hearing about the new record I thought the time was impossible. Then I accepted it. Then I resigned to beat that time. Then I came back to reality. How was I going to shave 75 seconds off my time? Lose 40 pounds? Nah. I decided to counter this recent threat by creating new categories for the competition.
- Best time from each country.
- Best time for age groups
- Best time wearing a backpack with 10 lbs (I usually have my computer, camera and other equipment with me)
- Best time up AND down
- Best time up and down and up and down (twice).
- Best time up and down thrice.
- Best time up during a rainstorm.
- Best time up before 11 am (hottest time, most sun directly on steps).
- Best time by weight class. Super flyweight 120lbs and less. Thin folks 121-160lbs. Normal folks 161-181. Large folks 182-202. Clydesdales, 203+.
See – now I’m a winner any of nine ways.
Competition as a loser generally sucks, even for a winner it’s often not all that great an experience. As much as you want to say, “It wasn’t the game, it was the playing that I enjoyed….” It’s much more fun over time NOT to compete and just push yourself to be all you can be. At least for me it’s becoming that way as I head toward mid-forties. More about how I push myself while exercising coming soon.
Best of Life!