How to Keep on Running: Don't Always Compete
Do you wonder how fast a human can possibly run? I have a hunch that Usain Bolt running a 100-meter dash in 9.58 seconds at the World Championships in 2009 closely tracks the summit of just how bloody fast a human can possibly be. It’s not difficult to imagine that as Bolt rounded that blue track in Berlin, with his arms outstretched relishing his victory, the notion of him being the fastest human on the planet cemented itself in his mind. For most of us, his 9.69-second effort in the 2008 Beijing Olympics had cemented that already.
Reflecting on my own self–and my runnr self at that–hardly anything is cemented. What I hold as true, with an ongoing pandemic and a myriad of worrying news (subject to daily change), is set in gelatin at best. What I can say for sure though is that Bolt would be done with 100 meters before I’ve even covered 50.
To be fair to me though, the 100-meter dash isn’t my event
That being said, I don’t really have an event. Nor a specific strong suit when it comes to running. I simply enjoy the sport of running, the many benefits it has for my physical and mental health; I’m also very competitive.
On the few occasions I’ve found myself in a race, there is a seriousness I bring to the road. I’m just an after-work-and-weekend runnr with a neat case of asthma and a real penchant for weekend whiskies, but on the day of the race there is a unique sense of professionalism that transfigures–in my own mind at least–my running. As though for just one hour I can pretend that being the first person across a finish line is a professional pursuit.
What a wonderful escape.
All of the usual pressures wrought by relationships and work obligations–the natural tangles that life tends to knot us with–are lifted off our shoulders as we blitz our way through courses trying to outpace competitors while keeping our composure. We lock onto how our bodies are feeling–how our hearts are beating, how our quadriceps are feeling, just how much the lactic acid fizzing in our calves is burning.
Caught in this sensory consciousness, our everyday worries are gone. Not forgotten, but parked forcibly–overwhelmed by everything we have to deal with from the start of a race to the end of it.
Though it’s not my event, the 10-kilometer distance is my favorite.
But I sure wanted it to be my (!) event
My own admission revealed that I’m competitive. On training runs around Ayala Triangle in Makati, the thought of someone running past me has proven unbearable. This guy thinks he’s Steve Rogers, floats into my head as though whispered from my shoulder as I speed up–a refusal of passage.
Returning home, my fitness watch and cellphone sync. I’m alerted of as much by a synchronised buzz and chime as my workout publishes to Strava. Unable to help myself, I scroll through my workout and draw comparisons to those done by my fellow Strava denizens and am caught in emotional gymnastics–happy to be faster than a few and upset to be slower than others.
Must be faster next time. Maybe it was just a bad session? When the hell am I going to be faster than this?
Maybe a trip to the running store for new gear will motivate me?
Without effort put into maintaining a training schedule, I’ve allowed an overly competitive streak (strong emphasis on overly) to completely overrule my relationship with a sport I’ve held closely for so long. In doing so, I’ve stripped away the benefits it’s had on my mental health: its ability to calm me down, the joy it’s given me as I’ve watched myself improve, the awe I’ve felt in the presence of truly great runners. These are lost to frustration, and the motivation to improve is thrown out the window too.
Focus on being the best, your own best
As I’ve managed to pummel my own motivational devices into a heap with the comparisons that I’ve been so quick to make against myself, I draw one conclusion: there will always be someone faster. May whatever deities hovering in the pantheon of running have mercy on my soul when I say this: there’s probably someone faster than Usain Bolt too. Think about it in terms of a non-linear concept of time and the possibility of multiple universes and it becomes more probable.
But for mortals like you and me (unless one of the aforementioned deities happens to be reading this), within our own circles, there is likely someone who’s faster. And if they’re not faster, perhaps just sometimes they will outrun you. Maybe they’ll have a great session on an off-day for you. Maybe their shoes give them the 4 percent they need to best you.
None of this however, on your worst or best days, takes anything from you or all the effort you’ve put into improving your wellbeing and participating in the task of running. The task of running–be it due to physical limitations, social restrictions, and plenty of other reasons–isn’t something universally available for everyone to do. Especially in this pandemic.
Indeed, joy is found in racing and of course winning, but in my own experience, these bursts of motivation quickly wilt like untended flowers. Perhaps there is a calmer notion that doesn’t insist we run for any particular reason other than because it feels good. We don’t always need to beat anyone. We don’t always need to compete. Some days, we don’t even have to be better than ourselves. Maybe, we just need to be on trajectories of improvement.
Perhaps then, every time we lace up our shoes, running will be for us what it in fact is: a gift. And maybe that will keep us running.