The flame is flickering, whether you know it or not.
Veteran athletes will impart all sorts of wisdom to newbies in endurance sports: How to find a good training plan, what types of gear to buy, and what races to do. They’ll offer up top-secret recovery tips and insider tricks for getting faster.
But there’s a dirty little secret no one will share. Deep in the underbelly of endurance sports, beyond the camaraderie and jovial finish-line chats, lies endurance sports’ dark side. If you haven’t experienced it yet, you will.
At some point, you will get competitive. And it won’t be pretty.
I’m not talking “competitive” as in “trying to place in your age group.” What you’ll experience goes far beyond that.
It starts innocently enough. One day, you’ll be at the gym, minding your own business on the treadmill, when a gangly teenager hops on the machine next to yours. When you glance over, you’ll realize he’s going slightly faster than you, and you’ll be damned if you get schooled by a kid jogging in his Chuck Taylors. You’ll keep increasing your pace to match his, panting heavily while he barely breaks a sweat.
If you haven’t experienced this already, let me just warn you of how it ends: On the floor of the gym, gasping for breath, while your treadmill continues to run without you on it. The kid who started this? Still going like a smug Energizer bunny.
That competitive fire can be good sometimes. On New Year’s Day, my partner Neil issued a challenge for our planned 5K run: He’d give me a two-minute headstart, and I’d try to make it to the finish line without him passing me. Even though he passed me, turned around, and ran circles around me to pass me again, the competition spurred me to a new 5K PR of 22:51, over two minutes faster than my previous 5K PR.
But that one experience unleashed an ugly monster. Drunk with aggression, I now want to make everything a competition.
The guy in the lane next to me during my swim workout doesn’t know it, but every time I finish an interval faster than him, I whisper a silent taunt and thump my chest ever-so-discreetly.
I rush to be the first person to open a door at a restaurant and have begun wheeling my cart frantically through the aisles of the grocery store, yelling “ON YOUR LEFT!” when I prepare to pass.
I race to chop my vegetables faster than any of the chefs on the Food Network. I’m surprised I still have all my fingers.
While crossing the street, I try to beat the little girls skipping over sewer grates. If it wasn’t frowned upon in polite society, I’d throw a stick in front of them all to pass them to the curb.
Yesterday, my friend Beth, who is 7 months pregnant with her first child, remarked that her baby has been especially active in the womb as of late. When she commented that the kid could outlap me, I instantly responded “nuh-UH” and began calculating hypothetical 100m splits based on the distance of Beth’s womb.
Yes, eventually, every athlete crosses a line to learn there’s such a thing as being TOO competitive. Devising ways to race Beth’s fetus? I’m pretty sure that’s my line.
No matter what fuels your competitive fire, check yourself. Rivalry is best saved for race day. It’s exhausting to be so amped up all the time, and you’re sure as hell not going to make any friends that way.
Chill out every now and then, folks, and remember that competition is only one facet of endurance sports. Have some fun, swap stories with your fellow athletes, and if you see someone treadmill-racing a teenager, gently warn her before things get really bad.
See you Out There!