Taming the Competitor Within

by Christine Hinton

Most runners who fill out the race entry form and line up early on a Saturday morning to test themselves are competitive, to some degree, if only for that day. And for the most part, it is about testing ourselves… our will, our determination, our desire to beat the clock. For some “every weekend racers”, it’s about beating that someone. You know who it is, that person who you look for while you are warming up. “Are they here today?” you ask yourself. When you see them, it’s a mixed feeling of dread and excitement.

There is a young lady who I have personally been competing with this summer. Let’s refer to her as Medusa (grin). At every race we run side-by-side, to the point of distraction and annoyance. I can feel her breathing on the back of my neck. Then one of us narrowly beats the other. (Actually, I’ve only beaten her once).

Medusa used to always leave me in her dust. All I ever saw of her was her bouncing blonde ponytail fade away after the starter gun sounded. Then I got serious (at least to my level). Increasing my mileage, doing track workouts, and getting coached put her into my sight. Then at the Skyline 5K, I beat her. I mustered up as much speed as I could and waited to make my move a quarter mile from the finish. I knew she would chase me so my only hope was to blow by her without warning (which I did). When she figured out that it was I, she put it into 5th. Had the race been a little longer, she probably would have caught me.

We runners have a love/hate relationship with our competitive nature. It certainly adds an element of excitement and really gets that adrenaline pumping! But, it can also lead to obsessing about our performance and take the fun out of racing. Whether we obsess about beating another runner or are continually trying to set a personal record (PR), it can turn running into something stressful rather than fun and stress relieving. When that happens we may need to step back and reevaluate what brings us to running and racing. What about running is important to you? Why are you a runner? Only self-examination can answer that.

I was talking to a woman at the end of a race where I had just lost to Medusa. She saw me being very nice and congratulatory. She told me that she loved all the folks she competed with but it ruined her weekend if they beat her, and she’s 56! Does this level of competitiveness know no age limits? Maybe it gets worse. Is it even healthy to let it ruin our day?

My own competitive nature causes me to get quite nervous about an upcoming race. The anxiety usually surfaces about a day or two before. I can’t even discuss it with my husband. You’d think I’ve got the Olympic Trials the next day or was competing with Libbie Hickman for new course record and big prize money! I eat pretty much the same dinner the evening before, something light, like pasta. Before I go to bed, I lay out all my clothes and necessities so I won’t forget anything… a towel, change of shirt, water bottle, and of course my race number, pins, and my race clothes. I am guaranteed a bad night of sleep and my three year old getting up 12 times during the night! To avoid any unnecessary distributions, I have dear ‘ole hubby sleep in the guest room to guard my slumber. This may seem extreme, but this is serious business. There’s an age group award on the line, maybe a medal, a cup or if I’m lucky, a big trophy with a runner on it.

Jeff Galloway describes the competitor as the third stage in the metamorphosis from beginner to runner. When you are in this phase, you plan your running around race goals. You start to wonder just how fast you could go if you really trained. You read everything you can on various training techniques and try them all. When something works, you push it even further in an effort to shave more time off your race effort. Each race must be better than the last. Missing a run makes you feel awful and worried.You begin to think that what you have trained so hard to achieve will slip away. Resting is usually not an option. That’s for those other guys who can’t handle running everyday. For many competitors, running isn’t part of your life; it is your life. Beware; at this point you may be setting yourself up for injury, burnout, or illness.

Remember to put competition into perspective. Listen to the lessons you learn while racing and preparing yourself. Realize your limitations. I wish I could run like Uta Pippig, but I just never will. Learn who you really are and translate this education from running into other areas of your life as well. Let your running be more than just about competing. Don’t tie your self worth to your performance as a runner alone. You are so much more than your PR or your longest run. Let running be an expression of who you are without completely defining you. Yes, you are a runner, but let life be a balance of many things in which running is a natural part.

Will it matter when I am old and gray that I beat Medusa or ran a PR at a given race? Or will the self-discovery, that running and racing has allowed me, mean more? As the great George Sheehan said, “In running, I feel free. I have no other goal, no other reward. The running is it’s own reason for being. And I run with no threat of failure. In fact, with no threat of success.”

About Christine Hinton

Christine Hinton has been running for over 20 years. She has competed at the high school and college level. Currently Christine competes locally in the Charlotte, NC Grand Prix Series, representing Charlotte Running Company. Christine is also a Life and Fitness Coach. She helps people of all fitness levels, to create success with one’s physical self as well as in other areas of their life. A balanced life is a healthy life. All coaching is done via the telephone and email. Contact Christine for a free, no obligation, telephone consultation:

Christine Hinton
M.Ed., ASEP Certified RRCA Certified Coach

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MarathonTraining.com was one of the premier online resources for marathon training information, run from it's inception by author and coach Art Liberman. Now the MarathonTraining.com archives exist on Marathon Handbook, for future generations of runners to enjoy and learn from!

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