Cultivating Competitiveness

Racing hurts. You can’t train away the pain. The more you train and the better shape you are in the faster you can run, but the level of discomfort doesn’t change very much. If anything, proper training lets you run in discomfort for longer periods of time. Racing your best means not only dealing with or accepting pain but embracing it, diving head first into that black hole of agony.

Two questions that jump out to me are, why and how. Why do we choose a sport that is guaranteed to make us feel bad when we are doing it? How do we convince ourselves to repeatedly do something that doesn’t feel good? Both questions have the same answer. Like everything difficult we choose to do, we race because the payoff is worth the pain. The fleeting moments of our body shrieking against our brain insisting we stop are nothing compared to the feeling of euphoria of a race well run. The glory of overcoming an extraordinarily obstacle, even one of our own making, is life affirming.

While watching my 6 year old daughter Hazel run the McMullen Mile this year I was struck by the realization that she was actually running her first competitive race. Not because she was running faster or slower than before (although she was running much faster than she had ever before) but because of the effort she was putting in. Hazel has run many races, some as short as 50 meters some as long as 3 kilometers. In all of those other races she would get tired, feel discomfort and slow down (sometimes come to a full stop) and start running faster again when she felt better. This year at the McMullen Mile it was different. Something in her changed. She kept surging forward, kept trying to pass a few boys about her size/age. With a lap to go she was by them, and the few runners ahead were too far to catch, but she kept running as hard as she could anyway. She had found that internal motivation, that drive to do something didn’t feel good because on some level she knew it was going to be worth it.

2016 McMullen Mile 9:09

Hazel may never be a fast runner. She may decide she doesn’t want to be a runner at all, but I’ll always be proud of her for embracing discomfort. It is a lesson she can take with her on all her many journeys to come.