Easy…I want to see how close I am to the fastest kid on the playground.
It’s as simple as that. No hidden agenda. No body-image issues. I’m just ridiculously competitive.
But what happens when you clearly can’t be the fastest kid on the block? How do you stay motivated then?
All this was going through my head during the last few crushing miles of the Shut-In Ridge Trail Run. I found myself tracing the arc of my athletic life. I had run this same race as a 17 year-old high school kid years ago. In the interim years, I had managed some significantly better times and places in this particular event. Now, 25 years later, I was kind of right back where I started.
What was the motivation now? It was exactly the same as always. I felt the same fear and nervousness at the start. I felt the same camaraderie and sense of community with the other runners as we all contemplated the difficulty of the day. It’s still a race across the playground.
What does the next stage bring? I feel that I am part of a first generation of Everyman Athlete that has aged out of overall competitiveness. Prior to the 80s, athletic life basically ended with college sports. You got a job, settled down, started a family and became sedentary America.
Then came the Running Boom. It became cool to go out and stay fit. Along with that came road races—huge ones—where everyone got a shirt and a whole bunch of folks got prizes.
As more sports became available and mainstream, the weekend warrior was born. Then the weekend warrior got really good. You now have doctors that crush triathlons on the weekends and sales reps that are national champions—not in their former athletic lives, but at the same time. They drive to ballet recitals, soccer games, and doctor’s appointments, but they are still very talented and hyper competitive on race day.
So, where do I fall in this new age of over-the-hill over-achievers? Who knows? Who cares? It’s pretty fun just to be here. I find myself racing just as hard for 20th place as I did for first.
I realize now that the friendships made along the way are a lot more important than the results. Training is not simply a means to an end, but a huge part of the experience—and many times, it is the experience. I find that my competitive fires are still there, but they are moderated with a healthy dose of realism. I play with the kids on rainy days rather than suffer through another soggy ride. I appreciate the days more when everything goes right, but I am much more forgiving when the opposite is more often the case.