I feel like the talk of competitiveness comes up in our lives on an almost if not daily basis. In one way or another, our lives are motivated by factors that lead to our progress. We look at our current state and we look forward to where we want to be. From that point we have to think of not only how we are going to get there, but what is going to keep us on target to reach our goal?
In the world we live in, filled with quick answers and easy comparisons, the likely motivational force for most of us is competition. And that is not really a surprise. We are taught from an early age to be the best. To work hard, study hard and practice hard, in hopes of attaining that title. Whether it is ourselves or other’s that we compete with matters very little in how effective a tool competition can be. In certain sports or activities it seems to be the main focus. You compete. You win or lose. Black or white. Yet with running, there has always been a gray area. It is not just about winning or losing, it about improving. Runners look at their PR (personal record), they look at how they feel and how their mental state changed. Running is about pushing yourself past what you thought you could do, out of your comfort zone. As the trail running community continues to gain strides (pun intended) in entries, races, purse sizes and media attention, we are all left wondering what results, if any, this shift of attention will have on the purity of the sport.
I will be honest, I am a noncompetitive trail runner. Don’t get me wrong, I love races. I love the atmosphere, the energy, the high you get from being around so many motivated people. It is one of the few places where “small talk” occurs easily for me. However, winning races isn’t why I run. Luckily. Most of us get on the trail for numerous reasons that have little of nothing to do with competition. We use races as a tool, they motivate us to increase mileage and to get out there day after day whether there is rain or shine. They help us maintain a community in a very individual oriented sport.
Runners are a different breed, if you have been on a trail in a race before, you know. You know that almost everyone flashes a smile (or at least a nod if they are exhausted) as we pass each other. If someone is hurt, you stop and make sure they are OK. The before and after of a race is filled with “good lucks” and “great jobs”, high-fives and pats on the back. Yet most of the time, runners our out there on their own, running their neighborhoods and local trails. Running for the fun of it. Runners are out there to push themselves, without a doubt, but they are also out there to help others’ do the same.
The amount of emphasis that is placed on results in the trail running community is still such an individualistic thing. Each person approaches race day in their own way. A good friend of mine and trail runner Rebecca Avrett-Ulizo has done sensationally in the races she has entered in the last few years since really jumping back into competitive distance running. We talk frequently about the role competition plays. She identifies as a more competitive person than I, but that is not why she does so well. She does well because she pushes herself more than most, she trains hard and she trains intelligently and she sources her advice from those that know from experience. Her progress is attributed to her mental toughness, but also to the motivation she has once she signs up for that race.
That is the role competition can play in trail running. It can be used as just another tool to motivate you or it can make you become the best runner you can be. There is alot of media that tends to cover race results and the flashy new ultra runner, but that is what they are there for. They are there to share the stories that can help keep the community moving. They are there to share the stories that inspire us. And very few things do like the awe inspiring feats of fellow runners on a beautiful trail.