Friday, January 9, 2009


Competition is a fascinating thing: One chooses to engage in it or not, and it can bring out the best and worst in a person given the happenings of the day. The funny thing about running is that it is intrinsically challenging or competitive, as it's all about a test of one's ability and will. A runner comes up against all sorts of conditions - weather, terrain, body weight, bio-mechanics, time constraints, attitude, motivation, outside opinions and on and on. So it's interesting to hear a runner say "Oh no, I don't compete," or "I'm not a competitive person." Give yourself some credit, you are and it's okay to be competitive. You're winning against many influences to not run!

Racing then is just another level of competition a runner participates in. Some runners thrive on it while others feel intimidated. Racing against the clock can be the extent of the competition, or you can use the race as the place where you come head to head with a "co-conspirator" and bring the best out in each other.

In 2001, Jeff Johnson, an ex-Nike employee and volunteer coach of their Farm Team for many years, gave a talk to a group of high school cross-country runners readying for the Border Clash (a Nike sponsored cross-country duel between runners from the two states, Washington and Oregon.) His speech was awe-inspiring and I think a most poignant part was about "the race":

"And so it is. The worthy competitor is essential to the race, not as an enemy, but as a co-conspirator. The race you see is a secret form of cooperation. The race is simply each of you seeking your absolute best with the help of each other...But the next time you step to the starting line of an important race, the conspiracy of striving together for excellence will be about to unfold! The white line on the ground before you...and that other white line five kilometers away...will define a sacred place, rife with potential, an arena in which excellence and ultimates are the only acceptable...indeed, the only honorable standards - and an arena into which only a few, special people ever venture.

There - between those white lines, in a race that matters - you will give your best to each other. And there - between those white lines, on that sacred plain, you will learn who you are...of what stuff you are made...and what you can endure...which is essential knowledge...essential knowledge...for it will inform your whole, entire life."

Wow. I wish I could have been in that room full of young, hopeful and engaged runners. Here's the speech if you ever have doubts about why you run and need inspiration.

I hope you can enjoy your next competition and use it as a means to tap your own power and potential, while at the same time, honor your co-conspirators.

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