Thursday, March 20, 2014

Competitive? Who? Me?

To the victor the spoils (or lots of water and extra oxygen)

 One thing that comes with age is self-knowledge, and something that I have come to know about myself is that I am competitive. I can’t help myself and being competitive is no bad thing, it drives you on. It keeps you going when you might fail. But sometimes comparing yourself to others and competing can do the opposite. It can cripple your confidence.

I realised some of this at the weekend when I did my first trail run at altitude. I like to run, I’m never going to be Ms Speedy (I’m built more for comfort) but I do like to push myself and even if I tell myself it is just for fun I’m timing myself and measuring myself against others.

But there comes a time when you need to realise that everyone is different and you can’t be good at everything. You also need to concentrate on what you can do and not what everyone else is doing.

I was in a mountain town called Salida, about 7,000 feet above sea level, surrounded by runners of all shapes and sizes ready to run marathons, half-marathons on a dirt track that went uphill and down dale. I was signed up for the two-mile fun run. As we set off I realised that much as I wanted to compete I couldn’t. I’m still not acclimatised to the altitude. Some of these people run Ultra Marathons (50K plus) and they like doing hills.

I stuck myself in and slowly stumbled up the large hill, which was the first mile of the race, gasping for air. And the only thing I could think of was putting one foot in front of the other. It didn’t matter what everyone else was doing because that was their race and not mine. Luckily gravity was my friend in the second mile and I crossed the line in a reasonable time. Not as fast as I would be at sea level but I was done.

I then spent the rest of the day hanging out with new friends and cheering everyone in.

It made me think about my writing, because I can get competitive about that as well. Why other people are more successful than me? Biting my nails over Amazon rankings or better reviews. Trying to work out the angle that might get me a bit further ahead. And this doesn’t make me a pleasant person or, in fact, a better writer.

Because halfway up that dirt trail; seeing spots because of the thin mountain air, I realised I am only in control of what I put on a page. The only thing I should be competitive with is myself in writing the best story I can write. That is what will get me over the finish line. Any writers who pass me on this race could be running a shorter distance and can sprint. Or maybe I’ll pass them on a particularly tricky uphill section. Either way I need to nod as we pass, cheer them on from behind or lend them a helping hand. But I shouldn’t be racing them; I need to keep my eyes on my own goal.
So now I’m plodding onwards putting one word in front of another because that is the only thing I have control over.

With thanks to the lovely people at Vertical Runner, Breckenridge for letting me join their club team and put up with me flopping around searching for extra air


  1. Respect! I can barely make it up the stairs without wheezing :-D (And you're right about the writing stuff too)

  2. I was wheezing! And thanks, it is amazing what you can think about when you have restricted oxygen