I never used to be competitive. At least, I don’t think I did; unless you count card games and chess with my dad, who always believed you should make your children win on their own merit (which meant I spent a lot of years losing).
Recently, however, I seem to have found one; a competitive streak, that is.
This competitive streak seems to have come to the fore with running, but is spilling over into other areas of my life too (in a good way, I hope). I am competitive with others, but I am mostly competitive with myself.
Take today, for example. I headed to my usual Saturday morning parkrun event buoyed up by last week’s personal best time of 25 minutes and 12 seconds to run 5km and hoping to better it, perhaps even break the sub-25 minute barrier.
Last week’s personal best was achieved in no small part because of Graham, a fellow runner who normally runs a lot quicker, staying just behind me, shouting encouragement and urging me to a sprint finish. However, I was confident that what I had achieved once with help, I could achieve again on my own.
When I arrived, I was temporarily wrong-footed (as it were) by the discovery we would be running the summer course, which is on a combination of grass fields and pathways, not the all-pathway winter course I was used to. Not a problem, though, I thought to myself. I have done the summer course once before, so I know roughly what to expect, and I have been training all week on the South Downs on rough terrain. Piece of cake.
So with the right frame of mind in place, the event director started the run (it’s not a race, parkrun is a weekly timed event) and off I went.
At about 1km into the race, I realised I was setting a good pace and spotted the sub-25 minute pacer, Richard, just ahead of me. It didn’t take much to catch up with him, and the little group of runners sticking to his heels like glue.
At about 2.5km I had an internal debate. A little voice told me I had only reached halfway and couldn’t possibly keep up this pace the rest of the way. So I questioned it. Why can’t I keep up this pace, I thought? Is it because my legs have fallen off? No, definitely still attached and not even tired (yet). Is it because I am having a heart attack? No, breathing seems quite fine in fact. Is it because I have a stitch or feel sick? No and no. Is it because I am being mentally weak? Bingo. There was nothing at all stopping me from continuing at this pace except for the belief that I could.
Plus, my competitive spirit meant I didn’t want to lose the pacer, having kept up with him this far and I really wanted that personal best (hell, I had already done half the hard work, after all, so why quit now?).
So I carried on, at the same pace. At 4km the original little group had whittled down to just me and the pacer. It was tough not to fall behind, but again it was all in my mind, so I pushed on harder and overtook him. This, of course, meant I had to keep going; if I hadn’t wanted to lose Richard having stayed with him so long, I really didn’t want to fall behind having overtaken him in the last kilometre!
Richard was great, giving me encouragement and telling me I was doing some ‘good running’ and I crossed the finish line to a personal best of 25 minutes and 3 seconds, 9 seconds faster than last week.
Not quite the sub-25 minutes I was hoping for … but I will be back at parkrun next week, so watch this space ….