We tend to ascribe a somewhat negative connotation to competitiveness, especially among those of us who lack the talent to post national class times. To be competitive, while running a 38-minute 10K, is seen as somewhat self indulgent folly. And so it's a difficult thing to explain to people, why you care, when there will never be medals or accolades of any significance. And it would be harder still if they knew that the medals you did have were tossed in to a pile, or left in the car, or forgotten elsewhere.
But words hide within them meaning beyond what we often see, and "compete" is no different. Compete is not, as we tend to think, merely about striving to destroy someone else, to train harder or to race faster than them. No, compete comes from the Latin competere, which means "to strive together". Competition is that group training run where the miles tick off at X:XX when you'd normally be running Y:YY, drawing on the collective energy of the group to fuel your efforts. It is beautifully feral behavior, dressed up in compression shorts and wicking fabric.
As per my usual habits, this digression is inspired by recent events. I ran last night. I ran for the first time in several weeks, which is still a couple weeks sooner than recommended. But there was snow on the ground. There was an orange sun fading behind the trees, just over the river, and a quiet gravel levee on which to run. There were houses and the lights of downtown on either side, cars and people and walls and heat and so many other things; but here there was nothing but the dirt, snow, and the possibilities that lay in propelling one's self over it.
And there was an invitation to compete. Not to run against, but with, two other runners, both of whom have considerably more talent and accolades than I. The scenery was right, but this was harder to turn down. To run with a marginally faster group and to competere is simply right. Distance training is so often a solo endeavor, but is in that way detached from our primordial running roots. If the paleoanthropologists are to be believed, we evolved our bipedal skill as a pack, running at things which we might eat, and away from things which might eat us. Simply, our strides our made to be synced.
So I ran. I ran across the gravel and the snow and the ice, three wide, chests out and legs churning in time. We talked between our breaths, through the pooling saliva and despite frozen lips. We ran in to the biting wind for 2.5 miles, then turned and let it push us back. We finished in 35 minutes, peeled off our gloves and hats, and said that it was good. We breathed deeply but not hard, shook hands and parted ways.
My foot hurts a little today. I expected as much going in, however, and so this is no surprise. You have to know when you're making an unwise decision, and the potential repercussions. But you also have to know when to make the right decision, smart or not.