The February 2010 issue of Runner's World features a story about controlling your competitive nature when passing or being passed by other runners ("On Your Left," page 46). I thought this article was amusing because I'm guilty of feeling a small sense of accomplishment as the passer... and a small sense of disappointment as the passee. However, I don't get quite as worked up as the author of the article - a man who says men are most bothered when passed by another runner. Is that true? I have a story below that may suggest otherwise...
First I admit I am somewhat competitive. As a teenager I ran several years of track with my closest friend, who finished every race :01 behind me. In my 20s I met my now close friends and loved ones who introduced me to long distance running, and tried to outrun me in every race. Now the only competition I have is myself, yet I still feel a twinge of glory when I go out for a great run and pass everyone on the street along the way. (Of course they may have all been having a slow day.)
I also get a little frustrated with myself when I'm passed. I realize that should be no measure of my own success, but it happens. At those times I'll think any of the following things:
- "I'll be faster next month."
- "Nothing I can do about it now."
- "Why do I care, I don't even know that person."
- "Maybe he/she runs more than me. I should run more."
- "Maybe he/she is on the last mile! I would be that fast on that mile, too."
- "He/she does have a great pace going."
- "He/she looks like a serious runner."
- "He/she was so nice for waving." (Rare.)
- "Wish I had that jacket!" :)
I once came across a 20-something female runner who, turns out, hated being passed. She was jogging up a very steep hill (Summit Ave's Corey Hill) about 1/10 mile ahead of me. I love hills, so I maintained my usual pace and eventually overcame her. I moved from the sidewalk to the street so as not to go directly passed her. (I feel bad passing other people, so I try to do it as nicely as possible.) The second I came into her peripheral vision, she sped up to my pace, then she moved ahead. I let her go - figured I caught her at a time when she intended to speed up. It couldn't be just me, right?
On to the next few loops around the hill.
We ended up crossing each others' paths a second time. I approached her from behind, again. I gradually caught up, again. She then took off, again. This time I picked it up, too. I just could not believe she'd run faster just because of me. Before you know it, we'd both gone from 8:00-10:00 paces to an all out sprint down this huge hill. I almost laughed out loud, but could tell she was dead serious. She was buckled in. No eye contact. No look of amusement. Just wanted to beat me. To avoid being potentially tripped or snarled at, I turned off the hill at the first side street and ran away. I wasn't looking for that kind of run.
I realize there are some seriously competitive people out there. I understand why and how that happens as a runner - sometimes it's all we have for motivation. But it reminds me of a quote by George Sheehan:
"It's very hard in the beginning to understand that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners. Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit.."
Couldn't have said it any better.
Although, if I ever happen across that same runner, I may have to run away again - this time right passed her. ;)