Thursday, 15 December 2011

The Tryanny of Competition

Next year marks a major year in British sporting history, when the nation hosts the 30th Olympic Games. A festival and celebration of human sporting achievement, and a chance for athletes to compete in the dreamquest for that illusive Olympic gold medal. With this in mind, I have made a decision- to refrain from any competitive attempt, with the exemption of those events I am already committed to, namely a half marathon in Morocco at the end of January, and the London Marathon in April.

The past year, for myself, has been a year of analyzation. The opportunity to escape the confines of a normal working day has provided plenty of time to think about all manner of things. At the start of December last year I had plans to devote myself to running and I expected to see a marked increase in performance levels. This hasn't materialized. The increase in time to think has, however, allowed me to question many things. One of them is competition.

I remember early school days with immense enjoyment. The highlight of the year were the annual sports days. Myself and my brother were always the best in our year at our tiny primary school. Between us, we won virtually every event. It was with dismay that I attended my own sons primary school sports days and witnessed the 'politically correct' games, which resulted in, neither, winners or losers.

'It's human nature to compete,' I reasoned.
'This is so wrong!'

But, of course I would think like that. I was the kid who always won. I wasn't the one who was not blessed with as much athletic ability, who finished last, was laughed at, mocked in the playground, called names. The results of the sports days were always the same. One person won, the others lost. One persons success resulted in another's failure.

At present, for myself, competition represents a pressure that I do not always enjoy. I dislike the feelings of guilt and failure associated with missing training runs. That gentle nagging which refuses to allow you to settle down for the night, to go out and enjoy yourself, or just, basically, enjoy an unscheduled day off running. In fact, I'm beginning to dislike the whole concept of training full stop, in terms of preparation for a competitive attempt. I want to run because I want to run, not because I'm frightened I won't get under three hours on my next marathon.

Ed Viesturs, the american climber, summed it up for me in his book, 'K2: Life and Death on the Worlds Most Dangerous Mountain.' Although Ed is only one of 26 people to have summited everyone of the worlds 8000m peaks, there is a recurring theme throughout his writing- safety, preparation and humanity. No peak is worth more than attempting to save a fellow climbers life, and, certainly, no peak is ever worth sacrificing your own life for. The aspect of competition- to be the first to climb a peak or establish a new route, or to do it in the fastest possible time, blurs the reasons people take to the mountains in the first place- to feel alive in the wilderness of nature. The ultimate achievement is to be able to enjoy the experiences without the constraints of time, and be able to relish them as memories.

Next year, as my friends and fellow runners obsess over miles, calories, heartrates and personal bests, I'll be out running. Running in wild places, places I've never before trod. When I see something beautiful, I'll stop. When I feel like walking, I'll walk. Without a watch, with nothing to prove. Just enjoying it.