You ever get the feeling that everything that you have been told is wrong? I have. Many times. You should work hard at school. If you do well at school, then you can get a good job. If you get a good job, then you'll get loads of money. Earn loads of money, then you can buy a nice house and a nice car. Ultimately you will be happy.
I knew this was wrong.
One Sunday as the university group snaked its way along the canal network of Birmingham on the weekly long run the conversation turned to careers. One of the lads had secured a graduate place at United Biscuits. Others congratulated him. I remained quiet. Quiet because the only thing that went through my mind was this was a criminal waste of a higher education- to sell biscuits. I attended none of the final year graduate job fairs. I knew I had a summer job on the local market and this would pay off my overdraft. Another six months or so of doing whatever, would allow me to save some money, buy a round the world air ticket and take off and have a few experiences. Work could be left till later when you were older. I didn't want a house. The only cars I wanted were a Reliant Robin or a Skoda Estelle. Wouldn't of minded a nice bike though.
As it happens these ideas on life turned out right for me. I still don't want a house. I still am not fussed about a car. I am not even bothered about a nice bike- in fact I would prefer an old, recycled one. These things I instinctively knew were right for me, and time and circumstance have not proved to have made a difference.
However some things have changed.
I am a twin. My brother, genetically identical, is 3 minutes younger than myself. Through the closeness has come intense competition. At primary school we were blessed to be the fastest. Correction- I was the fastest. In the final year Sports day my brother was leading into the final event of the overall competition .I'd won the sprint. He'd won the egg and spoon. I won the bean bag race. He'd won the slow bike race. I had never lost the slow bike race, and now , as I stood at the start line of the sack race, I was staring at a scenario I refused , even at 10 years old, to comprehend. Chris was the king of the sack race. No one had even beaten him in his age group. I tried to copy his style, the way he put his feet in the corners and daintily ran in small steps, while the both feet big jumpers floundered behind. Chris would win. He'd be overall champion. Everyone thought I'd win. I'd thought I'd win. Now I knew I'd lose. Lose to him.
As the race started ,Chris assumed his customary lead. I just couldn't keep up. He'd beaten me. He was Sports day champion. We'd be at big school next year. I couldn't take revenge. I was comfortably in second place, when 10 yards from the finish he fell. I passed him and won. I was the champion. Was I happy? Yes. But more than that, I was relieved. Relieved I'd achieved something I was certain I would.
33 years later we're stood at the start line of the seasons first cross country race, the Louth Open. The intervening years had been eventful, full of ups and downs, dramas and crisis's for both of us. He'd eventually beat me in a cross country when we were 16, and it was as if a physcological barrier had fallen . From that day onwards I'd never beaten Chris in a long distance race again. I'd recently got back into running, while he'd remained active running a low 2hr 30 marathon, a John O'Groats to Lands End ,and a Coast to Coast. When I started back I wanted to beat him, and things were getting closer. He'd won the local marathon the previous year, while I was 3rd, but I'd won it this year in a faster time. He'd won a local 12hr race, ranking him 3rd in the country the previous year. I'd won it this year in a bigger distance. But he'd not competed in those events this year. He'd been diagnosed with a potential heart scare and had been taking things easy. I knew this was my chance. A chance I needed to sieze.
The race comprised of 4 laps. I was used to being behind, but after the first lap he didn't seem to be pulling away. At the end of the second lap I passed him. I glanced back. He looked drawn. For the first time in nearly 30 years I'd run him.
Nerves ruined running for me as a kid. I set myself high targets. I needed to achieve them to maintain a personal status quo. The payback was only ever one sided.
I now question competition. Question whether it is human nature and ere on the side of doubt. I question if I want to run competitively again and for how long. I question the concept of competition and ere on the side of co operation. If we cease to compete and concentrate to co operate surely thats the way.
But I still love to run.
I've recently taken on a couple of vegetable plots in a local community garden. Today , as the sun shone , I was bent down weeding thinking about the Alfie Kohn talk I'd listened to the night before. If it was human nature to compete, then how was it that the indigenous, primitive tribes, such as those in the Amazon Rain forest, who many would think lived closer to nature showed almost no signs of competitive behaviour? Surely if competition was natural then these people would be more competitive than the general populous, not less?
As I weeded another person who had several beds in the same garden came to chat. He'd grown vegetables competitively in his past and worked at a local garden centre. The competitive aspect of his nature had now disappeared. He freely shared his knowledge to a complete novice- myself. As he did so it emphasised the importance to me of co operation over competition. Before he left, he walked over again. He held out a gift- several parsnips. ' I've got loads growing in there,' he said pointing to one of his beds. ' I live on my own and there's far too many for me.'