I have long been accused of being a competitive person. I can’t deny that I am. And sometimes that competitiveness comes out in ugly ways. When I played a lot of tennis in my younger days, I was the John McEnroe of College Greens (the neighborhood where I grew up). I kicked my tennis racket. Threw my tennis racket. Hit tennis balls in anger over the fence. Screamed at myself. You get the idea.
But it was never about winning. About beating my opponent. Whether in tennis or softball or in the various board games and card games I’ve played over the years. No. My competitive fire is entirely internal. It’s about beating myself.
Back to those days on the tennis court. When I threw my racket, it wasn’t because I lost a point or a set or a match. It was because I didn’t make a play I thought I should have made. When I played backgammon or pinochle, it wasn’t about winning. It was about figuring the ins and outs and the best way to play the game.
Enter running and the proof of my theory.
When I started running, I just wanted to get to the point where I could run three miles in thirty minutes without needing to take a walking break. It took me a few months to get there. A few months where it seemed that, no matter what, I always needed to walk after about fifteen minutes of running. One day I decided I was going to keep running through that fifteen minute wall. I did and I learned that beyond that wall is the best part of the run — when your breathing evens out, your legs lose that initial stiffness and ache, and you feel like you may just be able to run forever.
And what happened? I started logging every run. Distance, time, average speed. I set out to run further, faster and both further and faster. I wasn’t competing against anybody else. I was trying to beat myself. To always step it up a notch.
My thirty minute three mile runs turned into runs of all distances up to half marathon length where I could run at a nine minute pace, and for shorter runs, a faster pace. One of my favorite things back then was to go to the gym at lunch time and see how much distance I could put on a treadmill in thirty minutes. I was beating myself.
And then came the groin tear while playing soccer. And the second groin tear while playing soccer. And the third groin tear while playing soccer. And I have a bit of self-inflicted damage that prevents me from running the distances I did before.
It’s been years of struggling with the motivation to run ever since that injury. When I first started back to it, I decided to try to eliminate the endless tracking of distance and pace from the equation. No more logging my runs, no more stop watch on my wrist. Just a generalized idea of the distance of my runs. I even stopped paying attention to how many minutes my runs were. I wanted to take a more relaxed attitude to the whole thing. I was trying to change my own personal dynamic.
I knew that my pace had slowed from those nine minute mile days, but in my head I could tell myself it didn’t matter. What mattered was getting out there three or four days a week and running three to five miles each time. Or running 30-60 minutes each time. Somewhere in between those goalposts. And I’d stay healthy and fit. That was what needed to matter.
The problem is that I struggled with the motivation to keep running. Far too frequently, I found excuses not to run and those three or four days of running per week frequently turned into no runs per week. Or two runs on the weekend followed by absolutely nothing during the week.
A few months ago, a friend started posting pictures from an app on her phone. Runkeeper. The images showed a picture of her after her run with the time, distance, and pace of her run. As I watched those pictures over the last few months, I saw that her pace was steadily improving, as was her distance. And I thought I could do that. If only I could get motivated again.
A couple of weeks ago, I downloaded the Runkeeper app to my phone. I’ve gone for seven runs since. Today was my first four mile run since starting this up again.
I may have just re-learned a thing about myself. It’s about beating myself. Let’s see if I can do it again.