People often ask me when I first realized I was good at running.
As a professional runner, you have to know these things, because of course, I should have been way out in front of all the boys from an early age, proving my physical ability before it was even developed. It is the story you hear over and over from child prodigies. Born to be a star.
The truth is, in my case, I have no memory of the first time I realised I was a good runner. I don’t even remember it being to do with running.
What I do remember though, is a competitive spirit being awoken, or becoming aware of a competitive spirit I should say.
Looking back, I can’t see a running talent from when I was 3 years old, but I can see that I was competitive.
Starting with racing boys a few years older than me down the road on a plastic bike, then feeling angry when my team didn’t win a game of netball (the English, female equivalent of basketball), I can see that I have always been competitive, always wanted to win.
Throughout my life, this has mostly served me well. Notably through my running career, as it gave me that extra level, the extra drive to dig deep and go for my dreams. It helped me to accomplish my number one running goal of representing Great Britain in a world championship, and it helped me to stay focused in moments of weakness.
When I stopped running I chose to do it. Not because of injury or a lack of trying. I just decided it was time to focus on my health.
I was told I would be fine to keep running. Short, easy runs, that would be helpful for keeping me sane, keeping that runner in me happy.
But did I chose to go that route?
I stopped running, cold turkey.
I didn’t run a step in ten weeks (even when Drew would ask me to warm up for strength training, and asked me to do a few laps of the turf). It baffled people how I could just drop something that meant so much to me for so many years in an instant.
The truth is, running is still very much in my heart. In fact, I launched a business FOR runners at the exact time I made this change, hello Running for Real.
Because I wanted to help people with their running goals, pass on my wisdom and experiences as an elite runner to help them be the best that they can be.
So why couldn’t I keep running a little, nice and easy?
Surely that is more enjoyable than hard running anyway? Surely that is better than not doing it at all.
Actually, for me it wasn’t.
I think it comes down to the will to win.
I was going to make this change, I was going to do everything and anything I could to give myself the best shot at this.
So I could “win” at being a woman, win at developing the best female hormone healthy body I could.
I didn’t realize I was this way until I became disheartened around six weeks into my lifestyle change. Nothing had happened, and I had been to see the OB GYN and Endocrinologist who were helping me with my journey. Both told me they expected it to take 2-3 months for it come back.
I wasn’t satisfied with that answer. If it took other women two to three months (although actually the average time is six months!!), I was going to “win” and do it in six to eight weeks. I was going to do everything recommended to me to help encourage my body to trust me again.
But of course, we cannot rush things like this.
Six weeks came and went, and I started to feel that same feeling I would experience when I was training for a race. You know how you feel with a month to go before a marathon or a big race. You are fed up, wondering why you put yourself through this, and the idea of giving it all up crosses your mind.
This is where the magic happens though, this is the part we need to believe, trust that we are on the right path, and we will be rewarded for our commitment. Like I tell runners in training, the more struggles, the more setbacks you go through, the more you will appreciate it.
However, this doesn’t make it any easier for the competitor in you to handle.
Recently, I applied for a job I really wanted, for a company I really care for. I ended up being one of two finalists, and I was so excited to hear that I had made it that far. But in my heart, I felt real unease, like I was being deceptive.
I knew I wanted to start my own business, and help runners on a personal level, and that alone should have been enough for me to be brave and say no. I also had to sacrifice a lot of other things if I were to take this job, but of course, there were a LOT of advantages to taking it that would by far outweigh those.
For a few days, I stressed about it. I couldn’t put my finger on why i felt like I was being dishonest, until it suddenly hit me. For me, I knew this wasn’t the right job for me, not at this time, but I couldn’t say no.
It was a dream job, but I knew in my heart this wasn’t what I truly wanted right at this moment. One of my bucket list dreams had always been to set up a business, and I now had the opportunity that might never come again.
So, why couldn’t I say no?
Because I wanted to WIN. I wanted to be the one who was crowned winner of that job. As much as it was a dream job of mine, and I really wanted it, it was not the right time for me to take it. This is the one time in my life I can take the risk and start my own business, see what happens, and I need to do that.
So after a few hours to build up the courage, I called to back out. I admitted defeat, and said I was not the winner. The what if will always be in the back of my mind, but I knew I made the right choice.
Since I have become aware of this, I have noticed it in other things. When I am following another car in a parking lot, and they pull into a spot slightly closer to the store, I feel like HAVE to get to the store before they do.
Or when I said I was going to make dinner for 6pm, and I am behind schedule, so I will switch on hyper speed, even if it means spending the entire process stressing out, to make sure I get it ready on time.
I don’t know if it is that I have always loved being the underdog, love the idea of coming from behind and “winning” when it matters the most, or maybe it is just because that competitiveness in me that got me so far in my running just cannot switch off, and especially now, has nowhere to go.
But either way, this can be a good and bad thing.
It is good because you can be assured that you will always do your best in life. You will always be able to reflect with no regrets about the things you committed to. However, it can make the comparison trap especially tempting, as you look to others and want to do better, even if it is something they are very good at.
Which is why I don’t like yoga 😉
In recent past, I have really been trying to tone down that aggressively competitive version of myself, but it is not as easy as it sounds. Sure, I can do the obvious ones like trying to take more time to rest, rather than trying to do it all, and letting go of all pace expectations in my running.
But it is those little moments that you don’t even notice that can sneak up on you.
Will those ever go away? Probably not, but if you recognize a lot of you in what I said today, being aware of those things can help to reign them in, to remind yourself of what really matters in life.
I am in a stage where I am trying to remove stress from my life, and change direction. It is important for me to try to let those things go. It would probably benefit you too. Just like when we have arguments with ones we love, is it better to win the agreement but drive a wedge between you that will continue to grow for every argument you have to win?
Or can you let it go, and remind yourself that our love and relationships matter more than anything.
I am guilty of trying to prove I am right at all costs, but it can be extremely hurtful and damaging to the other persons confidence.
Are you really willing to do that to them?
I don’t know if the will to win will ever go away for any of us once you are overly competitive, but I do know that if you are more aware of it, in those moments of fight, you can force yourself to stop for a second, and think about the consequences.
Does it really matter? Will it make me truly happier? Will it make my loved ones happier?
If the answer is no, time to reign it in, and let it go. If you need help there, in how you can change your thoughts on running or racing take a look at my Mile 20 Mental Training Course, there are guidelines to help you through those mental barriers that could be holding you back.
I am working on it. Will you?
Are you a “win” person?
Oh just nodding along in agreement to basically every word on the page!! I’m super competitive in every sense of the word and it’s very hard to be that way all.the.time. I like to believe I have relaxed a bit after realizing how I was not just training and racing with a competitive edge but living with one…but sometimes I’m not so sure. I definitely work on it every single day 🙂
Read “Ego is the Enemy”. Practicing gratitude also helps to reduce those ‘competitive’ desires.
Really take up the practice of yoga. The practice of yoga not the “sport/exercise” of yoga, not trying to master each pose and be better than anyone else at it. It can teach you a lot.
I think I’m the opposite of competitive, ha! I like to try my best and I did well at school but as an adult, I wouldn’t even be bothered if I finished last in a race. I guess it’s a case of me harnessing that type of energy and releasing it more on the things I enjoy or want to succeed at most? That’s my thoughts anyway, ha. Pleased to find your blog this morning Tina, I really enjoyed reading this.
I was always brought up to go for it! Why do anything if you don’t put your all into it? No-one remembers second place!