Who Are We Racing Against?

Running on empty...

The beautiful colors of the leaves and the cool tinge in the air make for perfect running conditions. I’m near the end of a nine-mile run, feeling wonderful. Just two miles left to go at a comfortable pace. The measured footfalls hit a rhythm while I simply revel in the joys of running.

But then, in the corner of my eye, I see her running on the other side of the street, heading the same direction as me. She’s obscured, because I have forgotten my contacts. Still, I can see a pony tail… and a bright, bold blue shirt… and hot pink shorts… and, she is pacing me. I ignore her for a moment, but then add another step between my breaths, dropping 15 seconds per mile from my pace.

I’m over seven miles into the run, and my legs begin quietly complaining about the increase. Still, I run. The beautiful leaves and color move a little faster past me, but I’m sure they are just as pretty, I think to myself. I give a half-glance to my right, and on the other side of the street I find her step-for-step matching me. I turn my head forward and I continue running, ignoring her… for a moment. I think, I can go faster. I trim my stride down another 20 seconds.

Nearly to mile 8. My legs have stopped quietly complaining; they are now screaming. Still, beautiful leaves and all that nonsense, I think to myself. I try to keep my eyes forward, but they glance right. Damn.

Across the street is a bright blue and pink blur, and she’s mirroring my every step. With my head forward again my eyes squint, attempting to block out anything but the path in front of me. The sidewalk. The leaves. The… nope. I can’t do it. I kick in and drop my pace again, this time shaving an additional 30 seconds off per mile.

I’m less than a mile from home—I’m moving quite a bit faster than my preference. My legs have decided to give me the silent treatment, or they are pretending to be jelly—I can’t distinguish which, but I know they aren’t happy. My core and lower back have joined forces, and in an attempt to get me to be reasonable, have decided to start spasming. My chest, feeling left out, has set my lungs on fire. My heart is attempting to beat its way out of my rib cage.  

But, gasp, the leaves, gasp, and colors, gasp, and… and… gasps
I’m certain this run sucks. I hate it, I think to myself. I swear I hate running. Hate it.
But, I think, at least I’m winning. At least I’m… and once again, I look right.

Step-for-step, she’s there.

Three-quarters of a mile remaining, and my body hates me. I know that tomorrow it will punish me, but I’ve gone too far. No regrets! I tell myself—knowing that’s a lie. I drop my pace down again. I’m basically sprinting, and I feel every step, each a hard impact with the sidewalk. I know full-well: I’ve got nothing more. So instead, I veer left onto a side street taking an alternate route for the final half mile.

I’m exhausted. I’m furious. The run is ruined. She ruined my run. I tell myself these things, but I also realize it’s my fault. I just don’t want to admit it.

***

The next day I’m sitting in a coffee shop waiting for a friend. I have coffee, a book, and a body that hurts in every place imaginable. Each slight move I make finds a new soreness and a new argument for how silly I had been to run so hard. As my friend walked into the shop, I could see the furious look on her face:

“Colten! YOU RUINED MY RUN!”

I didn’t know it was her when I was running; I had forgotten to wear my contacts.
Even so, I’m not sure it would have changed anything.
Who was I really racing against?

***

She and I are perfectionists and type-A personalities. Sometimes that comes with a competitive streak that gets in the way of good things, like friendship or celebrating someone else’s successes. As she and I focused solely on winning—or maybe worse, on the other person losing—we ruined a good thing. We let the competitive streak separate us and destroy an activity which we both love.

But, I ruined my run, not her.
And, she ruined her run, not me.
The race was never against each other; it was always against ourselves. Yet, in our perfectionism and competitiveness we turned something good into a contest that we both lost.

She and I have since run with each other, and for the most part we held back from pushing the other’s pace. It may take us time, but I think we are growing to realize that not everyone is a competitor and not everything is a race.

-//-

The cover image can be found here at pexels.com.

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