Whoops, this one is a little late. I planned to make it a Sunday evening ritual, but like 5pm yoga, it took a backseat to Netflix.
I've spent the last three years obsessed with the peak fitness performance of elite athletes. I've read books by sports psychologists, coaches, athletes like Usain Bolt, Dean Karnazes and Meb Keflezighi. I've watched documentaries on the Crossfit Games and The Barkley Marathons, studying the methods of each and every competitor. There was always the underlying message that for the average person, your only competition is yourself. Rationally, I knew this, but occasionally I would wonder what the point is, if you're not going to be the best. I don't know if we're hard wired to want to win or whether it's another side effect of neoliberalism; there seems to be evidence for both.
This line of research has dominated my search for purpose for longer than most others. I'm not sure why, and I'm not sure what triggered it. For the last few years I've trained with some of the fittest and fastest girls in New Zealand, which I'm truly grateful for. They train so hard and they inspire me everyday... but sometimes it gets me down. I think it's pretty normal to compare yourself to others, but you've got to realise when the bar is too high. A couple of months ago I went to a Les Mills Grit Plyo class, where there were about 25 other athletes* all putting in everything they had to give. There was probably only one or two people who were on the same level, or fitter than me. That's when I realised how distorted my view of my own fitness was. I could see the people who were slower, and I could see they were pushing themselves harder than I was. To me, that's more inspiring than being the fastest or the strongest. It's about challenging your own limits and being the best you can be. It's been said a thousand times before, but it's finally starting to resonate with me.
This week I finished reading the book What I talk about when I talk about running by Haruki Murakami. An autobiographical account of a quarter of a century of middle-of-the-pack long distance running. For the first time, I realised what it really means to only compete against yourself. He doesn't talk about running until you throw up or compromising family events to get in that track workout. He simply talks about running to clear the mind, running to prove your own strength and running to transcend the pressures of daily life. In regards to his pursuit of long distance running he says:
"Maybe it's some pointless act... but at least the effort you put into it remains. Whether its good for anything or not, cool or totally uncool, in the final analysis what's most important is what you cannot see but can feel in your heart", p. 172.
As I approach my 6th half marathon this weekend, I'm keeping this in mind. I'm refusing to compare my times to others, or be disappointed in myself, because I'm truly starting to see the beauty in the journey. There is no finish line. No matter how slow or fast I run the race, all I can hope for is a lesson learned. My only goal is growth.
This week's insights:
- The latest running gear is nice but it doesn't provide the motivation you think it will.
- An unhealthy soul requires a healthy body (Murakami)
- Know your weaknesses as well as your strengths
- Find people who inspire you, and tell them. Be grateful for them, and tell them that too.
*if you have a body you are an athlete
That's all from me