For some, competition is the end goal; the WHY. For others it is just another tool for expanding and expressing commitment to a life of physicality. The vast majority have little at stake in their training. We don’t depend on prize money or sponsorship to feed ourselves and our families. Our work doesn’t put us in dangerous situations where we depend on our fitness as a safety net. The gym is tied to recreation rather than vocation. Still, to ensure progress it is critical to raise the stakes often, to sharpen our commitment by entering a situation in which we need to perform here and now. The “recreational athlete” should be prepared to regularly toe the line and test themselves in a competitive environment with a focus on learning rather than achieving. Competing against others isn’t essential to the experience, in this writing competition serves as a placeholder term for the broader topic of testing, assessment, performing under pressure. The spontaneous solo time trial decided upon the night before can have just as much value as the the crowded major city marathon ending a year long training cycle, perhaps more if one’s environment demands flexibility in unpredictable circumstances. The value of the endeavor comes from the pressure and importance we choose to place on the moment, and honoring that choice when shit hits the fan. Depending on temperament this can be leveraged to teach some of the lessons we value most: the presence and patience to see things through.
Often quoted, the maxim “You win, or you learn”, is more useful the more it is unpacked. Most compete to achieve. The scale of this achievement doesn’t matter. To participate, to complete an event, to defeat competition. The “OR” here is important, pointing to the notion that there isn’t much to be learned from success, but failure is rich with lessons. We’re either given a glimpse at the floor or the ceiling of our potential. What can you do feeling your worst, with circumstances at their worst? This is the measure of how well your training is preparing you. Fear of what will take place should never hold us back from an honest attempt to find out. You have nothing to lose.
Noted alpinist and ultimate Anti-Guru Mark Twight wrote at length of an awareness that when his mind was prepared, he could drag his body up to many summits even when physical preparation had been lacking. In a sport where winning is survival and losses are much more costly, resolve was the most necessary ingredient. His thesis that evolved of this rings loudly; The Minds Is Primary. While usually not mortal in nature, competition raises the stakes of what we are doing, allowing us to test that resolve and acclimatize to the thin air that is performing under pressure.
Competition is a tool, use it but don’t depend on it. There are many challenges and events available now that any person can train for and complete with only the hastiest preparation. Emphasis is too often placed on the having done rather than the doing. The participation medal, the T-shirt, the right to slap the 13.1 sticker on your car. These tokens have value only if they represent transformation, an effort that challenged you enough to change you. When choosing a competitive event to participate in, if your mind turns to the positive social feedback from doing so, think again. Re-frame the effort in your mind. Choose something that makes you nervous, something that you’ll need guidance and support to prepare for and achieve. Participation should never serve as a finish line, as an arrival. Instead, it should point towards deeper water to wade into.
Rather than asking "Why did I do this?", choose the harder question to answer..."If I did this, what else might I be capable of?"