Completing and Competing: What’s your goal?

With the Niagara Falls Women’s Half Marathon coming up this weekend, I’m in that place where I think about my goals. Complete or compete?  I always say I’m showing up to complete.  I don’t keep my turtle-pace a secret. At my best, I can hope for a 2:30 half marathon.

So to those people who will ask me if I won, no. No I didn’t win. I didn’t even plan or aspire to win. Neither did loads of other participants.  And that’s why I love finishing medals. (See my post about why participate if I’m not going to win?).

I’ve had a series of interesting awarenesses about a tension that lives in me between competing and completing. I want to feel content with completing. I mean, that’s something in itself — to finish a half marathon: 21.1 kilometres. Right?

But at the same time I would like to run faster.  If I compete, I’m my own competition. (see Sam’s post on “Who’s the competition? She Is”). Don’t we hear that a lot. Who doesn’t love a personal record? Does it really even matter where we stand relative to others?

Well, I’m not sure, but what’s behind the feeling is that there’s something wrong with being slow. I had an emotional moment yesterday because as I worked on the book, I had to re-read my posts from my big triathlon summer in 2014. Specifically, my race reports from Cambridge, Bracebridge, and Lakeside.

And though I value those accomplishments and look back on that time with some kind of awe, I felt sad too because in every report I talked about how long I spent out on the course and what it’s like to cross the finish line in the bottom 10 (or less). As I said to Renald when I spoke to him about yesterday, weeping (okay, we’re also in a deadline crunch and it’s getting to me), it’s humbling when your biggest aspiration is to make your way out of the bottom 10.

In a post I wrote in 2014, where I reflected on my identity as a slow runner, I reported on a really helpful article, “If you run slow, who cares?” by marathon coach Jeff Gaudette. He talked about how almost every time he starts coaching someone, they say “I’m probably the slowest person you’ve ever coached.” People, no matter how fast they run, feel embarrassed at how slow they are.

In my own case, I feel that. I literally experience a sense of shame and inadequacy over my lack of speed and seeming inability to ever get faster. I want to just enjoy my activities, to care more, or even only, about completing than competing. But then something in me also wants to see “progress.”

In the weeks leading up to the half marathon, we’ve all been talking about wanting to finish. But we’ve also got some aspirations — Anita and I would like to finish in 2:30. Julie says she doesn’t care (I never quite believe her — she can run so much faster than me).

Rebecca and Violetta said they were all nervous about doing a half but both have done the distance in training in shorter order than I have ever realistically hoped for. And Violetta doesn’t even take walk breaks!

And so those thoughts rear up in my again: I’m slow. I’m going to hold people back. Blah, blah, blah.

I really don’t mind running alone, so when I tell everyone they can feel free to run ahead, I mean it. But then that wave of shame washes over me because, dammit, I feel as if I should be able to keep up with people by now. Why am I so slow?

I do this in the pool too, and it’s not just me. I see how reluctant the women in my lane sometimes are to take the lead. As I slacked in my commitment to swim training over the past year, I’ve fallen behind. I feel worse when I’m holding someone up than I do when I’m bumping up against the person in front of me.

In my “‘Too slow’ for what?” post I talked about the way that kept me from running with a group for the longest time. Now that I have found my peeps, those group runs are what it’s all about. What joy to have a group of women who I can go out with regularly to do something we all love to do.

It’s also held me back from cycling (it’s not the only thing, but it’s a thing).

Back to completing or competing. It might get back to what the overall goal is. Do we want to go out and have fun? Is competition part of what makes it fun? If so, competition against whom? Other competitors? Your own past selves for a personal record? What about not caring at all and just doing it because you can, results be damned?

I worry too that we’ve got this thing going on in our social world where you have to strive to be better all the time. And we get it loud and clear that there’s something wrong with you if you’re not making that attempt.

Yes, we hear counter-messages about acceptance and being “present” etc.  What’s wrong with that? Just going out there for the fun of it, regardless of the time? I found myself worrying about getting held up if others needed a bathroom break. But why? What difference does it make?

This rambling post is my attempt to (1) talk myself into doing Niagara just for the fun of it and (2) stop feeling a sense of shame and inadequacy over not being fast. It’s bullshit.

I’m in it to complete. I’m in it to complete. And have fun. And hang out with some awesome women. My little crew. And a few thousand others. And Kathrine Switzer.

And the medal.

And the t-shirt!

NWHFM2016 t-shirt

I get a lot from other women’s wise words. I’d love to hear your thoughts on completing and competing.



12 thoughts on “Completing and Competing: What’s your goal?

  1. As my best friend says, there will always be someone faster. I’m never going to be the overall winner unless I’m racing against centenarians, but I’m okay with that. No one’s life is in the balance.

    Sometimes the victory is just showing up.

  2. As a swimmer, I have learned a few things.
    1) my personal goals tend to be around form. At my first-ever competition (Master’s Nationals a few years ago) I aimed not to be disqualified at take-offs of turns. Every practice is about learning to be more streamlined and applying my coach’s corrections so that he has no reason to repeat what he said last week.
    2) I’m not always the fastest in my lane, but I’m the best at pacing and figuring out complicated sets, so I’m happy to lead for those and then move to the back on the long freestyle sets.
    3) shower time, the drive to and from the lake, seeing occasional wildlife, and coffee afterwards are the best parts about swimming. As much as I love the water, it doesn’t beat the friendships I have made there.
    4) swimming is an endurance sport. I’m unlikely to medal before I hit the 80-85 category (and even then, there are no guarantees as more and more people swim and compete as they age). No point in fussing about something that won’t happen for 25+ years.
    5) And from a runner friend: every event is different, and the differences between times is pretty marginal in the big picture. He did a half marathon in record heat last week, and was two minutes off his goal time. Two minutes is awesome pacing, in my view! Last year I swam an open water 3 km shortly after foot surgery. I needed a swim angel because I was so nervous about cramping. Other swimmers were freaked by the choppy water and disappointed by their times. I was thrilled to finish in my worst time ever (by about a minute) at that event and went on to do some other swim things I never thought would be possible – a 4 km race (I was happy to be 2nd last), an 8 km with friends (at 4 hours, it took me twice as long as most of the others but two extra hours in my long life is nothing), and cold water swimming until the river froze solid.

  3. The inner struggle you describe sounds familiar. I had two race goals when I signed up—to finish and not get injured. I certainly didn’t have a goal with respect to finishing time. But now with the race fast approaching, it’s on my mind. I ran the distance in 2:21 in training but can I do it again? What if it’s really hot, or my hip is bothering me.

    I’ve never done the 10:1 running though I know many people who swear by it. I don’t think of it as an “easier” method, it just a different strategy. And I’m training with a friend who is naturally faster than me so it has pushed me. That said, I’m always saying “I’m slow”. Well, in a way, I am. There are people who run a full marathon in less time (which is just incredible to me!). I remind myself of my goals and urge myself not to think about my time—realistically, it’s not going to change much. This is just another context where I’m confronted with the challenge of accepting myself for what I can do—maybe even learning to be proud of myself for it.

    And Tracy, add to your race accomplishments that you’ve inspired others to face their fears and meet new goals and get healthier along the way. How many people in the race will be able to say that!

  4. Great post and one that really resonates with me. Even when I win there is a reason why I won – there werent any good people in the race is the usual one!I started getting so stressed before races that I had to remind myself that I was doing it for fun. It wasnt until I decided that I needed to “not race” in a race that I started to enjoy it again and actually started to see good results again! This post came at a poignant time for me as I am out of action for the best part of the year due to an operation. I am thinking about how I am going to cope mentally when I start back training and race again, literally being back at square 1, at the back.

    1. You’ve really hit it when you say you needed to do something to learn how to have fun again. Good luck with the re-start as you get back to it after your surgery. And thanks for this!

  5. I really appreciate this post, and it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot too. I think speed and time goals are prevalent (and are pushed so much in resources like books, magazines, training plans, etc.) because they’re easily quantifiable. I’ve been wondering if I might be able to recognize progress with other types of goals if I made an effort to track them in some way. So if my goal is to cross the finish line injury free, maybe I keep track of times I warm up and stretch properly, how many times I do strength training, etc. After my marathon, I looked back at my training plan and highlighted all of the scheduled sessions that I completed. It was about 95%, and seeing that was surprisingly satisfying! I’m very much wired to be goal oriented, so if I wanted to do a race purely for fun, I think I’d have to frame it as a goal. Maybe (probably) not the healthiest mindset…
    I do think it’s significant work to keep your specific goals in the forefront. I always feel like it should be easier, but I often get caught in the comparison track. Why is it so hard to take it easy and just have fun?!
    I hope you do feel like you’re able to do Niagara and a good time – all of the perks you listed sound fantastic!

  6. I don’t have anything to offer…because I don’t participate in timed group bike rides. Just fun group rides….1-2 times annually and we’re slow. Usually for cycling social bonding and to demonstrate to the world of cycling as transportation for everyone ..a form of advocacy.

    A lot of cycling I do alone or with 1 other person. So there is self-motivation and enjoyment that is key to my own cycling. I see it as “success” to my own health and fitness.

    Think of: daily enjoyment, sport for pure enjoyment, success to only your long term health and fitness. That perpetuates the cycle of self-motivation every day.

    I don’t give a damn about my speed…as long as I cycle certain hills, etc.

    I wrote this awhile ago:

    It is advice I give to anyone in person. Do it because you LOVE it, not for competition nor to get “faster”/better. Just forget about everyone else around you. Forget about who is watching you perform.

  7. I don’t need to beat myself down, Tracy not in my personal pursuits.
    There is a reason why I’ve kept cycling for the past 25 years annually….. and it’s not because I’m “good”. Because I refuse to measure my performance against others.

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