I began running in junior high. Why? It seemed like I would be good at it. I had the fastest mile time in my PE class, which looking back, was nothing spectacular at just under 7 minutes. All that mattered, though, was that I was the first girl to cross the finish line because a) I wanted to get done faster, and b) I was really competitive.
I got my competitiveness from my dad. He played baseball in the minor leagues until he injured his arm (he was a pitcher). Everything was/is a competition with him. It’s not like I grew up with Ricky Bobby’s dad—“If you’re not first, you’re last”—but it was an underlying message. Oh, and it was always about sports.
I strived to be the best swimmer on the team. I wasn’t. In fact, I was far from it, although I came pretty close in the breast stroke. I wanted to be the best soccer player. Again, I came close. My coach recommended I go into some fancy co-ed league, but after one practice (with some super-talented boys), I became discouraged thinking I was not good, and I quit. I was more happy to be one of the better players in my rec league. Anyway, it goes on and on. With pretty much any sport, I wanted to win.
Why couldn’t I have been competitive about grades or community service or something that would’ve been a little more useful in life?
Unfortunately, I think even now—I’m almost 40—I’m still trying to win at every sports-related activity I do. And when I don’t win or don’t try to win, I feel guilty because I failed.
Competitiveness has rubbed off on my son—hard not to. My husband likes to win, too. And if you watch any TV at all, it’s always about competition. So, it should be no surprise to me that my son is extremely competitive. He’s almost 9 and he cries if his favorite team doesn’t win. He also can’t stand it when his friends beat him in made-up challenges…or if I beat him in a game of Battleship.
There are so many articles about how competitiveness is a good thing, but isn’t too much of a good thing, actually a bad thing?
In an article from Goodtherapy.org, a therapy advocacy organization, the author writes, “Healthy levels of competition can help improve self-esteem and increase enjoyment of life. However, obsessive competition may lead to perfectionism, chronic feelings of inadequacy, or mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.”
At 39, my body seems to be rebelling against my decades of physical competitiveness. My system is screaming, “No more!” and I am being forced to rest, which makes me anxious. I should be trying to win at something! Is there a 5K I can beat a few people in this weekend? Or, hey, I should run another marathon even though the last one damaged my immune system and gave me shingles.
After doing some reading, I think there is a healthy balance in the middle somewhere. A little competitiveness is a good thing, but it shouldn’t define you.
If someone feels sad or disappointed for a DNS or DNF at a race, that’s understandable. But if someone feels guilty about it? (Ahem, me.) That may signal a problem.
In light of my health, I need to take a step back and evaluate my reasons for running or for doing any of the exercising that I do. Am I doing it for enjoyment or am I doing it to win at something?
Kerrie Turcic is a runner from Maple Valley, Wash. Kerrie is currently a copywriter by day, and also a