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Speed Work

I need look no further than my father’s house to know what it means to be a 7337 athlete. His wife is an ultramarathoner and Iron Man triathlete who, nearing 50, still wins overall against women two-thirds her age. (I say two-thirds because endurance racing is as much a sport of wisdom as of fitness.) She can run, bike, and swim me into the grave, and my masculinity is just fine with it, thank you.

Still, Kieran Healy’s story about a man who made an ass of himself felt familiar: I did something similar just this week. The thing is, though, I am not a competitive runner. The past few years I have designed my runs to be as far from competitive as possible. I don’t run with other people. Rarely do I measure my distances. Not only don’t I time my splits, I don’t even carry a watch. My program is to stay out at least 45 minutes, to keep a steady pace, and to watch for unusual things (frequently, the most unusual things I see are wild turkeys).

Wednesday, on my run I came to a crossroads, and a quarter-mile to my right was another runner. I ran ahead, and when he reached the crossroads, he followed, and he passed me within another quarter-mile. He was running about twice as fast as I was. It wasn’t the fact that he passed me that was bothersome, it was how fast he had caught up; I knew his speed wasn’t remarkable, but was mine that remarkably slow? I wondered, should I push myself more? So I let him run ahead, then tried to keep pace. And I succeeded for as long as we were going the same way (another three-quarters of a mile) and then for the rest of my run home. I showed myself in his passing that I could be a better runner, and I intend to work on being so from here out.

The question now, though, is whether my decision to run better doesn’t go against my no competition clause. I can enjoy my time just as much by running a little faster as I did while running slowly; however, I can imagine someone arguing that my decision to “improve” is really just the establishment of a Platonic ideal of “Running” to which I must now strive. That striving in turn is a form of competition both with myself and with others who better represent that ideal than I do.