I have never been one for competition. I dislike people who are sore losers or sore winners. I don’t mind not being good at a thing that I have not put much effort into trying to be good at, but I don’t like being better at it than someone who has put effort into it.
I don’t even like to compete with myself on the things that I do put a lot of effort into because I see performance as quite contingent, temporary and ephemeral. I mean, why should I pressure myself to run faster at some distance when how fast I run is down to things beyond my control, like the weather, how popular the race is, whether or not I am having a bad allergy day, etc. Plus, if I should be proud of running faster one week, should I be upset to run slower later on? And ultimately, I don’t run to be fast. I run to run, so all running that I actually run is good running.
Consequently, I have never really focused on how fast I can run. I didn’t even record all of my early race times, so I am not really sure how much my running speed has improved since the very early days. Instead I focused on running better (with less stopping to take a walk break, less feeling terrible after, etc.) and farther (from my first 5K, to 10K, to half marathon and then a marathon) and with better form (straighter posture, arms moving less side-to-side across my chest, etc.).
On the whole, this has worked pretty well for me. I enjoy running and find that when I finish I am in a much better mood than when I started. I am healthier, I sleep better and I feel stronger. I really got to enjoy the way that I could zen out and just let the distances slip by with so little effort. I liked the moment when I felt that I stepped outside of myself and was no longer running but being run.
On the other hand, the same thing all the time can get boring. So I have changed my approach for this year. To some extent, this change was an accident of happenstance. In the process of moving to a new country, I was less able to sign up for races, to train for long races, and to run long, un-interupted stretches of zen-running . But I did find myself in a country that had a lot of parkrun opportunities, which gave me great opportunities to run timed 5K runs in a way that I would not traditionally have bothered with. I also joined the run-commute club at work, which encouraged me to run the 2.8K to work (and another 2.8K back home) several days per week. As a consequence of running these shorter distances more frequently, I have been able to focus on how it feels to run shorter and faster, with the kind of body positioning that suits short-and-fast runs rather than conserving-energy-for-long runs.
After noticing my 5K speed improve significantly, I decided to deliberately not sign up for or start training plans for any races longer than 10K. My 10K speed has also improved, knocking about a minute and a half off my PB after years of hovering around the 1 hour mark. I am still not really bothered about getting faster for the sake of competition, not even with myself, but I am interested in how running short-and-fast is making me feel, making my body move, and making me see running differently. Zen is now not just about being peaceful over long distances, it is about being peaceful under short and intense bursts of effort. A different sort of zen, but also good to know I can do.
Plus, there is always next year for the long distances. We shall see.