If we use finish places on a podium as a metric for competition then many of us have not business pinning on a number and placing a toe on the start line. It is a rare event where I have a legitimate chance of securing a top three finish. And even when I have finish at the pointy end of the race I can immediately identify a names of competitors who were absent and would have placed in front of me on their off day. So why do we compete?
I believe competition is for shared experiences. Racing provides a type of mythology that become narrative and eventually story. A former coach reminded me that training sessions are safe. You can use them to push yourself to the point of failure and then absorb the consequences. Races are celebrations and personal commitments. We agree to show-up and give our best. The irony is that I have a hard time recalling victories. What does hold itself front and center are experiences. The snowstorms that completely obscured the trail that we did not know where to proceed. The wind that blew so fiercely that my bike and I were pushed helplessly across the road and into the path of an oncoming police van on a mountain in France. Dirt trails that stretched ceaselessly uphill onto the knife ridge of a Hawaiian mountain before plummeting down a muddy trail that requires a rope to descend. The hug from a competitor who won their division best because we took turns leading each other through the final hour of racing. Holding on desperately to a pack of skiers, pleading internally that they found no motivation to go faster as we screamed towards a finish line. Riding with 14,000 cyclist in a Gran fondo that was so full of incidents and unique equipment that a cycling cartoonist would have a career worth of material. And the smiles for having participated, no matter the outcome or place.
We compete for the adventure, uncertainty, connection, stories, and the chance to smile. Hopes of winning may be extinguished quickly but we do not drop-out. We continue forward, motivated by those who are putting forward their best. Inspired to absorb the moment and tell stories afterwards.