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The Ambivalent Nature of Noncompetition

I think I know why I've struggled to fully latch on to swimming and cycling. Part of it is just starting out new. But I can't really play the newbie card anymore, particularly with swimming. What I'm missing, I think, is the thrill of competition (except for the occasional instances when, unbeknownst to the swimmer in the lane next to me, I engage in a full-out race with him or her to the wall and back). With running, the sport became more exciting to me when I started entering distance races. I began where most everyone does—with a 5k—but then decided that wasn't enough, so I trained for a 15k and soon thereafter a half marathon, etc. Those events propelled my love for running forward. I was never racing for prestige or placement but rather to challenge myself; to push myself further than I knew I ever would if I—me, myself—had been the only motivating source. I needed the accountability and structure that came with race training.

And now, without the race factor, I find I'm lacking passion. This isn't to say that (1) there aren't swimming and cycling races or (2) swimming and cycling races would make me love those sports more; it's just a theory. And while swim/bike races exist, they come mostly in the form of triathlons, which require the one component I can't currently do with full effort—run. Although I finally got past my foot injury (hallelujah!), I'm now working to sort out some new knee pain.

Further, it's hard to continue to have motivation when I don't have an ultimate goal. With running, I was almost always registered in a race I needed to train for; that's one reason I loved long-distance races: they require perpetual training. But left to my own devices with swimming and cycling, I tend to do the same things over and over again. The same distances each week, same effort. How do I get out of my slump? Does it matter whether I do? To answer these questions, I guess I need to define my goals, which I haven't really done, except to harbor a notion in the back of my mind of getting faster and going farther, performing better overall. Yet I feel so reluctant to do that. But there's another reason it's difficult.

Aside from having no ultimate goal to work toward, I also have nobody to measure against. And to clarify, competing with other runners—at least overtly—was not part of my running M.O. But having a general knowledge of where I placed among other female runners in my age group, particularly in my community, helped me want to be better, place higher. Of course, beating myself was always the ultimate aim. But in order for the data to be measurable, they needed to be official, at least in my mind, which meant racing.

A part of me just keeps thinking I'll wait out my current and persistent impediments to running races. But the longer I wait, the less I'm competing over time, the more complacent I'm becoming, and the less satisfied I ultimately am with my performance in these other sports. I won't let them go; they still sustain me while I'm limited with running and satisfy a need for endurance training, and I often get absorbed in the beauty of the sports—particularly swimming, but they don't grip me and possess me in the fulfilling way running did. I'm not sure they ever will.

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