Over the weekend I was coerced had the opportunity to participate in a 2-mile time trial with my son's high school cross-country track team, and the results of which were pretty sad and interesting at the same time.
Let's step a bit to set some context. I heard about the Saturday morning time trial pretty late on Friday evening and was informed that the cross-country team coach encouraged the student runners to invite their parents and other family members to attend and even compete in the time trial, and in fact, many, many parents would indeed participate in the race. Armed only with that small bit of information, and since I am a very casual two or three times a week jogger, and I knew I could cover the two miles with collapsing, I agreed to show up early on run on Saturday morning.
Fast forward to the actual morning of the race and it turns out that no, 'many, many' parents were not intending to participate in the race. It was just me, one other older guy, (I say older, I probably had him by 8 or 9 years), and about 30 high school cross-county athletes lined up to race the two miles.
My focus immediately shifted from ' I hope I can run a respectable time' to 'I can't let myself come in last place in this race', as a fairly decent-sized crowd of non-running parents, (as well as all the high schoolers), had gathered to watch the race (and eat donuts and bagels).
After unsuccessfully feigning a pre-race injury in order to try and back out of the race, I was off and running with the 30-odd kids and the one-odd other old dummy like me tricked into doing this.
Here's how the rest of the race unfolded: first half mile or so I tried to stay connected to the back of the pack of kids, second half mile I lost contact with all but about five of the slowest kids, last mile or so I ended up passing a few kids, (most of whom I later found out were making their very first training run that morning).
And oh yeah, the other 'old man' in the race? He stalked me, about 15-20 yards back for most of the race and then tried to outkick me, (term used very, very loosely), in the last 50 yards or so. Once I realized this, I managed to speed up enough to hold him off at the tape. I ended up placing about 25th out of about 31 or 32. My time, while slow, was about one minute per mile faster than I would normally run.
What's the point of all of this, i.e., why place it on the blog?
I was thinking about how incented I was to raise my performance level not to win or even try to win the race, because there was no chance of that, but to a level where I simply would not be the worst performer. And it worked, to a degree.
The fear of being the worst, and having that be a public thing, drove me to perform better than I would had I been squarely in the middle of a typical pack of weekend 5K runners. I knew I had to push myself to beat even just one other person in the race and avoid the indignity of coming in last.
All performance is relative. It is true in running, and in most every other activity we take on that calls for measurement, (and rewards). And motivation to perform to be the best, while certainly powerful and meaningful, isn't the only kind of motivation that can drive improved relative performance.
That's is from me. Happy Monday. Have a great week.