6 Steps to Healthy Competition
6 Steps to Healthy Competition by Dana Waggener
I live in Boulder, Colo.–a place of complete outdoor sports obsession. In Boulder, professional athletes run wild through the streets and on the trail. And these aren’t the kind of professional athletes that throw baseballs or pigskins. I’m talking about professional climbers, runners, cyclists, and their dirty counter-parts, the professional cyclo-cross racers. There are elite climbers, triathletes, mountain bikers, barefoot runners, and ultra-runners all prancing freely along Boulder’s many bike paths, trail, and gyms.
I love living in Boulder. It’s beautiful, the air is clean, the outdoor opportunities are endless, and I’m constantly surrounded by healthy, happy people. But if Boulder had a middle name, it would be Competition. How can you not get competitive with yourself (or your climbing partner or biking partner) when the average climber climbs 5.12 and the average runner’s pace is 6:30? I could be exaggerating a little, but that’s not too far off. If you’re like me and you enjoy all your extracurricular activities and take pride in your improvement and progression, living in Boulder, Competition, Colo. can add a lot of pressure!
So, how do mere-mortal Boulderites, or anyone who has an inner competitor, stay positive and keep the competition at a healthy level? I have a few key ways to stay balanced.
1. Remind yourself, “Boulder-average” isn’t necessarily your “average” – Trust me, I am not calling “average” a bad thing… (don’t tell my Boulder friends!). It’s difficult not to be hard on yourself when every gal next to you in the climbing gym can send 5.13 and you’re trying your hardest to work 5.12b, or when you go out for a run and the guy who looks 10 years older than you finished his 5k nine minutes faster than you did. But, I try to remind myself that even trying 5.12 is pretty darn amazing and rolling out of bed and going out for that morning run in the first place is an accomplishment in and of itself.
2. Focus on the good days – Climbers have bad days, and after you progress more and more the not so good days and the downright frustrating ones are more frequent. This is simply because people generally progress in climbing quickly and then plateau. You might have been able to go from 5.9 to 5.11b in three to six months, but moving from 5.11d to 5.12c could take years. Talk about a sport that requires dedication! When I’m having a bad day, I remind myself that bad days are part of it and it makes having great days, when you finally get the send, that much better.
3. Remember that life will always throw curve balls and curve balls are a good thing! One of my favorite climbing partners and I were catching up with each other at the gym a few weeks ago. He mentioned that he was unhappy with his climbing performance lately, and blamed his shortcomings on being extra busy with a new promotion at work. I told him that life (outside of climbing) creates boundaries and presents new opportunities that might come between us and our athletic goals, but always being able to climb, even if it’s not at our very best, is better than not climbing at all. Plus, it’s awesome to have goals and success in our careers, family life, and personal life, too. Living a full life is awesome and if full means you can climb, run, bike, or hike, I consider that a big bonus!
4. REST – There. I said it. The four-letter-word that many mere-mortal Boulderites shy away from, that’s right REST. One of the most important parts of progression and improvement is doing nothing….allowing yourself to have a rest day is okay and is actually very healthy. I have climbing friends who think their “rest day” is running seven miles – that’s not a rest day. Our bodies need to rest to repair muscles and get stronger. I had a friend who was a sponsored cyclist and he told me that his sponsor brands regularly checked in on him and they would call on the days he was supposed to be resting to make sure he was actually doing nothing. My friend had companies that paid him to take rest days. You should pay yourself by taking one too (it’s okay, I promise).
5. Your posse is important! I feel most inspired by my running and climbing partners who are supportive, motivated, and most importantly fun to be around and fun to run and climb with. You know who they are…the are ones who push you to sprint at the end of the run, or who yell encouragement like “I’m with you! Come on! Try hard!” when you are on your climbing project. These are the people who we might sometimes feel competitive with, because they may be having a better day or may have progressed quicker than you. It’s healthy to have someone around who will push you or help you push yourself, but it’s even more important that we keep our inner competitor in check and remember that our partners are the people supporting us and are joining us in doing something awesome. Push each other but remember to have fun at the same time.
6. Fun… don’t forget about the FUN! All of these things that you love to do so much–running, climbing, biking, etc.–are all supposed to be FUN! I’ve always said, “When it’s not fun anymore, don’t do it.” I love to push myself and try hard. And you can ask anyone who knows me–I enjoy a healthy dose of competition, but I love to have fun more. There is a threshold of training, competition, and still having fun – when you break the threshold, you know it. It’s usually when you feel like you are in a rut or you’ve been training super-hard, or you feel like you are forcing yourself out of bed to get going on your morning run. When this happens, remind yourself it’s supposed to be fun, and if it’s not, take a break.
At the end of the climb, or the last mile of the trail run – we all have our inner competitor talking to us, telling us to keep pushing, and that’s okay… as long as you reach the anchors or cross the finish line with a smile on your face, a friend to celebrate with you, and maybe a tasty beverage waiting for you at the end.