By Sara-Mai Conway
Competition. When we hear that word, we immediately attach an emotional association. Competition. Our gut responds with fear, anxiety, excitement, curiosity, good and/or bad memories, and sometimes all of that. But it's always something. This is why it's important to compete.
Every time I race, I learn something about myself, something I never would have stumbled upon had I not put myself in the uncomfortable situation of competition. I learn about my physical limits and the effectiveness of my training plan, but more importantly, I learn about how I think: What are my true fears? Why did I or why didn't I go for a little more? What caused me to break down, or to push beyond? What was I afraid of or excited about pre-race, during the race, afterward? What do I have control over—my thoughts, my physical performance, my preparation? What don't I have control over— my surroundings, my equipment, uh...my thoughts?
Often, we learn the most when things go wrong. My weakest moments make me the most upset. I would've-could've-should've. I learn and I move on. Yet looking back, it's my strongest moments that I remember the most clearly. Not just the wins, but the wins that forced the biggest fight out of me. That's something that racing has shown me. I like to win, but my favorite “wins” were those situations in which I was asked to beat myself—those moments when I was backed against the wall in the midst of competition and I was asked "that" question, and I was forced to decide: will I or won't I? And I did.
And now I'm sorry, you may be a terrific athlete. You may work hard, consistently, powerfully. But if you are working in isolation, you will never be forced to answer that question. And for those of you who opt to “test” yourself on your own, whether it be time trial, for distance, or whatever, you are missing out. And you are fooling yourself.Entering a race is not only about the time trial, the distance, or the finish line. It is about the act of racing. It is about learning to prepare, taking risks, learning about who you are, and being honest with yourself when you find out. It is the "spirit" and the "mind" in the trifecta of body-mind-spirit.
I encourage you all to enter a competition. It doesn't need to be this weekend. But at some point, enter. And then once you do it, I encourage you to do it again someday. Do not do this for the external reward of passing someone else, going faster than someone else, or bringing home a medal. Do it because it is a necessary part of becoming the greatest that you can be. Competition offers necessary lessons toward development of the self.
And when development of the self is your goal, it doesn't matter who you pass, who is better than you, or where you place. It will be impossible for you not to achieve.
Sara-Mai Conway is currently a cycling and yoga instructor, adventure traveler, and all-around competitor living in Austin, Texas. She is the cofounder of Resolute Fitness: Cycling & Yoga, a boutique fitness studio with two locations in the greater Austin area. Find them at ResoluteFitness.com and find Sara-Mai on Instagram @saramaic.
Looking to complete? Check out the Lyons Outdoor Games, a CW-sponsored event, for recreational-paddler-friendly events June 3-4!
SUP photo: istock/KaraGrubis