From the Archives: Avoiding the Competition

[Originally published June 24, 2007]

I’m convinced that no corner of the world has as many road races as New England. On any weekend of the year — even in the dead of winter — an intrepid runner can find a race. Now that the weather is warm, the calendar is filled to bursting with opportunities to run.

For example, coolrunning.com lists five races TODAY (Thursday!)  in and around the Boston area, and over thirty road races or triathlons taking place in Massachusetts this weekend. And even that will likely be exceeded by the number of road races held on July 4th.

Surprisingly, given the number of events, there’s almost always decent competition at these race. Seek out the smallest town, the most obscure race, and you are still likely to run into someone fast. That’s a testament to the overall depth of talent in these parts and the enthusiasm for the sport.

In fact, it’s kind of surprising when you show up at a race and you don’t encounter fast guys. Occasionally, the competition goes elsewhere and you pick up a trophy because all the fast guys were chasing money somewhere else. I used to write a feature for my club web site called “The Cheap Win of the Week” in which I highlighted the victories of club members in races too insignificant to attract the notice of the racing elite.

It never struck me as anything but amusing that one would sometimes achieve a kind of questionable glory by beating weak competition, but apparently even tainted glory is better than none. A friend sent me a link to a bizarre article from the Wall Street Journal that describes how some triathlon competitors spend hours researching races to identify the ones with the least competition. Aided by the Internet, they avoid events in which they would be buried by the big boys and girls.

It seems like a lot of trouble to me. I mean, wouldn’t it be easier to hold your own road race, in your own neighborhood? You could invite your neighbors (well, only the ones who pose no threat to your eventual triumph), and at the end award yourself a medal. At the end of the day, you could call in your times to the newspaper, and if there aren’t enough finishers, you can make up some names — the way they used to do for the Saturday races at Fresh Pond. (Oops, I shouldn’t have let that slip.)

On the other hand, a win is a win, right?

Well, no, it isn’t. Because winning (or losing) against real competition is invigorating, stimulating, while avoiding competition is bloodless and weakens, rather than strengthens one’s toughness and resolve. Don’t be tempted by the easy path. Accept, but don’t chase those plastic trophies!

About Jon Waldron

Running and Racing have been important parts of my life for as long as I can remember. I ran Track and Cross Country at Amherst HS, back in the day, and am proud to have been training and competing with the Cambridge Sports Union (CSU) for the past thirty years. If my bones hold out, I hope to continue for another thirty. About a dozen years ago, I began coaching, first as an Asst. Coach at Newton North HS in Newton, MA, and for the past eight years, as Head Track and Cross Country Coach at Concord Academy in Concord, MA. I've been writing for as long as I've been running. I've been blogging about running since 2005, and after a two-year hiatus, began blogging at "the runner eclectic" in 2014. In my experience, writing about running is way harder than running itself. I also still have a day job, working full-time as a Technical Product Manager for Nuance Communications, based in Burlington, MA. Thank you for reading my blog, and please consider leaving a comment.
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