There isn’t enough winning – that’s what British track cyclist and multiple time Olympic medalist, Chris Hoy said was one of the hardest things about racing (if my memory serves me right).
The first time I came across this quote, my better-trained reflex was to disagree. It isn’t all about winning. But with more time and thought, I’ve developed more of an appreciation for what he meant. In my own isolated interpretation at least.
As a competitor, in any sense of the word, winning is important. You’re not competing if you don’t have an objective. People will enter races and events “just for fun”, explaining that they have no result ambitions or goals that would constitute success or failure based on their performance. While winning the event or achieving a certain result is insignificant to them, there is still the goal of having fun – and that is how they will win: if they have fun. They’re just defining their competition differently.
So winning does matter, and everyone is a competitor, each by his or her own standards.
And this is important. It’s important because only recently have I consciously realized and accepted this. Many a time, I have read articles or blogs by other athletes, coaches, and the likes, and found myself nodding away at their revelations “yes, yes, I completely understand”, “oh, that’s an interesting way to look at it, I should apply that to my life,” and so on.
The problem is that there isn’t always a sticking point to what you read or are told. I know I’m not always great at committing advice to memory. It’s not that I don’t listen well; it’s just that I want to believe I already know and understand what I’m being told. It’s a pride thing, I guess.
But back to winning and why it’s so important –
It may not come as a surprise that I’m writing this post in the wake of a couple shaky days of racing at US Nationals. The 10k classic and skate sprint were borderline disastrous, both due to my own fault and form (or lack thereof). There were a few bright spots in the abyss though – the first being that I stuck with it in the 10k, even when I knew the race was more or less a lost cause, and that (for the first time ever!) I improved on my ranking from qualification to heats in the sprint.
Through what is now becoming a string of admittedly challenging races, before Christmas at Sovereign Lake and now here in Houghton, I’ve had to reevaluate what my definition of winning is. While I’m sitting in the van staring out the window as we drive along, or before bed as I take a moment to visualize the next day’s race, I still imagine myself winning. Winning in the crudest sense – being the best, #1, first across the line. But before I fall asleep, or slide up to the starting gate, I remind myself of the smaller wins I’m looking for – racing with purpose, being collected, hitting my attack points, and not being weak-sauce.
If I can do those things, there is at least a little victory in every race I do. And this kind of winning is important. Because if you can’t find ways to feel victorious, and to feel validated in what you’re doing, then you’ll stop doing it. I don’t believe people should (or will) repeatedly do things that make themselves feel inferior. It’s not healthy, and it’s also a fine line. Being able to pat yourself on the back for little-victories is important for the ol’ noggin’ (that’s your head), especially when times are tough, but it shouldn’t become pity, self pity is sort of sad.
That is where I draw the line. Little victories are what keep you on the rails, but if that train is going to build up momentum and get to the big city, it’s going to take more than a few pats on the back – I’m talking fuel to keep the furnace fired (or whatever trains engines are these days). And that’s about where I am now. After picking myself up mediocre-race after okay-race after bad-race, I really just need to get a legitimate result to get this train moving. Success breeds’ success and confidence stimulates confidence. You can fake confidence, and you can find success in smaller facets of your work, but in the world of elite sport, a big result is the only real measure of great success. But I suppose what a big result is depends on who you are and what your standards are.