Earlier this month, Kelley and I did the Tough Mudder. My attitude going into the event was kind of dismissive. Compared to “real” competitive events, I thought it was more hype than substance. We had a great time, though, and I’m really glad we did it. I can see now that it wasn’t so much about completing the course as fast as possible as it was about helping others and overcoming physical and mental obstacles. Not to mention that it was the longest I’ve ever run (about 12 miles), which by itself is something I’m pretty proud of.
At the time of the event, all the Lance Armstrong vs. USADA stuff was coming to light. None of it surprised me because I’d already been cured of my illusions for quite a while. It got me thinking about competition in new ways, though – specifically its purpose, its effects on people, and its place in my life.
It’s often said that competition brings out the best in us. While that may be true in regard to absolute performance, it occurs to me that it’s often the opposite in regard to ethics. The Tough Mudder is explicitly not a competitive event. There are no results and no prizes for the top finishers. I don’t think time is even kept. People gladly help each other out, and you can’t really cheat. If you don’t want to participate in an obstacle, you just run around it. I’m sure no one who did the Tough Mudder was on a systematic doping program to maximize their performance.
On the other hand, the Tour de France is the biggest competitive cycling event in the world. Going back to 1996, all but two winners have been somehow implicated with doping. Even on the amateur level at which I race, there have been a number of people who have tested positive and/or have admitted to doping. I’ve never seen testing carried out at any of the races I’ve done, and that’s over a period of 15 years which included two national championships and a lot of big regional races. I’m not a pessimist and I try to avoid gossip, but I can’t help but wonder what the results would be if testing were instituted on the local level.
That’s not really my point, though. My point is that I’ve decided that winning bike races isn’t as important to me as it used to be. There was a point early in my cycling “career” when my sole motivation for riding was racing (and winning). I still like to race, but I don’t need to race in order to justify riding any more, and I don’t need to win in order to justify racing.
So as I think about the events I’ll do next year, I’m feeling drawn towards races that I stand little or no chance of winning, but which I think will be fun, challenging, and rewarding. Dirty Kanza is at the top of the list. I’m even contemplating a half-Ironman, with an eye toward doing the full iron-monty in 2014. These events would require me to train and prepare at a new level, and simply to finish them would be a major accomplishment – regardless of how much mud I have to go through or how many dopers (if any) I get beat by.