How Losing Races Makes Me Feel Like Less of a Loser


Before my son was born, my dad jokingly asked my husband if we would promise to give him athletic grandchildren. My husband smirked and winked at me. “I don’t know about athletic,” he replied, “but they’ll be competitive.”

When we were 20 and 22 (babies!), engaged to be married and determined to be grown-ups, we made a pact never to play Scrabble again. This, after I dramatically sent letters flying into all four corners of the apartment. Because, dammit, he was cheating. Or maybe he was just pulling out all the stops and the Qs to make sure he beat me. Same diff.

I can be a bit…howshallwesay…intense.  Or so I’m told by my cheating (but just in Scrabble!) husband. In years past, I’ve had plenty of acceptable outlets for this not particularly endearing quality, the foremost of which was my job as an HR executive. But for the past three years, while I’ve been loafing around as a stay-at-home mom, this success-driven, competitive, type-A personality is not so useful or applicable. Which–if I’m going to be honest–makes me feel like a bit of a loser.

I know, I know. Go ahead and lecture me about how meaningful and beautiful it is to mold the lives of young children by cutting the crust off their grilled cheese sandwiches while reminding them that showing love to each other is more important than being right about whether there’s such a thing as a “boy” ladybug. And I will nod my head in hearty agreement. But that doesn’t make this messed-up hard-wiring go away. I still want to accomplish Big Things, to get an A+ in every subject in the universe, and to be the All Time Champion (of Something) for Whom All Shall Continuously Applaud with Deep and Abiding Admiration.

So with this neurosis as a backdrop, I realize as my kids begin playing sports competitively that I either (a) need to cultivate an outlet of my own or (b) need to have a lobotomy. Because so help me, I will not be that mom who competes vicariously through her children–be it academically, socially, athletically, or facebookially. (That’s a word, right?) But seriously, I do need a healthy outlet for my annoying competitive self, something beyond Scrabble or whatever the cool kids play these days (Words with Friends?). And here’s the thing I realized on a long run not so long ago–I already have my outlet.

Over the past year, running has become my thing, the one area in my life with measurable results, the place where comparing my performance to that of another doesn’t automatically make me a jerk. Like, you know, just as an example, when I switch from an easy run to a speed workout as soon as the teen with the local high school lacrosse shirt hops on the treadmill next to me acting like he’s tough shitake. (And yes, little dude, I am old enough to be your mother and lookie there, I just lapped you and made it look easy.)

With running, I can race against the clock, against the speedy chick in the hot pink compression socks (hey wait, was that Wasabi that just blew past me?), even against the pregnant lady. And when the pregnant lady beats me by a significant margin? I can track her down and introduce myself. We can become running friends, run a race together, and she can beat me again. And when this sort of thing happens, it energizes me. Even though technically I’m still a loser, I feel like less of one because I’m competing, striving, testing my limits, and discovering strength I didn’t know I had. Hence, I have my outlet.

Several months ago, my son played his first “travel” soccer game. And by “travel”, we just mean that the parents pay higher fees and the boys begin to move beyond the beehive model of play.  I’ll be honest — I was worried about us both. As my husband promised my father, our son is competitive and intense. He hates to lose, and has been known to cry after a loss of any kind. And I believe we’ve covered his mother’s similar tendencies ad naseum, so yes, I had some legitimate cause for concern.

But it turned out I didn’t need to worry. I didn’t make a fool of myself, unless you count squealing like a lunatic about a goal that was scored only in my imagination. (I swear it looked like it went in!) The boys played hard, made some great passes and plenty of mistakes; and they lost. My son came toward me after the game as I folded up the chairs, smiling as wide as his little face allowed. He told me that wearing a “real uniform” and playing “real positions” made him feel like he was a professional soccer player, and that he almost didn’t care about losing because it was so much fun to compete in a real game.  “Know what I mean, Mom?”

Yep, Buddy, I totally do.

Because if given a chance to lose yet another race by just a little bit less than I lost the last one, I’d line up faster than you can say triple word score.


If you consider yourself competitive and driven, how has that been a help or hindrance in your running, in your profession, or in your personal life? Would you rather win a race without achieving a PR or lose while running a personal best? 

Recovering corporate hamster-wheeler turned Alaskan hausfrau, mother of two and running enthusiast. Kind of a June Cleaver in tempo shorts...minus the makeup and vacuum. Will run to great lengths to get a moment of peace.

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  1. I can totally relate to this. The reason I started racing was I was a SAHM and it was driving me crazy that I had no goals. It definitely became my one thing and has been an incredible outlet. As to your question, I’d definitely rather PR and lose than win without PRing. A win is always nice, but we always know deep down it wasn’t our best performance. Usually my competitiveness is a good thing, but I will admit sometimes it is a hindrance. I used to take every race way too seriously. I have since learned there is a time and a place for an easy and fun run and even race. It took me a long time to figure that out and enjoy those opportunities, however.

    1. Yes–that’s exactly it–having a goal (or two) that’s just for me is such a help during this SAHM phase of life. I also love being able to cross one darn thing off my list and have something to show for the hard work (a shiny new PR!), as opposed to the endless cycle of do-it-again domestic chores and meals that disappear into a mess of dishes in 5% of the time it took to make them!

  2. I love this post and *surprise!* can totally relate too. And like Mint, my competitiveness also gets in my way and I am in the process of learning how to not take this all too seriously – I liken it to cult deprogramming when discussing it with my husband! But there is a happy medium somewhere and it is a fantastic outlet for us disheveled former professional type-A moms and I am hell-bent on finding that sweet spot!

  3. I am not driven by competing against others, more so competing against myself. I am always striving to achieve a personal best, do better than last time, and improve myself. In sports, I’ve never been at the top, and consider myself average compared to everyone else. Winning a race would be amazing, but I would rather compete against myself.

    1. I’m with you, Jojo. I’d rather “beat” my old self than win a race any day. Unless, of course, the winning prize was cherry pie or a year’s supply of running gear. In that case, I’d totally settle for winning. 🙂

  4. Oh thank you – I’m 34 weeks pregnant with my first child and well, both my husband and I are competitive. It has helped and hindered both of our careers, athletic endeavours and we are both really conscious of how this could affect our growing family! It is nice to hear balance can be found and your son’s quote from the end of the tournament made me tear-up! Although.. that could always be the hormones ;)!

    1. Having kids mellowed me out a little with my over-competitiveness. I think it inspired me to figure out what I was trying to prove and search for more balance in life. And with way less time and energy to do everything I want to do, I’ve really had to learn how to accept good enough in running and the rest of life. It’s an ongoing struggle, though!

    2. Ha–the hormones! It only gets better….prepare to tear up regularly at the most benign commercials.
      But similar to what Salty said, motherhood did have a really grounding effect for me. It definitely helped me put my career in perspective and reform some of my workaholic ways. It also softened me up a bit in the sense that life became less about achievement and more about relationships. I am sure you will find much of the same in your journey as a mom. Oh, and CONGRATS on embarking on this really exciting stage of life a new mom!