Standing on a starting line. It’s a race I’ve trained so hard for, one I hoped to PR and maybe even win. And then I see her: the woman who always beats me.
Darn it! Why can’t I get this one? Why does she have to be here? And she seems so snobby. Look at her with that look on her face. And she hates me. I know it.
These thoughts enter my head as I set off on the course in pursuit of her — as usual.
But then, weirdly, as we hit mile two she’s only a few seconds ahead of me and I seem to be closing the gap. And then I catch up to her. As I’m about to pass her, she breathlessly says to me, “good job.”
Oh my gosh! Might she actually be struggling? Maybe she’s even nice!
“Come on, girl! Let’s work together,” I say before I have a chance to think about it.
“I’ll try!” she says and we begin to run side-by-side.
As we make our way through that last 1.1 mile stretch together, neither of us is able to talk any more, but it’s a little easier to focus on racing with her company.
With a half mile left, the finish line finally in sight, she seems to be feeling better because she starts breaking away from me.
I knew it! I think to myself. She’s going to beat me — again!
But, instead of resigning myself to this fact, I decide I’m going to try to keep up. She pushed herself when she was struggling, so why can’t I?
I dig deep and start chasing her. With 200 meters to go, she’s close and I dig deeper than I ever have before and find a real kick I never even knew I had. I step across the finish line a second behind her, but with a huge PR.
In the finish area, she turns around and I hug her. She’s excited because she PR’d too! I can’t believe it. She pushed me and if she wasn’t there I would have won, but I wouldn’t have PR’d and I would never have pushed myself that hard without her.
How often have you made assumptions about a competitor before a race, only to meet her after (or during!) and realize that she’s actually pretty darn amazing? I’ve personally made so many friends out on the race course and in the finishing area that I’ve lost count, but when I started running I would have never ever expected that to happen. Racing has shown me that there truly is a healthy way to compete and that competition does not have to tear anyone down. When done right, competing is thrilling and one of the most enriching things we as humans can do.
When we race, we work with others who, on the surface, seem to have incompatible agendas. She wants to win. I want to win. We can’t both win.
I think this is also true when it comes to a debate, like the impassioned discussion we had here last Thursday about Tina Muir‘s Runner’s World article about running and amenorrhea. On one hand, it looks like both Tina and Spearmint, who authored our piece, have incompatible agendas. Tina has her position and Spearmint disagreed. They can’t both be right.
Fans on the sideline of a race see two women racing each other and the natural inclination is to want to choose one to root for. Whose team are you on!?
And readers on the sidelines of a debate like the one we had here last week, it’s natural to watch this debate like we watch a race and choose a side. Who’s team are you on!?
But is that a useful way of looking at it? Does it really further the discussion— about amenorrhea and running, about women and running, about women and high-level athleticism, about women in the media — to look at it as a zero sum game of winners and losers?
In a race, one runner will come out ahead, sure, but when both runners do their best does either really lose?
In a debate, it’s different. There is never a clear winner or loser. Maybe we think there is, but is there? How can we know? There’s no timing mat or finish line cam. Does it come down to who can amass more fans to cheer for her from the sidelines? If so, how does that really further the discussion? When that’s the end game, does that better us, improve our understanding of an issue like athletic amenorrhea or our ideas about women athletes and their health?
A debate, even one fraught with emotion, misunderstanding, and hurt feelings can ultimately make us all better. I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but Tina has pushed me and, I think anyway, Spearmint in her post and I in my conversations with Tina since, have pushed Tina. Women can compete in a race or disagree in a heated debate and get to the finish and have respect for each other. We can be unable to fully appreciate how we each communicate, and maybe have our feelings hurt along the way, but we can grow and evolve and be so much better for it.
That’s why I run. That’s why I created Salty Running.
I’ve been talking to Tina about her work, our work. We each might not fully understand where the other comes from, but I respect her and, again I can’t speak for her, I think she respects me. Since we’ve talked, she’s written an informative article on athletic amenorrhea, expanding the conversation further, including the findings of Dr. Nicola Rinaldi, biologist and one of the authors of a book on the subject No Period. Now What?. In it, Tina clarified that she isn’t telling people that high level athletic training or running is intrinsically unhealthy, which is what many interpreted her Runner’s World article to say (and as Tina noted, Spearmint, the other Saltines who felt that way — not all did — and I weren’t the only ones). I’m proud that we had a teeny part in inspiring her to make that happen.
I’m certainly not proud that Tina felt attacked and, while that was never the intent, I now appreciate why she feels that way because we’ve since talked about it with each other. I’ve heard the pain in her voice, she heard the empathy in mine (I hope). She shared some of her awesome expert search-engine optimization tips with me (thanks, Tina!), I tried to propose ways to take this conversation to another more positive level. We both listened with open minds.
No matter how we go about it, when we actually sit down and talk to each other, we discover we have fully compatible agendas. Tina wants to use her experience to help others and so do we here at Salty Running, and we can both do that job better when we work together or in parallel rather than against each other.
In the end we’re all just humans living our lives, making sense of the world as we see it, striving to be our own personal best.
Have you ever made friends with a competitor or worked past a disagreement with someone?