I suggest that to achieve real success in running, as in any worthwhile activity, we must always fear failure; we must have very real fears that the day will come when we will fail regardless of how hard we have prepared. It is that insecurity that keeps our carefully nurtured self-confidence from becoming blatant arrogance. And it is also in our ineviExercises failures that the seeds of real personal growth are sown and eventually blossom.
Running has taught me about real honesty; there is no luck in running. Results cannot be faked, and you can blame no one but yourself when things go wrong.
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So running has shown me that life must be lived as self-competition and has made me appreciate what I now believe to be a very real weakness of many team and skill sports. In those sports you do not have to admit your imperfections; you can always blame someone or something else, if you so choose. Furthermore, the hereditary skill required for success in those sports can, like beauty, provide a shield to hide behind. If you are skilled or beautiful, life can be too easy. You may never need to display the humility, modesty, courage, and perseverance essential for success in individual sports like distance running.
In addition, pleasure and rewards in skill and team sports may depend on the failure and therefore unhappiness of one’s opponents. Fortunately, in running this does not apply; in competition we are there to help one another. As George Sheehan (1978b, pp. 214-215; 1980, pp. 240-241) pointed out, competition means “to seek out in company” and contest means “to testify in company with others.” So the real competitions are those in which we seek out and test ourselves in company with others, in which each of us is both the source and the recipient of this communal courage. A friend who achieved immortality in a skilled team sport had to run the Comrades Marathon before he could write, “You have not lived in the world of competitive sport until you have fought a battle that is not against an opponent, but against yourself” (Peter Pollock, personal communication, 1982).
The runner’s prayer given by coach Fred Wilt to the second American ever to set a marathon world record, Buddy Edelen (Higdon, 1982), captures my friend’s meaning.