My youngest son plays scholastic chess. He may not play forever, but he plays now, which means some weekends I spend with him at chess tournaments. We are at the Georgia State Chess Tournament today.
Chess is an intense sport. A [Wall Street Journal article] reported that a chess player expends [x] calories from mental processing alone in a game. I liken it to a computer that whirs and heats when your press its processing capabilities. However, the true source of intensity is the competition: one on one, two feet across a board, no place to hide from your challenger competition. You may not be running around and smacking balls as in tennis, but sitting across the chess board from another person crunching calculations with the sole intent of owning your pieces is intense.
Does running rise to that level of competitive intensity? It should even among runners not chasing a podium finish.
On the surface, every runner is racing someone, even in the middle and back of the pack. We all know that race feeling of pushing to keep up with someone or sprinting for that [extra place] at the end. These races are as valid as the leaders fighting for the finishing tape. But other one-on-one competitions are happening – and they are more difficult.
You are racing your fitness and expectations. In a training block, you set goals: desired pace, age group rank, distance completed, or many other mini-objectives. German military strategist Helmuth von Moltke sagely noted that “no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.” He should have been a sports commentator. Here the enemy is situation and circumstance and is a bar room brawler throwing chairs and breaking bottles looking for the knockout blow, whatever the means. You bob, weave, duck, stall, punch, or sometimes hide in the fight, which is as real and ruthless as a ten-year-old staring across at you at a chessboard. But the fight gets more brutal.
You are racing your former shadow self. This opponent is best because he offers the [fairest fight.] Your best measure of success – across many disciplines – will always be measuring yourself against a prior version of yourself. Comparing against others is unfair because you will never know an opponent’s opportunities, challenges, or advantages. You know yours, though. Your former self is every bit as good and competitive as you are. To beat him, you must fight and draw upon new resources. Winning does not always mean a faster time. There are other ways you can win against your former self. For me, it has always been that mental battle against negative self-talk and capitulation. That is the race I try to win every time. Circumstances and situations may prevent a PR for the day. You cannot control that. You can control your level of effort both physically and mentally.
Did you reach your limit? Did you come a little closer to that limit than you have been before? Your shadow self is racing the same race and has already posted his best.