This morning I was listening to NPR on my way to work, and a guy was comparing musical competitions to athletic competitions. He quoted someone as saying that, win or lose, the real benefit of competition is all of the hours of practice done in preparation for the event makes you a better performer.
In a sporting context, I don't necessarily agree with that.
For me, all of the preparation puts me in the position to be in the game. It's a baseline. If I want to compete and not just participate, I need to be ready. Competition allows me to perform at a higher level than I achieve in training. This is confirmed through power files. When I'm actually competing, fully committed to winning, it leads to peak performance moments that can actually lead to a long-term re-setting of the bar. I wish I could simulate it in training. I wish a virtual simulation like Zwift could lead to the same adaptations, but for me, competition is where the jumps happen.
Not to say training isn't important. I wouldn't be in the picture if I didn't train. When I train harder and smarter (with a healthy dose of luck), it puts me in the position to make those improvements. Umpteen billion hours of work go into making a compressed period of relatively extraordinary performance happen. Sometimes umpteen billion hours of work go into preventing those magic moments from ever happening. I've never been super smart about training, so it's a crapshoot.
When I was in music school, I'd spend countless hours practicing a piece of music so I'd minimize the amount I'd screw it up in performance. My best renditions of any given piece were probably wasted in a practice room somewhere, while event-night jitters probably detracted significantly from most of my performances. I never had a transformative moment on stage, where I performed above my abilities. I was happy when I screwed up the least and conveyed whatever it was I wanted to convey with the music. Usually I just translated a bunch of black dots on paper into sound. Then again, I was a giant left-brained douchebag in a touchy-feely right-brained world, so I wasn't exactly experiencing the music like my peers were.
Still, I can somewhat see where this NPR guy is coming from. From my prior experience with that world, I imagine the closest he's come to an athletic endeavor is lugging his oboe case from the subway to the concert hall. Could be wrong. I just see it as two completely different worlds.
In the music world, artistic expression is the apex of a performer's career. Competition is seen as an unfortunate but necessary evil. In sport, grinding your foes under your undeniably superior boot heel is the goal (even if you never reach it). Artistically squishing them or doing it in a utilitarian manner, all that matters is that they get squished real good. If you have the energy, maybe a twist of the heel to really grind them into the pavement. Not to say you can't be a good sport as you scrape their entrails out of your cycling cleats, but athletic competition is about winning.
People may define that in different ways, depending on their role within the sport. Domestiques work for another rider, but if that rider wins, then so do they. They won at their role. A rider who just wants to raise everyone's game or hang with the group isn't competing, they're participating. Nothing wrong with that (I do it all the time), as long as the two aren't confused. When you're competing, you're going for the win. Winning the competition is the point, not something you do on your way to a greater purpose.
Then again, maybe my lack of a true artistic brain cell prevents me to seeing a higher purpose than, as the great cycling director sportif Conan put it, "to crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women."
Does that mean that not winning is failure? Unlike The Donald and Ricky Bobby's dad, I don't think so. Most of the time you throw everything you have into going for the win and just plain get beat. That's the reality of the world. 99.9999999% of the time you won't win. There's always someone better than you are, and sooner or later you'll meet up with them. Going for the win is competition. Committing fully with whatever meager assets you have in your "Barbie Lunch Box of Courage" is competition. You bang your head up against a wall as long as you can, and if your bloody stain isn't the biggest... well, you gave it your best shot. You may not have won, but you probably got a bump (or three) out of the effort.
And a TBI.
Competition may not be art, but I know it when I see it.


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