It’s a relatively new-found question, but one that is really becoming more and more common in endurance sports. The difference between competing and completing may be a blurry line for some; for other’s there’s a clear line of demarkation. The unequivocal fact is that the number of people who compete in endurance events has increased significantly over the last several years. With this growth in participation, the pendulum may be switching more towards those that describe themselves as “completers” versus those who are “competing”.
At some point, perhaps when we each started our journey of becoming an endurance athlete, we potentially were all “completers”. Perhaps that qualifier shouldn’t be “all” but rather “many”. Regardless, we started with a 5k or 10k. We may have decided that our goal was to run a marathon before we were 30 years old. Maybe the goal was just to get off the couch and lose a few pounds. Chances are that our target for that first event…heck, maybe all of our events…was to finish.
You see this played out all the time. Every day, people sign up for the Beginner Triathlete website and introduce themselves as a “newbie”. People start blogs to capture their journey from couch potato to marathoner. People take much joy in finishing that race. There’s a huge population of folks whose only goal is to finish an Ironman event prior to the cut-off at midnight.
On the other hand, you also see lots of dialogue about how the vast migration of new participants to endurance events has watered down our sport to such a point that accomplishing 140.6 miles isn’t even that much of a big deal anymore. This cohort would contend that if you can’t average 22mph on the bike for 100 miles or run a marathon faster than 3.5 hours, then you shouldn’t even bother. “You can walk a marathon in that time….that’s not racing!” people would argue. Folks would say that time limits should be shorter. Events should be more selective in terms of qualification standards. If you’re not winning an age group, qualifying for the USAT Nationals, or earning a Kona spot, then it’s not worth doing.
Sports Illustrated magazine features a good article about the state of endurance events in the US. The article, written by Austin Murphy, calls out the growth of all sorts of events – like the Rock n Roll Marathon series, Tough Mudder, Color Me Rad 5k’s, and relates that overall growth to the explosion of “completers” in the ranks of participants.
So here’s my take. Be a competitor if you have the ability. Be a completer if you have the desire. It doesn’t matter to me, because – quite frankly, I’m not racing you. I’m racing myself. I want to challenge myself to get better. To be faster. And if I happen to beat you, while I might be happy a little on the inside, I’m going to celebrate your accomplishment with you, too.
I did find one quote in the article a little interesting, though, and thought I’d call it out for you to ponder and perhaps render your thoughts/feedback. In the article, Murphy interviewed Andrew Messick (the CEO of WTC, the company who puts on the Ironman branded races). Messick claimed, “We sit at the pinnacle” of endurance sports. His claim was that “eventually you notice that you’re racing next to or in a training group with someone wearing an Ironman hat or an Ironman finisher shirt, and you look at them and size them up and think to yourself, wow, I wonder if I could do that?” Part of me understands his points, but they seem wholly arrogant to me. Ironman isn’t the only show in town. It may be the “biggest” show in town – especially in terms of offering sheer number of 140.6 races and brand recognition, but I would not posit that size and scale equals “pinnacle”. My thinking is that the distance and not the brand makes iron-distance races the pointy end of endurance sports. Besides, I can think of at least one other race company that puts on a superior product than WTC.
If you’re a Sports Illustrated subscriber or a reader of the magazine in general, look for Murphy’s article, “Mud, Sweat, and Beers” in this week’s edition. You can follow Murphy on Twitter (@si_austinmurphy).