Running for men can provide the kind of challenge and competition that helps us, naturally, to thrive. It certainly does for me, although this does also come with some lighthearted humiliation.
The photographer who took the photo below said, as we passed, “This should be a good contest” —or something to that effect because it’s hard to remember what is said to you when you’re running out of oxygen 😃 He was joking at my expense, of course, watching an older gentleman (that’s me, with the emphasis on “gentleman”) racing against a young teen-aged girl.
While pictures do contain a thousand words, even so, they can easily obscure the context and not tell the whole story.
What the photo to the right doesn’t tell you is this ratbag of a teenager drafted me for the whole 5km race!
I passed her, her sister and brother, after about 500m. She then pulled in behind me, breathing down my neck, exactly like you see in the picture, almost the whole way. She fell behind at a couple of points, and I thought I had shaken her off, but no luck. She pipped me at the finish line by a step. Dammit!
What makes this ‘humiliation’ even worse is her younger brother did the same thing to me in a previous race. What’s wrong with young people these days? No respect for their elders!
Actually, while this sounds like I’m here ranting about the youth, in actual fact I’ve got a big smile on my face as I write this. It was a really good contest and a satisfying race! If she had not been chasing me and putting the pressure on, I certainly would not have run as fast. For her, she ended up achieving a PB, besting her previous record from 7 months ago. Well done!
Manhood Is Not Natural
The whole experience reminds me of how manhood works. Author Glenn Stanton once wrote how masculinity is learned:
Womanhood is a natural phenomenon […] The opposite is true of manhood […] Maleness just happens, but manhood does not. The first is a biological event, while the second is a developed character quality […] Manhood must be crafted and refined in order to orient males in pro-social, communitarian directions. In fact, this is the first work of every civilisation.Glenn T. Stanton1
In the presence of others, boys learn to be men and their transition into manhood is confirmed by the group in which they find themselves. Without the training and confirmation, both intentional and non-verbal, boys flounder and misbehave, without direction or boundaries. This is not good for anyone!
Running for men provides a natural environment in which men can both teach and support each other in an activity of personal development. For instance, my son joins me on Saturdays. He is not particularly happy I’m faster than he but I can teach him all he needs to know to eventually beat me, which is completely inevitable.
Men Challenge and Compete
Similarly, author Jack Donovan described how men compete within a group for position and prestige, but cooperate in the face of threats from other groups.
A man is not merely a man but a man among men, in a world of men. Being good at being a man has more to do with a man’s ability to succeed with men and within groups of men than it does with a man’s relationship to any woman or any group of women. When someone tells a man to be a man, they are telling him to be more like other men, more like the majority of men, and ideally more like the men whom other men hold in high regard.Jack Donovan2
While my running club, the Western District Joggers & Harriers, is not a gang of men exclusively, this 5km race reminded me of those processes. For instance, my young racer pegged me as someone to chase, who would ‘pull her along’ and provide an impetus to run faster than she would without an observable target. Her goal, as is the goal of all runners, is to run faster and stronger each time, but this goal is somewhat abstract. Identifying and marking someone who looks to be running the pace you would like to run is a strategy we all adopt. And a good strategy at that!
With her breathing down my neck, this young whipper-snapper was challenging me and there was no way I was going to let her get by me without a fight. We’re in the same club, so this was competition within our group. She challenged me to be better and I did my level best to do my best. Now, she beat me in the end, rather spectacularly, but I am grateful for her pushing me.
Pushing and pulling. Challenge and competition. Men push and pull each other, challenge and compete, and we are better for it.
Running for Men
“You were beat by a girl”, you are probably thinking, “how is this an illustration of manhood?”
I can’t speak for other clubs, but for the Western District Joggers & Harriers, we are all walking and running for the love and fitness of it. We are all marking and chasing each other —some are more willing to admit it than others. In the end though, we all celebrate we are out there doing our best and especially celebrate when someone does their best.
IMHO, running for men provides this kind of challenge and competition, and we need this especially. It is built into our bones! Running for men is a natural activity in which to find such challenge and competition.
What do you do to challenge yourself to bring out your best? Who is helping you and from whom are you learning? Who is your competition? Are you growing at their expense or is the competition mutual?
Post your comments below.