Who am I?
How does a person truly define him or herself? I've found that I have defined myself over the past 20 years or so by the things I was doing at the time: often work things, but more often, extracurricular physical activity-related things.
Initially it was that I was always the smart one of the bunch, usually younger, too. I defined myself based on my intellectual agility and took pleasure in the fact that most of the people I worked with were significantly older, but not obviously smarter. On this, I based my self-worth and confidence. In conversations, I strove to impress the other parties with my vocabulary and breadth of topics about which I could converse reasonably well. I assiduously avoided conversations where I would not be able to contribute, at least a tidbit, here and there.
I don't recall specifically seeking out conversants that were slow or obviously less knowledgeable than myself, but looking back at that time, and knowing the very intelligent people I know today, it was likely an unconscious act on my part in order to make myself feel better - about myself.
The next stage I can recall was when I got into the physical aspects of my self worth and image. The first phase was bicycling, and more specifically, mountain biking. I worked hard, trained hard, and did reasonably well. I was able to ride trails that others couldn't and that made me feel good; not necessarily because that I could do it, but that others could not. I was judging myself not by what I could do, but by what others couldn't.
Sadly, I think that established a precedent in my self image that continued for the next 20 years. After the mountain bike phase, I moved on to scuba diving. I wasn't satisfied with simply learning to dive, I had to move on through advanced diver and divemaster and become a instructor, and do things, again, that others could not. It became my personal badge of validation to be trotted out at every opportunity: "Look at me! I'm a scuba instructor! You're not: aren't I great?"
When life and kids reduced the time I had available for diving, I picked up with running. Once again, the old pattern emerged: I couldn't be satisfied with "normal" running: I had to push the envelope. I don't think it was because of any idealistic notion of simply bettering myself, since research proves that excessive running is in fact harmful, but to be able to impress those around me by rubbing it into their faces that I did these things and they didn't. I continued to push and push: even a marathon wasn't enough, I had to do ultra marathons, and smooth roads were for wimps. "Real" runners did it on rough trails.
Until about three months ago, the first thing on my lips in a conversation was running: where, how far, with whom, what shoes. Always with the intent of letting it "slip" that I was training for or had just completed some ridiculous distanced race. Bad form and injuries have since forced me away from running as much, and a substantial serving of humble pie regarding those races has forced me to take a hard look at myself, and determine what direction the latest incarnation of me I am to be. I can't in all good conscious define myself as a runner any more, much to my great disappointment and bitterness.
Maybe this time around I can see what I am like before I get too caught up in myself as to become so one dimensional in competing with everyone else. That is, competing when everyone else doesn't even know they're involved in a competition.
As I read somewhere recently, the only person I need to compete with is the person I was before.
A never-was endurance runner, and paripetetic wanna-be who is eyeing early retirement with gleeful enthusiasm.