Dan Rookwood on finding his competitive sweet spot.
Perhaps my worst flaw (I have a few) is the fact that I’m a terribly sore loser. Embarrassingly bad, always have been. No matter whether I’m going for a job interview, trying to find a park, or locked in an increasingly aggressive and lengthy Rock Paper Scissors ‘best of three’ (OK, make it ‘best of five’), I need to come out on top. During fever pitch FIFA marathons with my university housemates, “Let the Rookiee win” was a familiar refrain. (A play on my nickname “Rooky” conflated with Han Solo’s sage advice to C3PO in Star Wars about not upsetting the Wookiee, aka Chewbacca, during a game of hologram chess.) Though I like to think I’ve mostly got a handle on my overtly competitive streak now (*sits on hands, face twitches involuntarily*), I strongly suspect that any success I’ve had in life to this point owes less to talent than an ingrained will to not be a loser. These days I’m less competitive with other people – especially now that I’ve pretty much hung up my football boots and my Playstation controller. But it doesn’t help someone with my relentlessly competitive disposition that life is now one long computer game. The person I now most like to beat is myself (not like that, stop sniggering at the back). I try to best know how many steps I took yesterday to the point that the concierge in my apartment block once asked me if I was OK because he’d seen me on CCTV pacing up and down the hallway in order to hit my target. Also, I’m forever racing my personal best times on the Map My Run app, over-exerting in the process. “Why?” asks my exasperated wife as I double up with resultant stomach cramps. But this is normal, right guys? Guys? I’m currently plodding towards the New York Marathon later this year in a vain effort to stave off dadbod. So it didn’t help to read about Josh Griffiths, the previously unheard of and inexperienced 23-year-old amateur runner, who ran the London Marathon recently in an astonishing 2hr 14min 49sec – 41 seconds faster than Paula Radcliffe’s women’s world record – to beat every single British athlete in the race and qualify for this summer’s athletics world championships in London. At the age of 38, I’m coming into my physical peak, obviously, and could probably still turn pro if I wanted, but I have to give it to the boy Griffiths. Impressive. It’s natural to wonder about the limits of human performance. Are there absolute limits to the human body – a speed no runner will ever exceed, a distance no long jumper will ever eclipse, a weight no power lifter will ever surpass? These are some of the very questions that sports scientist John Brenkus attempts to answer in his excellent book Perfection Point. For example, he calculates that the perfection point for the marathon – the fastest a human being will ever be able to run the distance of 42.1km – is 1hr 57min 58 sec. The current world record sits significantly back, at 2hr 2min 57secs, but in May Nike staged ‘Breaking2’, an officially unofficial race with some of its top athletes in order to breach the elusive twohour barrier, just to prove it is possible. (Oh yeah, and maybe to also sell heaps of new running shoes.) Kenya’s reigning Olympic champion, Eliud Kipchoge, was tantalisingly on track for sub-two hours before dropping off the pace right at the end. He crossed the line at 2hr 00min 25sec. Records are there to be broken – that’s sports science. But there are some records that may never be eclipsed and the suspicion of doping (the wrong kind of sports science) hangs heavy over some of them. Faster. Higher. Stronger. This is the Olympic motto, so long as you’re not off your nuts and pumped up on testosterone. At various points in the game of life you’ve probably tested yourself just to see what you’re capable of – and then tried to beat it. There’s a healthy balance to strike here if you can find it. At one extreme, the will to win can be so destructively obsessive it will turn you into a real dick. (Trust me, I’ve been that dick.) And if you run full throttle relentlessly, eventually the engine will burn out. At the other end of the spectrum, a complete absence of competitive spirit usually results in aimless drifting and unfulfilled potential. The sweet spot – our personal best – lies somewhere between the two. Sharper. Smarter. Better. This is GQ’S credo. Now, about that game of Rock Paper Scissors – shall we make it ‘best of 10’?
BE YOUR PERSONAL BEST – BUT NOT YOUR OWN WORST ENEMY.