Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Winning and Losing

(I will explain the above image later, unless in the interim, somebody explains to me how to force this thing to put an image in the middle of a post. While you're at it, feel free to explain how putting a carriage return in the "Edit Html" window, without any change to the markup, creates a space between paragraphs, while doing the same thing in the "Compose" window does not.)

Welcome to another in a sporadic series of blog posts that don't consist entirely of times and distances run, or race reports. With these posts, I will try to stay out of the realm of the vast majority of content on the internet today, which seems to be divided between thinly veiled cries for attention, and expressions of cravings for various food and drink.

That said, with Charlie Sheen in the news so much lately, and with so much time for me to think about things when I'm running (particularly when I'm spontaneously running around Baltimore City at 3 a.m. on a decidedly dead real Mardi Gras, unlike the fake Mardi Gras this past Saturday night, which included some of the drunkenest mayhem the city has ever seen), every now and then, I find myself ruminating on something besides what the homeless man that I just passed was mumbling in my direction. In this case, I'm thinking about winning, and its less-popular, but often more fun counterpart, losing.

What is winning, really? In a lot of races, you can finish first, thereby "winning," but run a weak time. How valid is this sort of victory? Conversely, in lots of races, you can finish far back in the pack, but shatter a personal record. Is this "losing"?

After some thought, probably while running across the top of Federal Hill and staring vacantly at downtown, I decided that "winning" is when (because this really is time-dependent) a person, putting forth a directed best effort, achieves a goal that is both desirable to the person, as well as people within that person's circle of relevance. "Losing," on the other hand, is when a person, for any number of reasons, fails to put forth a directed best effort, and in so doing, compromises progress towards a goal that is desirable to that person, as well as people within that person's circle of relevance.

You're probably waiting for something to make that more concrete. So was I, and then I happened upon the mangled metal that you saw at the beginning of this post. And I thought, "who is winning?"

It might seem obvious that the owner of the offending vehicle (I'm guessing the ridiculous SUV with the ridiculous Virginia Tech sticker on the back, although how this accident could have occurred is still a mystery to me) is "losing." Who really wants his car (even if it is a Toyota 4Runner) all smashed up? But perhaps the owner of the car loves to smash cars (or perhaps drink or do drugs, if such things were involved in the accident). Perhaps those around the owner of the car share his interests. In that case, this is a massive win for the driver, because that is some of the better car accident debris that I've seen, especially considering that the accident probably happened at a relatively low speed on city surface streets.

Turning the camera around, was I "winning"? In my quest to maximize my running potential, this random late-night 15-mile run, on a sick stomach and only a few hours of sleep, is textbook ultrarunning conditions, and cranking out low-7-minute-miles under these conditions is a huge confidence boost, even if the fitness benefit is debatable. To people who care about that (me included), that's winning. But at the same time, there are many people out there who would question why I might endanger life and limb and endure such conditions, when at that hour, a more "normal" person would be at home sleeping, or engaging in some other, more desirable activity. The idea that either I have no alternative, or, more to the point, I would choose this alternative, casts this as "losing."

In the end, "winning" and "losing" are relative, transient states, each a function of variation in our individual goals, efforts, and circles of people that matter to us. Are you winning? Are you losing? Only you can truly decide that.

(Also, CAR CRASH.)

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