So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

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Pensacola, Florida, United States
Husband. *Dog Dad.* Instructional Systems Specialist. Runner. (Swim-challenged) Triathlete (on hiatus). USATF LDR Surveyor. USAT (Elite Rules) CRO/2, NTO/1. RRCA Rep., FL (North). Observer Of The Human Condition.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Everyone Gets A Bite

It's not difficult to see marks of accomplishment on a "typical" runner's vehicle. The rear panel, window or bumper often has one or more event or distance decals which tell the world either which particular run distance the owner prefers, or the events they have participated in and completed. My trusty Scion is no exception; I have a half-marathon distance decal which also markets my measurement side business, and a couple of Hash House Harrier stickers.

The marks of my loving wife's "running jones," and my own, are not limited strictly to the exterior. Sit in the back seat and the first thing a passenger notices are the finisher and age group award medals for the past two years of running events. We hang them from the headrest pillar facing to the rear, often right after the event is completed. Some of the really nice or unique finisher medals Suzanne has earned eventually make it to the main hallway of our house; mine hang off the back bookshelf in my "man cave," where some of my book collection has migrated.

I might have a few finisher medals from races where the distance was less than 20 kilometers, or a half marathon, say, the 5K I ran the day before my half-marathon, but has personal importance because of the travel to Ottawa, Canada's national capital. The medals I cherish most are races outside of the area (reminder of travels past), age group or masters' awards (to include the one race I won outright but there was no overall), or with a meaningful accomplishment. Something like a personal best, a tactically well-executed race, or a feat of endurance. Each of the pot metal hunks and nylon strips have a tale to tell which exceed numbers in the logbook or a printed results sheet.

So, as I was driving the other morning there was a discussion on National Public Radio's Morning Edition about self-esteem and performance. It appears that persons whose self-esteem are artificially enhanced are less likely to expend more effort at trying to accomplish a more difficult challenge.

A group of researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee asked people to imagine elevating - on an elevator, taking off in a plane, going up in a balloon - which caused them to experience a small boost in self-esteem. The researchers then asked them to solve math problems, puzzles or test questions. The people who had had their self-esteem boosted did worse on these problems.

The researchers found that, when asked to choose between dealing with a challenge that could reduce their elevated self-esteem and avoiding the challenge altogether, the subjects preferred to maintain that false sense of self-esteem. I believe this transfers over into the world of the citizen-athlete. When the first road races were contested, there was only one winner. The first person across the line received an award, perhaps a small amount of money. Everyone else went home with nothing to show for their efforts, except for a "better luck next time." Time progresses; more persons are drawn into the sport. Rather than make the pie bigger, race directors opted to give more "slices of the pie," awards to overall female, masters male and female, grandmasters, senior grandmasters, age group winner...

If you have seen the comedy movie "Nacho Libre," the wrestling promoter's line to the losing tag team pair, as he handed them a small amount of cash said much: '...everybody gets a little bite.' I'm not saying that there shouldn't be awards for excellent performances. But, much like the youth league registration fee including a participation award, dumbing down the meaning of an award until EVERYBODY gets something just for showing up cheapens the efforts of the top performers.

Why work harder and train smarter when you know you're going to get something by staying at the present (lazy) state?

While the reverse was found to be true in the UW-M study - persons who had their self-esteem lowered were more driven to succeed - I'm not saying that we should go around demeaning our fellow runners, the athletes we mentor, or the people we love just to instill motivation and drive. But there's definitely too much sugar-coating in the world of running today, which has, in my humble opinion, devolved road racing from an endurance sport to a participatory event one step above parade.

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