The director of a race I ran recently sent me an email entitled, ‘Who’s a competitive little monkey, then?’ Ooh, I thought, have I won something without realising it? I opened the email and clicked the link it contained. It took me to the event photographer’s website and to the worst picture that anyone has ever taken of me. The worst picture that anyone has ever taken of anything.
Let me try to describe it (because you’re sure as hell not going to see it). This is a photo that would get kicked off MR’s My Race Face page for scaring all the other pictures. There I am, locked in a life-or-death sprint for the line with a chap in a green shirt. We’re giving it everything: chests out, knees high, arms pumping.
He looks fine, like a man running fast. I look furious and contorted and unhinged; like a man trying to eat his own face while chasing the thief who stole his bike. Come away children, don’t look at the angry, foaming, running mentalist.
There are flecks of white stuff around my mouth, like those occasionally sported by hero triathlete Alistair Brownlee at the end of his events. They’re never a good look for anyone but he can carry them off because he’s invariably winning. I have no business looking like this. The struggle for supremacy between Mr Green Shirt and I was for 264th and 263rd place respectively.
I immediately fired an email back to the race director (she’s a mate) stipulating that this photograph must never, ever see the light of day again and adding, “but I still beat him. Ha!”
So, still being a competitive little monkey then, days after a race in which my efforts had been spectacularly mediocre. The event was still fresh in my mind and I remembered that, yes, crossing the line before that bloke had been extremely important at the time. Why, though? I don’t think of myself as competitive. When I race, I put myself up against the clock and my own previous performances, not other people. I try for a place which reflects an honest attempt given my fitness levels.
That particular race had gone well. I’d managed a negative split for once and had (calmly and non-competitively) passed loads of people in the last quarter of the course. I’d overtaken Mr Green Shirt in the final few hundred yards and had completely forgotten about him until he reappeared on my shoulder near to the finish. He clearly wanted the place back. But his presence caused some primal instinct to rear up inside me and he absolutely was NOT going to get it.
Seconds later, the race was over and this rarely seen impulse skulked back to its box in my subconscious cellar. I was smiling again and shook the guy’s hand. But the damage had been done. I’d already frightened the horses and someone had been there to take a photograph.