Saturday, April 23, 2011

Tango Start Line

Where are you in the line-up of dancers?  How many are ahead of you or behind you?

Let me tell you that it does not matter if you are an elite dancer.  The great competition is within and even not truly a "competition."  The quest is to be the best you can.  If you are a dancer, I think it is the quest to be able to dance with yourself and with other souls freely -- not merely to be at the best in the crowd.

Of course the majority of those running a marathon do not run to be the best runner.  Perhaps they run to challenge themselves to be a healthy, whole person.  Elite dancers and athletes too often are not happy with themselves and even give up running or dancing out of their unhappiness with not being able to be "the best."  Why would you want to be "elite" if that means "in competition with others"?

Elite dancers and athletes sometime do not appreciate the social dancer or man-on-the-street runner.   It is not a "just-for-fun" dancer or runner.  There is more to it than that!  Once I overheard an elite triathlete talk about how the majority of people should not even show up to the race!  I see two problems with this:
  • First, if only the elite runners or dancers were out in public, the events that pay for their way in life would not even happen and their profession would not get that much attention.  It is the social drama that happens when things like running and dancing become social phenomena. 
  • Secondly, what this elite athlete did not realize is that we all had one thing in common -- we were all doing the best we could under the circumstances of life.  You know, behind him there is the 45-year old woman who for the first time is out doing something just for herself.  She once had a water phobia and she is swimming 2.4 miles in open water.  She is on a bike that costs 1/20th of the majority of bikes in the race.  Her family is there and are so proud of her!  Behind her, way in the back, there is the guy doing his first Ironman at age 50, competing just to be in a race with his own spirit is enough for him.

Do you see me?  I'm in the back.
Seventeen years ago, I was in Vienna, Austria, running my second marathon.  I had to run for 4 minutes before I even crossed the start line.  At that moment the words came to me:  "Compete against others and you will most always lose; compete with yourself and you will most always win."  It is now my motto for life.  At the same time I challenged myself -- I was 40 years old at the time.  I told myself to take care of myself, not just run and end up hurting myself.  So my goal was to be able to still run a marathon at 50.  The funny thing is that at 50 I ran a marathon a few seconds faster than my first marathon.  BUT it was the last segment of the race in an Ironman triathlon -- after swimming 2.4 miles and biking 112 miles and then running the marathon.  Competing with oneself may make one better than ever , but that is not the goal.  The goal, or better said, quest, is to do the best you can under the ever-changing circumstances of life.

So do yourself a favor.  Try to be more graceful as a dancer, but most of all when the music starts, just dance with the soul in front of you with all your heart.  Then, chances are, you are in the quest, and you are winning in the most profoundly spiritual way.  If you can keep your joy about this quest the elite dancer may be somewhere far in the back.

A few months back a tanguero named Bill introduced himself to me via email.  He lives on the other side of the world.  He had just finished reading all the way back to the start of my blog in 2009.  He has become a great critic and at the same time very supportive.  This one is dedicated to you Bill!  See you in the back of the pack!  Our last conversation gave me the idea for this post.

Photo credits:

Marine Marathon --

Chicago Marathon --


Anonymous said...

Thank you Mark for this dedication.. It's an irony that I've never run a marathon or been in an ironman event.....

But your reminder that when the music starts to dance with the soul in front of me with all my heart is beautiful...


Sean said...

Have you read "Racing Alone" by Nader Khalili?