The Winning Strategy

Want to know how to win a race? It’s simple. Pick a distance where your average speed is faster. For instance, most of my colleagues are quick, very quick over a couple of kilometres leaving me at the back of the pack. About half of those are decent runners in the middle distances with only a handful attempting marathon distances. I know this, so I run ultra-marathons and beat them all. You win by realising that everyone has to stop and walk at some point. 

The trick is understanding your relative advantage. I just go to the extreme sometimes. Once I entered a multi-sport race in a lovely tropical location. It involved swimming, running, swimming, kayaking, riding, running, riding, kayaking and finally running. Nine legs! From memory the distance was about 150km and about 400 crazies participated. And you know what? I finished 6th. 

Now don’t get the impression that I’m an elite athlete because that is very far from the truth. I’m pretty sure I celebrated the race finish with a nice bucket of greasy chicken smothered in secret herbs and spices. When I crossed the finish line and saw a lone, post-race rubbish tumbleweed roll past I knew there was only one guy still on the course behind me. But I came sixth! What I realised as I waited for my brother to finish (ha ha) was that of the 400 participants, only 10 were fool-hardy enough to attempt the race solo. Five who finished before me, my brother, 3 DNF and I. Bam! The other 390 only completed a single leg and couldn’t finish the distance. My advantage was being too stubborn (or stupid) to stop when everyone else did.

Often winning comes down to choice. Does the race align to your strengths? If you’re a swimmer, would you compete in a road marathon and expect to win? You might, if your opponent is into equestrian or table tennis. Because it is not raw strength, it is your relative strength. Competition, by definition, involves more than one player. Any historian or military enthusiast would recognise the Sun Tsu in these remarks. Know yourself and win one in two battles, know yourself and know the enemy, you will win every battle.

Winning normally implies a zero-sum game. The conflict results in a winner and a loser. Some races result in no finishers. Sometimes both participants are too exhausted by the struggle and environment to continue so there are no winners. Perhaps you should consider if entering the competition is actually required. Particularly if it involves an area you are not relatively stronger in. Do you have to compete? What other options are available to you?

This is a simple post about winning by understanding your relative strength. The race analogy can be extended and get philosophical if you’re not careful. I just know that my tolerance for crazy is slightly higher than most. Did I tell you how I won the desert half-marathon … in body armour … carrying a rifle … being chased by wild dogs ?…

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