I hate him, we share the same road and trails in the hunt for much the same thing: a bit of exercise, a moment to ourselves, a short respite from phones, e-mails and work. He motivates all my training and workouts, yet there is undeniable tension between us, even though we share common ground. I won’t rest until he’s beaten – and I don’t mean just beaten down, I mean hammered. There isn’t a place he can hide, I will find him, and destroy him. I don’t much care how it happens, but I’d like him to suffer. You may think this to be excessive, but then you have underestimated the animosity of a running rivalry. If I’m honest I’ve dreamt of tripping him up and look forward to seeing him struggle. Jealousy and envy can lead to the wearing “perceptual blinders.” All his mitigating and redeeming features are forgotten, and all focus is concentrated on seeing the rival as an enemy.
Good opposition encourages athletes to work towards improving in order to beat each other, everyone becomes better and greater. So to run faster you need to find a rival, they don’t even need to know. One must be nice to their face but you can secretly hate them. Everybody has an arch rival and this relationship is one of the most complex connections athletes can have. Sport as produced great rivalries which have pushed athletes to perform beyond even their own expectations: in golf – Europe vs USA in the Ryder cup, in basketball – Kobe Bryant vs Lebron James and even more locally it has pushed Moorefield and Sarsfields to dominate Kildare club football for the last 16 years. But these fierce rivalries seem far removed from a small local 5K race. Yet even local races often produce rivals who push each other to higher levels of performance. A large-scale “archival” study of long-distance running found that runners ran faster in races featuring their rivals by almost five seconds per kilometre! (Kilduff, 2014).
But it is important to remember that this envy can take two forms. It can mean either that you desire to match someone else’s success – “Benign Envy”, or it can indicate that you hope the rivals’ success ends – “Malignant Envy”. . Both experiences are agonizing, but benign envy produces a levelling up motivation; malicious envy produces a levelling down motivation. It is only the benign form can help to create motivation to achieve goals rather than drag our nemesis down (Lange & Crusius, 2015). So, rather than viewing the rival as the adversary, it can be used as the catalyst to brilliance; it can be used as motivation to become the very best runner possible. And remember when the blinders come off, old adversaries often discover without a worthy rival there would be no race in the first place.
Kilduff GJ. (2014). Driven to Win: Rivalry, Motivation, and Performance. Social Psychological and Personality Science 5, 944-952.
Lange J & Crusius J. (2015). Dispositional envy revisited: unraveling the motivational dynamics of benign and malicious envy. Pers Soc Psychol Bull 41, 284-294.