Tuesday, October 29, 2013

There's always someone with a bigger boat.

A friend raised an interesting question on Facebook today, and it touches on a topic I've been mulling over, balance and extremism in work, sport, hobbies, and life.

This quickly garnered a lot of thoughtful, insightful answers. Many touched on self-understanding, suggesting that if you understand why you are doing something, this can guide you in how committed (or balanced, or extreme) you are in doing it. Good stuff to think about, especially as the trail racing season begins to wind down and we head into the natural time of year for laying plans and preparing.

Here is my answer to the question:

We lived on Lake Minnetonka until I was 11 years old, and my parents owned a lovely old wooden Chris-Craft cabin cruiser. It was a lot of work for Dad to maintain (he says maintenance on a wooden boat is proportional to the length of the boat, squared), but he loved to take us out for endless summer evening cruises on the lake. I loved that smell of lake water and diesel fuel, and the cold-then-warm feeling of water splashing on your bare legs.
This isn't it, but similar. From www.yachtforums.com
Anyhow, Dad once commented that on a lake like Minnetonka, you can go along, feeling pretty proud of your boat. "But," he said, "There's always someone out there with a bigger boat." No matter how big or fancy your boat is, there's always someone who's gone bigger, sunk more money or more time into their boat.

I love this story because in may parts of life, there's always someone with a bigger boat. It's certainly true in running. You can always find someone who gets up earlier, runs more miles, trains in gnarlier conditions, does crazier stuff during a race. And especially in the era of ubiquitous social media, it's easy to find extremes on blogs, DailyRun, Strava, Facebook and Twitter. As an aside, it's interesting how many ultramarathoners bring to the sport a personal history of substance abuse and addiction. It seems that for many, running is therapy, medicine... maybe a substitute for a more destructive habit.

You can always go further down the rabbit hole, and chances are, someone already has gone there before you. At different seasons of your life, different degrees of balance (and imabalance) are right. You're healthy, single, free time available and want to train insane? Very different from ten years later, when you might be married, have kids, a start-up business and a nagging injury. Think about your season of life and your commitments. Think about how you WANT to balance things. Acknowledge that someone will have a bigger boat. Then go out and enjoy a long sunrise cruise in your own boat.


  1. Wise beyond your years. I'm proud to be related to you:-)

  2. You hit it on the head. I'd like to have that last paragraph on a T-Shirt.

  3. Completely found your blog by accident tonight. It seems like the struggle to compare is there for so many of us. Your post put it so well though. I can latch on to the idea that someone else will always have a bigger boat.
    Deep down I think people just want to be happy, feel loved or admired. Contentment doesn't come in having a bigger or nicer boat. It's about being grateful for the boat you have and happy to help someone else out with theirs.

  4. Have been meaning to comment on this post for awhile--great words to keep in mind. My best friend and I constantly talk about balance and how hard it is to achieve. I'm usually happiest when I have just a bit more than I can handle. It's hard not to get sucked into the world of longer distances--because I loved the few I've done more than anything. But I also love doing races with friends (the sane kind who don't do ultras), so it's hard not to get over-extended. I do love my boat!