This week has been an intersting one. There has been a definite theme of the week and as Michelle and I rode along on an easy ride we discussed it. I thought I would write it up here.

The difference in “competition” between men and women.

Without getting into things too much I witnessed some interesting things on Twitter this week that actually, in a round a bout way, made the traffic on my blog blow up, particularly the run portion of my IM Arizona blog post.

It got me thinking about how women compete with each other versus how men compete. First let me say, that I’m attempting to make some observations here. They are generalizations, and maybe they are crappy ones. I’m interested in what you think. So, I’ll put it out here and you can feel free to comment away.

Amongst the men it can be a cool dynamic in my opinion. I have seen groups of boys absolutely slaughter each other, like literally every man for himself, drop you like a bad habbit in the middle of nowhere, find your own way home kind of slaughter. Then, when it’s all over you can find them laughing over a Chipotle Burrito and a beer, making fun of the carnage, like it was all in good fun.

Most men are willing to hurt each other “for the sport of it”. It’s not personal. It makes everyone better. At least these are the feelings that I have seen amongst most men. Usually those who hurt together form a bond. Sure there are exceptions, but generally this is what I have seen.

Men also like to talk smack. We have all seen last years Ironman video when Macca just throws up smack talk all over the camera. Total verbal diarrhea. Then he went forth and beat down everyone. I would say there where a few instances that Macca acted more like a girl than a guy and I will point those out (and attempt to prove that those few points are why he strikes an off chord with so many), but for the most part it’s genuine, bone fide, classic, dude-style shit talking.

I think that guys generally want to beat their competators on their good days. Guys want to show you that even when you show up and have a great day, they are still better.

Chicks are different. Totally different. Sometimes I think that the competition amongst females often resembles high school clicks more than anything. Women seem to want to take down other women emotionally. It’s more rare for women to congratulate other women who beat them. It’s more likely for them to talk down about them. I see a fair amount of personal attacks. The I don’t like her, or she’s a b!tch, kind of comments.

This week the husband of a woman in my age group posted a photo on facebook of his wife on the podium with the age group winners face blacked out. To be fair I didn’t see the photo, just heard about it. Stuff like that is where the females really excel. Anyone seen the movie “Mean Girls”. It’s that kind of stuff that seems to run our psychie. I’m not going to say I’m exempt from it. I’ve been caddy at times. Mostly during times that I personally felt insecure (just trying to keep it real here).

I am a bit intrigued about the “why” though. Is it a self confidence thing that most women would rather their competitor have a blow up of epic proportion or a meltdown so bad they don’t even start the race, rather than a great race? Would they rather take the confidence from a fellow woman triathlete rather than take the podium spot from her? I would like to say that all is decided at the finish line, but it seems with women that sometimes the finish line is where the emotional battle begins.

Back to Macca, I think he borderlines on the emotional side of smack talk. The “Crowie lived at my parents house for two years” comment had a way of saying that Crowie is a charity case. It’s a personal attack, like he’s not enough of a man to take care of himself. It’s classic “chick-style” emotional sabotage. He talks down to Crowie not as an athlete (well, he does that too) but as a person.

So the more I thought about it, the more I think it’s the personal attack kind of shit talking that will really get you a bad reputation. Everyone loves a little friendly smack talk (Dibens and Carfrae), but when it gets personal, I think people start rooting against you.

I think in our hearts most of us (even the ones who make a living at it…which I am not one of those) feel that this is “sport”. You can be a bad person and be good in sport and visa versa. Being a winner doesn’t make you a good person. But at times people try to use the personal attack, or innuendo to break somebody down, so that they may persevere the next go around.

I must say, I am really against this.

I got a comment on my blog one time about my frustration at the aid stations in Coeur d’Alene coming off as “elitist”. I thought long and hard about this because that word “elitist” really hurt my feelings. After a bit of thought I came to the conclusion that an elitist is someone who thinks they are better. On that day in Coeur d’Alene I was better than all but 3 girls in my age group. Was I a better person? No. Was I a better triathlete? Yes. I don’t confuse the two. And I think if you do confuse the two…then elitist is the right term for you.

So, although I know it just seems to be how “girls” are, I will say that the triathlete does not make the person. This is sport and how you conduct yourself within it is a mark of your character. I would say “be a professional” but I don’t quite think that hits the mark, as some of the pro women seem to be awesome at emotional sabotage. So I would say, be a good person.

Don’t pull a Macca, don’t attack the person, attack the athlete if smack talk is your goal. Some people love it and I think there is a healthy place for it. But keep it real. In my opinion, I want every girl in the world that earns a Kona slot on that line in October in the best shape of their lives. I want them to execute perfect races. I want them at their best. Then we all know that where the chips fall, they fall. Whether I am first or last I know it is where I belong. No excuses.

So, to the women in my age group and in others. I support your endeavors. We are alike in our love for swim bike run. I applaud you for fighting tooth and nail for what you want, for racing  your heart out, for dealing with the triumph, and the failure. The more we support and stand behind each other, the higher we will all raise our own personal bars.

Thoughts? Have I bit off more than I can chew with this blog post?

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Mental Training, Triathlon

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  1. I think that you should be granted by some buy thesis service for your cool topic connected with this good post. Not a lot of people will be able to finish such high quality dissertation methodology.

  2. I think the movie “Mean Girls” was so popular for a reason. Because it resonates with people. That is how a lot of people (probably mostly girls) act around one another. And not just high school. If only we left that behavior in the dust when we graduated…. [sigh]

    And yes, Macca may be fast, but just acts like a catty bitch because he knows that Crowie is more attractive than he is. Total. Mean. Boy.

  3. well put and a topic that is an issue…..riding with guys is great- game on, throw it down and may the best cyclist of the day be the best that day. with most girls (luckily i ride with some cool chicks who are not like this) there seems to be an expected apology if you drop them on a a climb or worse expectations to wait and hold hands and be nice.

    my feelings are not hurt when someone is faster! the hs bitchieness is simply uncalled for.

    thanks for putting this out there!

  4. I think that everyone takes it so personally because when you devote your life to something, you want to see results. It is kind of like the game of Survivor. It is just a game, but you win a million dollars if you are the best. That changes your life. The same is true with athletes that are preforming at this level of competition. Triathlon is their job and their lives are devoted to it. They have been training hard and sacrificing a lot to be where they are. When they come up short….they have failed at their life’s work. That is the truth. If I devote myself to building a business from the ground up and the company fails, I have failed because I sacrificed time with my family and friends. Time is all that we have and where we spend it defines us. Triathletes spend their time going to bed early, not drinking that extra beer, scheduling half of their year around their race schedule, and asking all those around them to make room and time form them. The definition of success is winning when you are playing at that level. Now, for us regular Joes out here, we are really competing against ourselves. There is no prize money or sponsorship on the line. Just the great feeling of doing your best, staying healthy, and having bragging rights with your friends. Sonja, I hate to say it, but you are in the “totally devoted to the sport” league. I know that how you perform has to affect how you feel about yourself and you must measure yourself against your peers. You have sponsors that will go away if you don’t perform. You have family and friends that have sacrificed for you to do what you do. I think also that your journey has value. I think that is why I started following your blog. I don’t know if you’ll ever be a world champion, but I like that you have devoted your life to something that I find interesting and you make it fun to watch.

    I’m rooting for you!

  5. Chrissie Wellington handles competition and female encouragement really well. No matter what anyone says (male or female) ultimately it comes down to self-esteem. (Some people want the top to fall–I bet Chrissie gets criticized. But, she doesn’t talk about it.) Words hurt. I give them power and make them heavy or light. That’s what I am learning. Women are amazing, understanding, forgiving, successful, and strong. Lately, I’ve been around some amazingly resilient women whom I respect and appreciate. I would say the same for the men. (I’m around a lot of men, too.) I believe, especially now, people want and need positive. They want hope.

  6. Just a quick note on how I play the game. I take my approach from the ethics of golf. A sport (usually) deep in tradition, etiquette and honour.

    A true gentleman of the sport does not wish bad things to happen to his opponent, rather he try’s to achieve his best on any given day. If he loses he is gracious in defeat and looks internally for ways to improve.

    To wish someone to miss a put, drive it into the woods or chip it into a lake is equivalent to wishing someone blows a tire, wipes out or stumbles in a sprint to the finish.

    These are individual sports and you must compete to win but not at the expense of someone else’s misfortune.


  7. Hi Sonja,
    I have been reading your blog for a while and this is an awesome post. I think many women are insecure which makes them overly competitive in a mean way, not a fun way, which is really too bad. I hope cool women who just want to have fun and race fast can teach others to be a little cooler.

    Also I ran the Platte River Half Marathon this morning and recognized you, thank you SO MUCH for taking my visor and throwing it away! The wind blew it off and carrying it was driving me nuts. Thanks for cheering also!!!


  8. Sonja- We’ve never met, but I’ve followed your blog and your racing as well as Beth. I had the brief opportunity to congratulate her at Cal 70.3 and true to form was gracious and congratulatory back, just another reason to say I’m impressed by both of your athletic performances but also your attitudes about sport.
    Awesome post

  9. Ahh the girl cat talk. I think it is catty…and here is why I think it earned the term. Think of us in terms of Lions. There is the male lion on top and all the other male lions know this. They may go start their own pride but usually they are cool with it until the time comes to challenge the alpha male-when he is old or sick. Otherwise they hang out together and have a good time getting ready for the big fight. The females however are a whole other story. The lioness on the top is always challenged. All the other females want to be there and they will do anything to get to that top position.

    I truly believe that cattiness is the animal instinct we have inside. It is there to protect us-as you mentioned when we are vulnerable. It is embedded in our DNA. Those killer instincts won’t ever go away, as you said you have had your moments as have I, but we, humans, have evolved to live in houses and drive cars and shop at the grocery store for food so we have developed the ability to consider our feelings in regards to being “good people” separate from our need to survive. Therefore, we have the great opportunity to tap into our “beingness” if you will and strive to live in a non violent world. Love you <3

  10. Great post, great comments! I could go on and on too, but I’ll try not to…
    I won’t argue that men and women use words differently, but don’t go giving us too much credit. Men do it too and its not always a good natured ribbing. Our sport is still growing up and as the stakes get higher, the margins of victory narrower, competitors will continue seek the smallest advantages. I think men may be more cognizant of the attempts at psychological warfare and thus more tolerant of them. But its the ‘stakes’ or the perception of them (or when there appear to be none…), that fascinates me. Maybe that’s where the gender differences lie.

    Check this out… , sorry for all the popups.
    Is it any coincidence that #1 and #2 are the two most recognizable sports figures in the world??

  11. I was just having a similar discussion with a training partner, friend, and competitor of mine. We do actually talk smack to each other, and we both genuinely enjoy it… but I would say there are other women, friends, competitors who I could NEVER talk smack to b/c it would come across as bitchy for sure and would just not be well received. Interesting phenomenon, that one. I think the difference between the people we can talk smack to and the people we can’t has more to do with self-confidence than anything else… I think someone else mentioned this as well? Some women get very caught up and emotionally invested in their performance/placings in races that their entire self-worth is based upon their performance… vs others who can separate performance from self… some have other things that are (also) important in their lives so if they don’t win the local triathlon it’s okay- life goes on… Anyway, I would just agree that this phenomenon you speak of is very real, and sometimes makes me wish I was a guy, because for the most part, I like the smack talk! But again, not with some women…

  12. Sonja, I freaking love you.

    Seriously. I think what you describe is why I am actually friends with so few women, they often attack the person, not the sport. I know, MAJOR generalization there, and is not true for all people.

    I enjoy smack talking with the guys. It is fun. But if I hesitate to say something to a woman I would not hesitate to say to a guy because she might take it personal and be hurt instead of challenged. Guys just are not as sensitive about that stuff, I think in general they have more confidence in sports.

    You hit the nail on the head – that is why I don’t like Macca, but love Crowie. He just comes across as a nicer guy than Macca. Macca loses me as a fan every time he opens his mouth pre-race and personally attacks his competition. It is 100% fine with me for him to say Crowie is weak on the bike and that is where you have to beat him (I am not saying he is or isn’t, but darn tootin he is going to run/hunt you down on the run), but when he starts personally attacking Crowie (or anyone else, I have Kona footage in my head right now), it ticks me off.

    For me, I love to see women excel. I have never had the opportunity to step on the podium, but I am thrilled for those that make it there. The best race I ever had was when I battled with this woman for the entire 10k of an OLY tri. At first we kind of talked a little – not much, but I am trying to say it went from relaxed and friendly to competitive. We pushed each other to be faster than we each thought. In the end, we sprinted to the finish line, and she got me by a hair (A HAIR!!!) but we hugged and laughed and she was (is) an awesome athlete and I wish she was at every event, just to make me push that much harder.

    Wow. That is a book. Sorry. Apparently I really liked your post. 🙂

  13. Great post, and the comments are fabulous. I agree with you, I wish everyone (yes, even the ladies in my age group) the best race possible. That’s what makes it fun! I used to put too much energy into worrying about how I was doing compared to others. It is so freeing to just worry about how I’m doing compared to me (me yesterday, me last week, me last year, etc.).

    I love this sport and I want EVERYONE to love it, and so I wish them all their best possible race. Let’s make this interesting, right!?!

    As for Smack Talk – some folks/groups/matchups do it right and it just adds another element to the event. But I agree, you don’t attack the person.

    And I LOVE LOVE LOVE the Dibs/Carfrae smack talk. That’s just havin’ some fun.

    Keep on rockin’ rockstar!

  14. Definitely great post/comment combo.

    I think that some women (and men, too) claim that some behavior [perhaps similar to She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Renamed] is considered “competitive”, but I don’t think its precisely that. In my opinion, its more manipulative in nature than competitive. The two are not equal whatsoever. Competition is healthy, and being a competitive person reflects more on your passion for being a better person rather than your aggression for knocking someone else down. At the end of the day, the best athlete of the day is the person who wins the race on that day… but the best competitor is the one who pushes others to do better, not to tear them down, and the privilege of being a great competitor lasts much longer than race day, and it spans much more of one’s life than just athletics.

    How do you say that in Yodanese?

  15. wow! This was one of the best blog/comment post I have seen. I am just your run of the mill middle of the pack age grouper that took up the sport of triathlon a few years ago because I couldn’t swim. I am extremely competitive when it comes to field hockey as I played D1 in college and still play in an adult league so I have a similar perspective to Sophie above.

    I have been on the field one too many times when someone hits you and says “sorry,” and then there is an expectation to say “sorry” back when YOU got the ball, I just beat you, get over it! As I went through college and then women’s league, eventually the niceties pass. However, if a girl made an amazing save or someone just hit a beautiful ball we compliment them.

    I guess the point I am trying to make is once we get off that field, whether I got a bad bruise from some chick that slammed me against the wall in indoor or a black eye 3 weeks before a wedding from getting hit by a ball (happened) , we all were ready to grab a drink, beer, breakfast whatever and laugh about our lives at home. This is the mentality that we want to see in triathlons.

    Triathlons are an interesting sport, because the majority of us excel or at least do one sport better then the other. We should be competitive and maybe talk some smack but want to grab a margarita and do a shot of jager at the end… It is a shame that some girls/women resort to the “Mean Girls” (btw – good analogy) mentality but guess what, that is not going away and we just have to rise above and be the better person. There will always be women who take the sport personally. I know it is hard to ignore the “ignorant” but we have to.

    Sonja and Beth – you ladies are huge inspirations to many of us triathletes. You both, although never met, seem like you have a great head on your shoulders, well-respected and kick some ass. That being said = keep doing what you are doing and make good examples for the rest of the triathlon female community.

  16. Hi Sonja,

    I am a big fan of your blog and thoroughly enjoy what you post. This particular post is of interest to me as a school counselor and high school lacrosse coach and as an ultrarunner and (former) triathlete. I also played D1 lacrosse so I have a team perspective as well.

    My experience with adolescent girls is that there is a fine line for them in discovering what is “OK” re: being competitive. If they cross the line, they are see as bitchy; if they aren’t competitive (in sports), they have difficulty reaching their potential. My mantra with my high school team right now is “Toughen Up” b/c they are too freaking nice to each other, and I want them to play in practice and in games with much more of an edge.

    One reason I retired from triathlon and focused on ultras is that in ultras, relationships are key. From pacing support, crew and aid station support, ultrarunners are competitive but also embrace the connections that are made in the woods. I have read some of your posts—the one about the run at Ironman Arizona totally shocked me—that the girl who was stalking you actually played you by telling you she was in the relay and that you should work together. She made you work harder, yes, but she also demonstrated the worst in sportsmanship, imo. Better for her to have quietly pushed next to you instead of messing with you. I cannot imagine that ever happening in ultras. The women at the elite level are fiercely competitive, and will push each other to no end, but would be the first to end their race to help a downed runner. In fact, I’ve seen it happen.

    I guess I am trying to say that women struggle with being competitive—we get lots of messages from our culture that it’s not what we should be striving for–and when we are, we become passive aggressive instead of direct and assertive. I say, lay it out there and see who the fastest girl is. Then, when she beats you, shake her hand at the finish and say, thank you, you made me race so much harder!

  17. Cattiness comes up everywhere. What I learned when I recently had an awful Twitter moment that creeped into my email inbox was that only about 20% of communication is written/oral/language based – the rest of it is what we imply based on our emotions/beliefs/projections.

    I think it is a good guide to carry with oneself for how we see and interpret others – and how others interpret us.

    In that sense – it is not the words that matter most to me – *what* people *do* and the *manner* they do it in – before/at/after the finish line – counts most. That’s not gender specific, age specific, or sport specific – it is just common decency.

  18. Hi Sonja,

    I wondered why I stopped getting your blog posts in my RSS feed, glad I stopped by to see what the deal is (new website, my bad). This comment won’t be a novel, but I think you are spot on with a lot of what you said. I can tell that this is total bike ride conversational stuff, and good stuff it is!


  19. i read a guys blog lately (from Singapore 70.3) where his competitor ran by, asked him his age and then blatantly lied saying he was in another ag. About a minute later the race announcer announced the liar saying he was someone to watch and would probably be on the podium for the 25-29 AG (he said he as 30. Of course the first guy concedes he shouldn’t have cared about age and pushed it anyway, but that’s just BS. I could write a novel like Beth did etc.. but I won’t. I’m going for a run. So that when it comes down to it, I’ve done all the training I wanted to do and let the cards fall where they may.

  20. I gotta say, I don’t think Beth did anything wrong by tweeting about it to vent. She is among friends & supporters on twitter. You can see by the support she got from everyone, none of us support that kind of bitchiness (and really, wasn’t it the woman’s HUSBAND that started it all?!?… almost worse!).

    I raced very competitively as a kid and saw the same girls at almost every meet. It was fun & games before & after the race, but during it was fierce. I guess having that experience is why I don’t understand GROWN WOMEN who act like highschool girls. Putting the wrong age on your leg? Telling someone you’re not gunning for a Kona slot when you are? Pffft. How about, “We’re in the same age group & I’m gonna get that slot. Come get it!” and then a hug at the finish line no matter what happens. Aren’t we doing this for fun?!?!? (and by we I mean you guys since I retired haha)

    I’ve always been one that gets annoyed with the same old bull shit PC stuff on twitter: “Had a great run today” “Legs are feeling good” “Getting stronger in the pool”. I don’t give a shit. Tell me about YOU! If that means venting or saying something a little *off*, what the hell?

    Where the hell am I going with my comment? Beth has turned me into a long commenter. Gah!

  21. Okay, while not getting personal, I will weigh in here, because your post resonates with me for some reason. grab a bowl of oats- it may take a while.

    First, BRING ON the smack talk. I know many very dedicated, very competitive women, that will bring their A game to every event, yet still cheer you on and hope their competition has a great race. I consider myself one of them. In San Diego, I am lucky to have so many fierce women around me and we seriously LOVE to compete with each other on race day in an awesome way. I get behind my friends and yell, “I’m comin’ for you! Pick it up!!!” on the run. On the bike, when they pass, i yell, “You caught me!! Go go go!” This isn’t a bunch of crap we feed each other. we MEAN it. For every catty age grouper I have met, I have met 100 amazing ones. This is why i LOVE triathlon. and I want to be one of the people who propagates the “good word” about triathlon. I hope people think, “she’s fast! but more importantly, nice.” Like with you, Sonja, I would be stoked to see you fly by me on the bike in Kona (although your swim mission is making this unlikely!!! ), but then of course I would hope I could bring it back on the run! D’uh, that’s competition. In the same way, I hope it would be motivating for you to reach the finish line before I meet you at mile 23 (and i have no doubt this can be great fodder for smack talk! the good kind!)

    Here’s where I have stumbled. Until very recently, I believe I WAS that person. Then, I was *wronged*. My first instinct was right, I confronted the person and asked why, since i had never met her. My second instinct maybe no so much.: though i did not mention names or specifics, I posted a tweet to vent. i (blindly) consider twitter to be more personal than another forum, but I must remember its still the internet and a part of what I put into the world. The tweet stirred the pot because I think many of us ARE sick of cattiness and we promote and support each other. However, in hindsight, although it was true, and contained only factual info, i shouldn’t have posted that tweet. i should have vented to my friends on a run or to my husband in person. BECAUSE, factual or not, i became one of the mean girls, as it propagated the “bad word” about triathletes (including myself i guess) instead of the good one.
    I hope I act more like a pro in the future.

    All that said, last weekend at Oceanside 70.3 I met far more awesome folks than bad eggs. Jess, who made me fight until mile 11, came up and we congratulated each other. later, we said we’d give eachother swim/bike/run lessons in our respective/opposite weak spots.

    Thanks to you, Sonja, for being honest, a fierce competitor AND good person, amazing you can be all 3, eh?

  22. Deep thoughts by Sonja…and I mean that with respect as I’ve already been trying to figure out how to approach similar discussions with my daughters.

    From a social stereotype view, you have it right in the guy vs. girl part. Part of the stereotype also drives the expected social behavior of both sides: guys are supposed unaffected emotionally and abide by codes etc while women are expected to be emotional and catty. I’d say that was the ways of our past and we are moving from it, but if modern popular TV is any reflection we are still very much there.

    Along with that is many view sport as a form of combat where everything is fair game unless it’s specifically ruled out (and then only if you get caught…). With this mentality, any weakness to gain an advantage is used, including personal pot shots. Getting into your opponent’s head and getting them to psyche themselves out is very much an objective. Learning to not let others control you can be almost as valuable as learning the skills of the sport itself.
    That said, I think most guys stop at certain threshold levels that many women completely blow past.

    As you alluded to in your post, a lot of it comes down to personal esteem and self worth. Many times when someone is ticking you off, the action that is aggravating you isn’t necessarily theirs; it’s a part of yourself that you dislike and you are projecting it on to them – i.e., the person that thinks they are weak will usually be the first to call others weak. It’s actually very easy to be insecure and get into that rut. It takes a lot more honesty to realize that your performance was on you. If you raced your heart out and got beat, they were a worthy competitor and should be congratulated. If you messed up along the way, it’s not their fault you fell short. That realization can be a hard pill to swallow.

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