In my high school days one of my favorite track and field meets every year was the Boulder County Championships. The meet was commonly referred to as BOCO (get it? BOulder COunty. It featured all of the high schools from Boulder County in Colorado. The meet featured several 5A schools (the biggest classification in the state) and several 4A schools. Our coaches and athletes looked forward to it every year. Winning it, either as an individual or as a team, was big deal. Being able to say you were the BOCO champ in an individual event or as a team was something we all wanted.
My sophomore year the high hurdles field was not as strong as it usually is. I was an up and coming hurdler, but I was far from one of the elite hurdlers in Colorado. As the meet approached it became apparent that I was in the mix and that I had a real shot at winning it. Essentially, there were four hurdlers that had a shot at winning the 110 meter high hurdles and I was one of them.
Meet day was cold and anything but ideal in terms of weather. As I did my final warm-up starts I knew I was in the zone. I knew that if I ran my race and stayed in my lane mentally I was about to drop a big personal record. The moment the gun went off I knew it was going to be a great race. It was just one of those days when it felt like nothing could stop me from being my best.
If memory serves me correctly I crossed the line in 15.79 FAT (Fully Automatic Timing for those of you who are not big track and field fans). It was a huge PR, but it was also the winning time. I am the 1998 Boulder County 110 meter high hurdles champion. I won in what might be the slowest winning time ever, but I won nonetheless.
Fast forward two years to the 2000 track and field season, my senior year. 3 of the 4 hurdlers who could have won it back in ’98 are in the race. One of them is a very talented junior who would go on to play football and run track at Stanford. This time, as we got in the blocks I had the same feeling I had in ’98. I knew I was about to drop a huge PR. But there was one major difference. I was also pretty certain I wasn’t going to win.
The young man who was on his way to Stanford had progressed quite rapidly. The odds of me catching him that day were pretty slim. I beat him in ’98 for the BOCO Championship, but I hadn’t beat him since (for the record, I wouldn’t beat him again either). Anyway, I crossed the line that day in 14.88 FAT. Like ’98 it was a huge PR, but unlike ’98 I didn’t win. I got second.
Consider these two finishes. My sophomore year I won in a very slow time. It was, however, a huge PR for me. So I ran the best I had ever ran and won. My senior year, I got second in a much faster time. In fact, the 14.88 I ran as a senior was probably fast enough to win the meet every year since with a few exceptions. Not only that, but just like ’98 the time was a huge PR. So we have 2 huge PRs. The first one ended in a county championship and the second one ended in a runner-up finish.
Here’s the question I want you to ponder: Would you rather win the championship in 15.79 or get second in 14.88?
Think about it carefully. Which outcome would be more satisfying to you? Why? What does your answer reveal about what you value most?
I would love for you guys to share your answers in the comments section. This is a very interesting discussion that is a lot of fun to wrestle with. I once asked this question on my personal Facebook account and it had over 100 comments. Lets have an equally thought provoking discussion here.