When it comes to surfers, I think people say they come in two types: soul surfers and competitive surfers. As far as I understand it, soul surfers are people that surf just to surf because they love it and love how it makes them feel. Surfing is encompasses pure, intrinsic value. For them there is nothing better than being out on the water, surfing. One hopes that competitive surfers love and enjoy the sport as much as soul surfers do, but they go the extra step and like to compete against others, see how they rank. They love it, but they seem to want others to know it and appreciate their skills. Soul surfers are content with it being just them and the waves.
I've most often heard these phrases used in reference to surfing, but I think athletes of many types can be divided and labeled as either soul or competitive athletes of their sports. Sure, for some sports you probably can't really be a "soul" player because the very nature of the sport (that it's played with a team, mostly) makes it impossible to participate in a non-competitive setting. American football, for example. I think it is difficult (if not impossible) to argue that people play JUST because they love the game. I mean, people do love the game, of course, but they can't play solely for that reason because American football is competitive by nature of it being a team sport. One team against another. Other sports lend themselves very well towards participants being soul players. Running, sailing, swimming... sports that can be individual ventures, like surfing.
When it comes to running, I think I'm a soul runner. I like to run just to run. I like to run on my own time, at my own pace, by myself because I feel like running with a partner inevitably makes it feel competitive and takes the fun and enjoyment out of my run. I use my time running to think, either actively or by zoning out and letting my mind passively work things out while I listen to music. I will and do set goals when I run (either to get a certain time, run a certain distance, or both), but these are really just for myself. I like to see personal improvement.
But, perhaps hippocritically from what I've said above, every now and then I feel the need to run a race. I do this for two reasons. First, I feel like I need it to really gauge my abilities as a runner (though, side note, I don't really consider myself a runner.), to prove it to myself that I'm doing what I want to be doing, time and distance wise. For example, I somehow feel that I can't actually run a certain distance until I do it with an officially measured and marked route and a champion chip in my shoe which will tell me how long, down to the second, it took me to run. The second (and embarassingly more important) reason I run races is because of the race goodie bags you always get.
I love race goodie bags. I've gotten lots since I really started running a couple of races (mostly charity 5ks) a year since high school. Goodie bags usually have a race t-shirt commemorating the name and year of the race. In my experience, if it's a charity race, it's usually a short or long sleeved cotton t-shirt. If it's not a charity race, the sponsors will usually spring for a jersey or singlet type shirt. I guess the sponsors and race coordinators figure people that run in non-charity races are more serious. I'm not sure. Goodie bags also include a lot of things from sponsors. They always have boring booklets, brochures, and coupons. These generally get browsed through last - usually not even during the initial oh-boy-what's-in-my-goodie-bag rifle through that occurs seconds after you've been handed your bag. I usually check out these boring things later, at home, when I'm throwing them away. The "good stuff" comes in the form of samples. Samples of granola bars, energy drinks, lotions, fruit snacks, socks, vitamins, athletic towels, etc. etc. etc. This is the fun stuff. This is one of the reasons I run races. Goodie bags are fun.
Since I've been living and running in Denmark, I've realized that race goodie bags, like everything in this country, are a little different. I ran a 10k last week with my friend, Libby. Libby and I arrived about an hour before the race to pick up our goodie bags and timing chips. We walked over to the goodie bag area, ripped the coupon off our race numbers, and handed it to the race official. In exchange, she handed us a purple bag (heavy, yay!) and a jar of feta cheese with spices cubed into easily usable salad bits and still cool from the refrigerated box it came from. (see picture at right) I'm not kidding. Libby and I stood there holding our purple bags and jars of feta cheese, mystified. Now, I know that the producer of this cheese was probably a race sponsor... but it was still really, really weird. We wondered what we should do with our jars of cheese while we ran, as they were presumably in need of continued refrigeration. In the end, we threw them in our bags because we had no where else to put them and wrote jars of feta in goodie bags off as another weird thing Danes do and probably think is normal. When I got home later I put my feta in the fridge, where it's been ever since and currently sits even as I type this. Weird.
Oh, and in case anyone is wondering, the 10k was an awesome success. :)