Pro runner Nastosha Rogers encourages herself (and us) not to view competition as a threat, but as a collective energy for good
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There’s nothing quite like running stride for stride with the strongest and toughest women in the world in a high-profile race. Putting it bluntly, it’s like being on the edge of a cliff—very exhilarating, but also very risky.
I almost always feel this in big races, but it is precisely how I felt running in the 10,000-meter finals at the World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon, in July.
In those situations, there is great freedom in the abyss of the unknown, met with an equal sense of confinement to the constraints dictated by the pace, my current level fitness and my willingness to push my preconceived physical and mental boundaries without pushing too far to the point of being reckless.
Fear and panic pump through my veins as I try to not lose grip with the lead pack, falling victim to my own weaknesses. If I can harness my mind and remain present, then with every step I fall into unison and through the portal of that present moment I am able to defy my own limitations.
Time perception is altered in this state where seconds feel like minutes and I become aware of every woman around me: her breathing, form, change of pace, strain, and even a sense of her state of mind. It is strangely intimate and it awakens strengths within that could only be cultivated by the flow state energy of these women in numbers, feeding off one another as we compete vigorously for victory—or at least a best-possible finish based on how I channel the collective positive vibes of the race energy.
Even though we are competing against each other, it is through this passionate setting that we are better together, reaching new heights that we would otherwise not be able to reach alone. Both viciously and harmoniously, we charge towards the finish line. What may just be a race to spectators, feels like the end-all be-all for the women who put countless days, months, years, or even decades into these singular moments that determine a triumph of a lifetime.
As one of those women I can say that for that feeling and that feeling alone, I would give the rest of my life to this extreme outlet of competitive energy if I could. That addicting source of adrenaline makes me feel more alive than anything I have ever experienced. As gut-wrenching as those moments are before the gun goes off and as grueling as the race becomes, it all has the potential to culminate into some of the most rewarding feats of human performance that can be achieved as we defy what the preconceived notion of impossible.
The Desire To Win
The desire to win is a powerful concept; it’s an insatiable hunger that resides within us all. This hunger can be fueled by motives that can ironically lead us to our own demise if not carefully analyzed. The human condition that we share is a reactivity to the undeniable ego-driven wiring in all of us. This, along with society encouraging a cut-throat desire to be more successful than others, ingrains a mentality to see competition as a threat. If this is all we see when we line up, then we are already at a disadvantage.
With such a limited view, we will have a harder time fighting off the negative voices in our heads throughout the race, not just literally in the midst of a competitive 5,000-meter event, but also metaphorically in the race of life. This entails being too focused on the outcome on a comparative level, rather than being present in the race itself on a collaborative level. Not to mention the abandonment of our own journey through obsessing over others.
The Complexity of Female Relationships
Female relationships are complex. In our daily environments, we are competing against one another at all times, even outside of the actual competitive events. There are some who crumble at the pressures of sport because they are terrified of the idea of losing or being inferior–they are afraid the spotlight will be on someone else.
In my own personal experience, I have had very few female relationships that have not been low-key competitive in my life in one form or another. Deep down we want the best for each other, but there is always that threat to our own worth and how we measure up in comparison. It is shameful to admit that initial reaction in myself when I see those that I compete against on any playing field “doing better than me.”
This mere idea of competition can be inwardly viscous and self-destructive. It all happens on a subconscious level and it’s catastrophic. The good news is that we have the power to change our lens and appreciate the strengths in each and every one of us as phenomenally unique contributors to the collective whole. In other words, we can raise the bar for each other!
I have come to realize that with awareness—and an intentional rewiring of my perspective—I can instead be inspired, encouraged and amazed by women I would normally perceive as a threat to my own success. I want to be in the company of these women, stride for stride, and serve as an equally powerful role for them as well.
This will not come without a daily conscious practice, especially in a world of social media where we are constantly being challenged with these egotistical issues. It’s no longer just about the results in our direct reality, but also in a realm of reality where people can paint a picture of themselves that can be a deceptive threat of its own. The unfortunate truth of this matter calls for us to be more authentic, mindful and intentional in how we compete against one another.
With this approach, we can continuously lift one another to a higher excellence. There is nothing to be gained in this world from stagnation, especially in regards to bettering ourselves. This engrained fierceness can be analyzed and transformed into something far greater than rivalry or jealousy, comparison or polarity. It can be channeled through healthy competition, where we compete in a way that does not serve the ego and instead serves the greater good.
Just like in a race—one of the rawest acts of competition—we as passionate women can utilize and gain momentum off each other in a way that is beautifully bonding and powerful. Instead of pitting ourselves against the force before even stepping on the line, we ride the wave of cumulative strength and let it carry us to the finish line. May the strongest woman win, not just physically and mentally, but consciously too.
Natosha Rogers has been a professional runner since she completed her collegiate career at Texas A&M in 2012 with an NCAA title in the 10,000m. Some of her career highlights include finishing second in the 10,000m at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, a victory at the 2016 U.S. half marathon championships and a win at the 2020 U.S. cross country championship. She represented the U.S. in the 10,000m at the 2022 World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon, where she placed 15th in a personal best 31:10.57.