How to succeed when you are not the best (G4)

How to succeed when you are not the best

Don't let what you think you 'know' prevent you from seeing things as they really are

I was surrounded by muscles that were tantalising and terrifying in equal measure. Smooth, taut limbs nudged through running tights and my desire to stroke them was dampened by the reality that I was in competition with them.

Adventure racing is a mix of sports that get you as muddy, bruised and sweaty as possible. Fabulous. This particular competition was sponsored by Landrover, the perfect mud and sweat vehicle, and they were looking to select one person from fifty to represent Britain in a month long 4x4 fuelled adventure extravaganza.

The competitors were a range of sinewy, silently focussed athletes (some professional), shouty soldiers, and landrover pornographers. These were the guys who had secret stashes of 'reading material' about suspension, performance, and an absolute lust for all things Landrover shaped. They were happiest when driving their babies or talking about them, and a very useful source of info once it became clear how much we needed to know about the sponsors.

You know the feeling when you walk into a Parisian clothing boutique and the staff give you a long once up and down, thinking, 'what size are you and can you afford it?' Amongst the racers, there was a silent summising of, 'how good am I and can you cut it?' as we ran, biked, kayaked, climbed and competed our way through the days. The tasks were a curious combination of mental and physical challenges, cunning, inspiration and lateral thinking. We memorised patterns during runs, collected hidden targets in the dark with a map, woke in the middle of the night to rescue stuck vehicles, and drove a lot of powerful Landrover beasts. Fitness, strength, teamwork, endurance, leadership, independence, skill and strategy were all being tested, but no one knew exactly what the judges were after.

We had been asked to bring one pocket sized item which represented the spirit of the competition to us. When I explained my choice of a landrover key ring with a lipstick attached to it, there was a bemused (I suspected unappreciative) silence.

Not being either a great adventure racer or 'landy' expert, I had no expectations. I had chosen my item as I had guessed it would be good to get some of the sponsor's branding in there, and I thought that taking lipstick was funny. With no previous experience of this kind of event to guide (or confuse) me, I was full of curiosity, taking the attitude of an open minded beginner. And as a woman competing against men, I knew I was going to have to do well on the strategy, left field, less physical tasks, as I was never going to be as strong physically as the blokes. And I wanted to love every minute of it.

Competitors slowly got eliminated over the days, some happy to go home to wash and sleep, some gutted to be leaving. Somehow staying in the game, with the TV crew weaving between the few of us remaining, it became apparent that everyone thought that they knew what the judges were after. The athletes thought that the fittest racing snake was going to be selected, and the landrover buffs believed the best driver would win. None of us had ever done a competition like this, so how could anyone possibly know?

As the event continued, I realised that having preconceived ideas about what kind of person would be selected was not only pointless, but actually unhelpful and detrimental. Some boys barked orders as they believed that bossy leadership was the winning quality, others refused to work in a team or help others as they presumed that individualism was key. Faster runners, better bikers, quicker climbers and people with more landrover love than me all got eliminated, yet there I was still happy in the chase. Several things dawned on me towards the end of the week: Landrover were investing millions in the competition and it was being broadcast on Channel 4. Obviously they wanted some one fit and capable, but they surely also wanted an ambassador for the company who would be good on telly? Some of the competitors consciously ignored the journalists as it distracted them from their main objective of winning individual challenges.

Being named as one of the three athletes to go forward to the next selection, I felt like Miss World without the tears and tiara. I was absolutely not the best competitor in any of the individual challenges, but with curiosity, an open mind, and no firm beliefs about what the judges were looking for, I had understood the essence of the competition and won a place in the next selection.


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