It was Sports Day at my children’s school and I was breastfeeding the baby when they announced that the Mums' Race was about to begin. I looked at the baby, blissfully gulping down her milk and decided that she’d had enough. Hastily releasing her limpet lips, I thrust her into the pram and joined the other mums on the start line.
You see, you can take the intensely competitive schoolgirl out of her big blue PE knickers, but given the chance she will always want to annihilate the competition and win the 100 metres.
The head teacher fired the gun and we were off. I scanned left and right; were we taking this seriously, or did I just need to carry on jogging to make sure I won? I relaxed. I was slightly ahead of the pack, poised to slam dunk the last 20 metres.
Then with no warning, a skinny, short-haired woman came flying past me and I felt the familiar red mist come down.
‘Bi-i-i-i-i-tch!’ my brain screamed, as my arms pumped and my legs struggled to keep up. I managed to stay on her shoulder, but couldn’t get past her to the line. I was absolutely gutted. No matter that we’d left the other mums standing at the 50 metre mark, the point was, I hadn’t won. I congratulated her, but I was properly, childishly pissed off. If I’d known we were really going for it, I’m sure I could have had her.
Anyway, that was at least four years ago and since that crushing defeat I’ve worked hard at keeping my competitive attitude in check. And it was all going so well until yesterday...
My eldest daughter has a new mountain bike and we set off on her first off-road challenge. In order to teach my girl how to use her 21 gears, we’d devised a special code. A code that made my technically-minded husband wince because it involved no mention of cogs, Shimano or synchromesh.
No, we girlies came up with ‘Big Gear 1, Little Gear 4’ or whichever gear (big or little) she needed to be in.
We set off over the fields, then down a bumpy track with overhanging branches. My daughter drove smack into some (small) branches and received a mouthful of leaves. ‘I can’t do this!’ she wailed ‘I’m rubbish at it!’ I was attentive, helpful, patient mother. ‘Of course you can! Now get back on your bike and keep going, you’re never going to learn if you whinge.’ Well, Victoria Pendleton didn’t make it to the top by giving up did she?
A bit further on we had to cross a lane and cycle up a rocky track with a good, thigh-burning gradient. I stopped to let the dog off the lead but urged my daughter on, ‘That’s it! Well done! Big Gear 1, Little Gear 2!’ She disappeared out of sight, but I was unconcerned; as soon as I'd freed the dog, I’d be right on her shoulder.
The dog was being skittish – she could smell the early morning rabbits – and it took precious seconds to release her. She shot off like a bullet and I hopped back on my bike (Big Gear 1, Little Gear 3) and set off up the track.
I was completely unprepared for what happened next. My daughter was further on than I’d expected her to be and as I rounded the corner I saw her way out in front, still going strong. I saw her long, slender legs. I saw the distance between us. I noted her easy motion and how she was pulling away and it happened again. The red mist came down and I screamed at my creaky, middle-aged body to go faster! Harder! Catch her you silly bitch! Don’t let her win!
It took a good 40 seconds of proper, lung-heaving effort to get level with her (Big Gear 2, Little Gear 5) and then as quickly as it had arrived, the intense, competitive feeling evaporated. ‘Well done Poppet, you did really well on the hill’ I panted. She smiled ‘I’m puffed, but this is fun!’
For the rest of the ride I acted like a grown-up. I cheered as she made it up another steep track (Big Gear 1, Little Gear 1) and slowed the pace so she was wasn’t puffing quite so much. Conscious that she is about to weather the adolescent hormone storm, I talked at length about the importance of exercise, the benefits of endorphins and how a natural high is far better than a chemical one. (I didn’t feel qualified to say anything about being over-competitive.)
As we pedalled over the last field, we decided we’d had a very good morning and we should do it all again tomorrow.
Later, as I munched on this Lentil Salad, I decided that it was time to lay my competitive instinct to rest. It no longer serves a purpose and it really is time for me to grow up.
But if I’m ever in a Mums' Race with that skinny, short-haired sprinter again, I won’t be held accountable for my actions...
Lentil Salad (serves 2 adults, maybe more...)
The salad is very filling and really gives you something to chew on. It's the perfect food to distract you when you're tempted to perform a straight Barani on the trampoline to show off to the kids, but know you shouldn't...
(Measurements are approximate)
150g puy lentils
2 large carrots
2 cloves of garlic
half a head of broccoli
4 large, ripe tomatoes (overripe ones are good)
Salt and black pepper
- Wash the lentils and place them in a saucepan of cold water. Cook as per the packet instructions, drain and set aside
- Cut the tomatoes in half and squeeze their contents into a large serving bowl. Use a fork to break up any big clumps of seeds
- Squeeze in some lemon juice and add 1 tsp of cumin powder and some salt and black pepper. Chop the onion and add it to the dressing. Stir
- Finely chop the garlic and the broccoli florets. For the salad in the picture I quickly fried the broccoli and garlic in a frying pan, for about 3 minutes, but I'm not sure I'll bother next time. It's better to eat it raw don't you think? Anyway, up to you
- Add the broccoli and garlic - fried or raw - to the salad bowl
- Peel and grate the carrots and add to the salad bowl
- Now stir it all together and have a taste. Does it need more lemon? Cumin? Salt? Black pepper? Mine needed all of the above, so season until it is perfect for your palate
- Fill a bowl full of this healthy, nutritious mix and repeat the following mantra 'I must not be stupidly competitive, I must not be stupidly competitive...'
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