The New Race

A tired athlete comes back to his locker after a long day of practice.

He sits in his room, sipping some water. It had been a tiring day. He knows that it was to be the last of it’s kind. There had been changes at the top. The management which used to run the race earlier was being “replaced” with a younger set of people. This had been happening over the past few months. Old coaches were being gracefully retired, and new ones had been appointed in their place. His own coach who trained him so well all this while had been asked to quit. This particular day was the last day when the race was run according to the older ways. The next couple of months had been set aside for transition. And he had no idea what sorts of changes was he to expect.

He quickly hits the shower and puts on a fresh set of clothes. He had an appointment to keep. He heads out to the neighboring coffee place. He was expecting to meet his new coach there. He was introduced to his new coach the previous day. “He is only a few years older than me”, he thought at that time. “But may be he is really good, and one doesn’t have to be really old to have reached the level where one can coach people.”, he consoled himself. He reaches the coffee place and looks around. There is no sign of the new coach. He sits on a table overlooking the busy street.

The new coach enters and motions him to remain seated. He takes off his track-jacket and rests it on the chair which has been pulled out. He then sits down and looks at the athlete. “Ah, another old-school fella”, he thinks to himself. He orders a cup of coffee for himself. The athlete asks for a bottle of water.

“I have looked at your charts. And I must say I am quite impressed. You have the potential to become the star in this new format of the race. However, you’ll have to re-invent yourself. But don’t worry, everyone will have that same challenge. We’ll work out a strategy together.”

He realized that the coach meant business. He didn’t want to waste any time on small talk either.

“Ok, but what sorts of re-inventions I am to expect ?”

“Several. But not any major ones. Like for example the way you take breaks. That needs to change. Currently it appears as if your breaks are too scheduled.”

“I take a break when my body doesn’t comply anymore. And yes, if you look at my break-schedule , you’ll observe that the duration between breaks has steadily increased. Though on a given day, or a week, it’s more or less consistent. But the longer history shows that I am improving. So, what’s wrong with it ?”

“Nothing. Except that it won’t be useful in the new format of the game.”

“I’m sorry, I haven’t been keeping up with the changes that had been going on at the top. So please help me understand, why are we moving on to a new format ? What’s wrong with the current one ?”

“Well, we feel that the current one is not very representative.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Ok, let me help you understand. So in this current format, what pace do the athletes run at?”

“Well, the athletes run at their own pace. Depending on what category of race they focus on. Sprinters run fast, understandably, and they take several breaks since their cycle is short. The long distance runners run slow, because their goal is to build stamina. Even within these different categories, the various athletes run at the pace that they are comfortable with. This comfort level is gained after years of practice.”

“And what exactly are you running for ?”

“The way I see it, each race is an opportunity for us to better ourselves. To understand our bodies well. To refine our athleticism.”

“In other words, you are competing against yourself and no one else, right ?”

“Well, one could say that.”

“What’s the ultimate goal of all this practice, all the running that you do?”

“From what I know, the ultimate goal is to make running irrelevant.”

“Could you elaborate on that ?”

“Well, like I said, throughout the race we seek to better ourselves. I have heard from the people who have exited the race, the “finishers” as we call them here, that at one point you begin to understand your body. And not just that, you understand how to control it. In other words, the body obeys you. You become perfect in the art of running and there comes a time where running no longer becomes relevant. So, the race is a means to developing that understanding. Understanding of your true potential. What your essence is.”

“Well said. Now, let us talk about these finishers. Throughout the history of the race, how many finishers have been there in total ?”

“Not a lot. Probably one finisher, at the most two, every year or so.”

“And mostly these are people who have been practicing since ages, right ?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Ok. Now, if I am not mistaken, most of these finishers are long distance runners, right ?”

“Yes, among the finishers that we have, lot many are long distance runners. But then we do have a few sprinters as well.”

“True. Now, again, among all the athletes, what is proportion of people who run long distance ?”

“Very small percentage of the total number of athletes practice for long distance races. Actually, a lot more people seem to fit into the sprint category.”

“Right. So tell me, doesn’t that sound a bit unfair ? I mean, more people practice in the sprint category. And this has been true throughout the history of the race. Only a few practice in the long-distance category. But among the finishers long-distance runners form a higher percentage, while sprinters have to slog all the day and get nothing in return.”

“Not nothing. Like I said, there are finishers among the sprinters too.”

“But very few. And that’s the biggest flaw in the the old system. It has not no sense of proportion”

“But the goal is, not to have a sense of proportion. The goal is to help each individual realize his true potential. And he can do it best by training for the event which best suits him. Our current system just makes use of what he possesses and helps him build on it to reach the level of perfection.”

“Now that brings us to the next point. Who decides what is best for each individual ?”

“There is a collection of wisdom passed on from years. Wisdom accumulated by the finishers. Though they cannot describe the perfection in words, they have recorded their experiences. Several of them. And they have helped synthesize this collection of wisdom and have derived certain rules on its basis. Thus there are rules which tells what kind of race will suit which kind of individual.”

“Now you said, the finishers decide! This is indeed interesting. The ones who no longer run are the ones who decide how the race is to be run. Once again, that seems a bit unfair to me!”

“Well, I don’t think you are looking at things from a holistic point of view. Are you trying to say that the wisdom that has been passed on by the finishers, which has helped so many other athletes to graduate to being finishers in the subsequent years is pointless ? Completely useless ?”

“I never said anything about that. All I am trying to do is point out the reasons why we believe that the rules need to change. See in the current format, even though running at your own pace and steadily improving seems to be the most natural thing to do, it would not make the race interesting. After all, what’s so much fun in watching a race where the better suited runners maintain the lead always and the others don’t bother giving a competition, because their goal is to just improve relative to their own performance? That’ll simply make the race boring to watch, right ?”

“Well, we do try to give a competition. The races are opportunities for us to stretch ourselves, to take our practice to the next level. But yes, the same holds good for the athletes who are currently better than us. So it’s not surprising that better trained athletes do better.”

“But if you look at it from the perspective of the results of the race, don’t you agree that it’s more or less predictable?”

“If you want to look at it only from the perspective of the results, then yes.”

“And it is a fair perspective, you cannot deny that. So, according to our new format, we are going to have different events such as : 100 meters dash, a 800 meters, a marathon and so on. ”

“Well, that’s there in the current format as well. What’s new about it.”

“The rules! You see, under the current system, the interest of the players is not taken into consideration. What if the player feels that he wants to switch events. Switch focus ? The current system has no provision for that. If an athlete feels that he is better suited for long-distance don’t you think he should be given a chance to try that ? Our system changes all that. Any athlete can participate in any race. No bars held.”

“Well, it’s not true that the current system has no provision for switching events and switching focus. It does. But it’s not encouraged. Because even those who switched, took way too long to graduate to being finishers. And after finishing, they themselves said that to realize what they did realize, switching was not necessary. Hence you don’t see several instances of switching.”

“But it’s not encouraged. That’s where the new format trumps. It provides equal chance for everyone to participate in every race. Not just that, the new rules introduce a revolutionary idea of participant vote. The participants in the race will be able to vote as to which event should be awarded the highest credits. What should be the schedule of the events. And so on. We’ll hold a review after every month. During this time, the participants with the most number of credits across different categories will be honored. You see, our system makes sure that it’ll be a race of the participants, for the participants and by the participants.”

“But that will have several side effects. For starters, the credits for sprints will be the highest, because most of them would be sprinters. Which means that there will be a lot more prominence for sprints from here on. And that would mean lesser number of marathons. This would introduce a bias and cause imbalance within the system.”

“There will be as many races of a particular kind as the participants want them to be. Besides you can trust that the system will be self-corrective.”

“But even if you do that, over a long period of time the proportion of different kind of athletes among the finishers is going to remain exactly the same. The reason why people finish is because of the focus they put in the kind of event they run. You see more number of long-distance runners in the finisher category because the kind of race they run helps them build the discipline required to understand their body. They take fewer number of breaks than the sprinter for whom iterations matter. Then again, the reason we have fewer number of long-distance runners is because the kind of discipline that’s required to run long-distance is not easy to follow and hence not lucrative for everyone. Thus this new format is not going to impact the proportion of the Marathon-Runners Vs the sprinters in the “finishers” category.”

“That is correct.”

“And moreover, because of this new format where every athletes can run all types of races, and each race has a different credit, people will try to prepare for everything. However, that’ll not allow them to really develop their capabilities. Because the capabilities required for sprint are so different from those required for, say a marathon. So, in this new system, each one will be preparing for the next race, whether he is suited for it or not. Besides, since the schedule of the races is decided by a vote, there won’t be time to plan as there won’t be time to predict. You are making it harder for the players to graduate to being finishers. While the proportion different types of athletes graduating to the finishers is going to remain constant, the rate is going to drop down , no ?”

“You seem to be once again overlooking an important point here. The focus of the new rules is to make the race interesting. To ensure that people are having fun while running the race. So that it won’t bet a boring exercise that one needs to undergo to achieve some perfection which may or may not come.”

“So, the focus of the new rules is not even the quality of the players or the quality of the race ?”

“I would not put it that way. Lets say that the focus in on the quality of the entertainment which does provide scope for focusing on the quality of players and that of the race.”

“But then, who will benefit ?”

“You will, of course!”

“But like I said earlier, the proportion of finishers is not going to change, and the rate of finishers is going to drop. So how are we benefiting ?”

“See, in the current scheme of things, you can very rarely outrun a player with better athletic talent in your own category of race to begin with. And since you are not encouraged to participate in the race other than the one you had chosen, you could never know if you are better than the best player in that other type of race. However, now with this new format, you stand a chance to beat the next better player, in the next scheduled event, right ?”

“Sure… But you forget, the purpose of the older rules of the race was so that each one of us could realize our fullest potential. The race was a means to achieve that. So, an athlete would any way have not been bothered about beating the next best guy.”

“Good point. But then race would have been too boring to sustain itself.”

“It has sustained itself all this while! Moreover, in the older format, we were aware that it would take us years of practice to come to a point where we have developed ourselves such that we no longer need to run. And we would have been mentally prepared for it right from the early stages.”

“But think of it, athletes, especially the sprinters could get impatient. They would see a better suited athlete finish early. At the same time, they would have to swallow the hard truth that they have to practice for a longer period before they can finish the race. Whatever mental preparation you talk about, the irrefutable fact is this: recognition, in their case would have to wait.”

“I have read about the finishers and I have spoken to the finishers. It’s not the recognition that makes them happy. It’s the simple fact that they managed to realize their true potential. The knowledge, the irrefutable knowledge was what made them happy. Of course, they did get respect and recognition as a side effect.”

“But the ones who are far far away from realizing that, the beginners, the intermediates, they don’t understand why these finishers were feeling happy, right ? They see applause and the respect that these finishers get from those who were still participating and they see expressions of joy, content on the faces of those who finished the race. They see a correlation. They don’t see anything else. Hence they will conclude causation.”

“So what are you getting at?”

“Simple fact. Our new format allows them a chance to experience that joy. By giving them the chance to beat these so perceived better athletes, they can now enjoy their moment of glory.”

“Ah, but it’s only a moment. On the other hand, the joy experienced by true finishers was not momentary. It was permanent, as it resulted out of irrefutable knowledge. While, the glory provided the new system lasts only as long as the system allows which won’t be for long. So the athletes will see through it.”

“No, they won’t.”

“But obviously they will. All you are giving them is a glimpse, not the whole thing. After a while they’ll call your bluff.”

“Not if there are gradations in these glimpses. Remember, not all races are credited equally! No. There will always be something higher to aspire for. Always. A greater glory to seek. Which lasts for a greater amount of time. Of course, bestowed upon by the system itself. In this new format we make provisions such that our rules can evolve too, if required.”

“Still, there will be the experienced athletes who are approaching their finishing stages. They’ll see through this. They’ll warn the others.”

“You are still missing the point aren’t you ? You see the thing about our new format, unlike that old format of yours. Ours is explicitly fair. It gives every one the chance of basking in glory. Equally. So, every competitor is equal. Finisher or no Finisher. Experience or no experience. When it comes to the new criteria of evaluation, these do not matter. What matters is the result. Of the next race event. To participate in which every one has an equal opportunity.”

“However, when the adept realize the folly of the new system, they will work towards finishing. In the process they might show total disregard for the results of the “next” race decided by the vote. They’ll bide their time, and focus on self improvement in the event for which they would keep practicing. In the process they’ll causing doubts to crop in the minds of others. Because they’ll be so good in their own events, others simply won’t be able to beat them! Soon, the others will see that there are people in the race who seem to have a strategy of their own. They’ll be curious. That can cause the system to fail.”

“We know that. But their numbers are too small to influence the majority. Moreover, they run the risk of being treated like outcasts. Think of it: The new format has inbuilt immunity against such outcasts. When the others realize that they simply cannot win a particular event in which these outcasts participate, such an event will automatically get a low credit. And in the scheme of things, frequency for such events is also going to decrease. Thus the outcasts will simply not get to “graduate” to being finishers. Even if they do, due to their focused practice, they will not get any recognition from the community. These outcasts will be just like the tip of the pyramid. They are never enough to eclipse the bottom. Especially not when we promise focus-lights all around.”

“But there will always be those who will draw attention to the successes of the older format. Who’ll talk about the benefits of the focus. Who’ll fight for these outcasts. What are you going to do about them?”

“Nothing. They won’t be taken seriously.”

“Why not ?”

“While introducing the new format, we only have to subtly highlight the following: The aim of the older format was to be a finisher. The Older format was designed by the ones who had actually finished. The majority of these finishers were long-distance runners. The long-distance runners were a minority in the scheme of things and yet they were able to bask all the glory , steal all the limelight and decide how the race should be run. This will automatically cast aspersions on the long-distance runners. Now, amongst those fighting for the older format a large number of them will be the long-distance runners. Not their fault. It’s just that the kind of discipline they are involved in makes it easier for them to see the truth. The majority, the sprinters, however will revolt against them. The long-distance runners will then have two choices. Either accept the new format and fight in it’s favor to avoid discrimination. Or be discriminated against by the majority.”

“Wow! That’s comprehensive! I have one final question. The objective of older format was to enable the athletes to go beyond the system.. What’s the objective of the new format of yours ?”

“That answer to this question lies in asking the question.”

“Wait, you mean, there is no purpose ? There is no higher objective ? It’s there because it wants to be there ?”

“Like I said, the answer to this question lies in asking the question. “


About gautshen

A jack of many trades of which , Linux Kernel Programming puts food on the table. Also pursuing his PhD in the area Theoretical Computer Science at the Chennai Mathematical Institute. Is an avid reader interested in the Hindu traditions and philosophy. Loves Bicycling and Good Music. Name is Ranjal Gautham Shenoy.
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