COMPETING AND PERFORMING In a fascinating study by Arizona State University researchers, student volunteers were asked to bench-press as much weight as they could on three separate occasions: once in a group environment but without competitive comparisons; again in an actual competition against the other volunteers; and once more individually in front of an audience of passive onlookers.

The subjects were able to lift significantly more weight when performing alone before seated watchers than they were in competition, and they lifted least in the noncompetitive group environment. In fact, the numbers were not even close. On average, the students benched 231 pounds before an audience, 226 pounds in competition, and only 204 pounds in a noncompetitive group.5 Same people! These results suggest that competing and being watched trigger social instincts that allow us to push closer to our true performance limits than we can otherwise. You can use this instinct to your advantage by actively involving yourself in your age-group competition and by inviting everyone you know to watch you compete in your next marathon.

You can also take advantage of your social instincts to try harder in training by training with a groupat least in some of your key workoutsinstead of alone. While you do not want to get carried away with competition in training, many runners report a beneficial effect of being pushed by wellmatched athletes in training. Research suggests that training in a group may increase the release of brain neurotransmitters that dull pain, enabling athletes to work harder. For example, a study by scientists at Oxford University found that rowers were able to tolerate pain induced by a blood pressure cuff twice as long after a group training session than after an otherwise identical solo training session.


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