How an Avocado Heist Made me a Better Athlete

I took a screenwriting class in college where one of our first assignments was to find a news article with some type of conflict that could be turned into a screenplay. I brought in an article about how agricultural restrictions in New Zealand led to a booming black market for avocados, and subsequently caused an increase in avocado theft. I pitched the story of an avocado farmer who, in a Home Alone-esque style, defends his farm from avocado robbers. It was received well by the class; however, my professor bestowed some wisdom that has stuck with me more than maybe anything else I learned in school: visible, external conflict is uninspiring. The story of a couple of guys fighting over avocados is, in and of itself, boring. My professor challenged me to think about what the farmer’s inner motivations are; that is, what truly drives him to fight the good fight?

“But you gotta search within you, you gotta find that inner strength
And just pull that shit out of you and get that motivation to not give up
And not be a quitter, no matter how bad you want to just fall flat on your face and collapse”

-Eminem, “‘Till I Collapse”

Sure, the avocado farmer has no love for the men trying to steal his livelihood, but in the end, it was the ridicule over his love for avocados he had endured his entire life that drove him to put his foot down, suit up, and put it all on the line in an epic orchard battle. The farmer found something deep within himself that motivated him much more than any “stand your ground” instinct could, and his lesson is one that constantly comes to mind as I feel my mental game slip during a workout or race.

Especially during the winter, I spend a lot of time riding my bike inside in the aptly nicknamed, “pain-cave”. While I would certainly rather be riding outside, its undeniable that a solid trainer session is one of the most beneficial and satisfying workouts out there. These conditions; brutal difficulty and lack of mental stimulation; create a perfect storm of mental weakness that threatens the quality of each training session. So, what do I tell myself to overcome this and more importantly, am I going relate this back to our dear avocado farmer?

Not all trainer rides have terrible scenery…

The answer is of course, but not quite yet, so bear with me. Tangentially related to this topic of motivation is the idea of competing vs. completing. If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone say, “I’m just trying to finish my first triathlon”, or for each post I saw on a forum asking for tips on how not to die during a race, well, let’s just say I wouldn’t be riding my seven-year-old triathlon bike anymore. When someone unfamiliar with the world of triathlon congratulates me after a race for “finishing”, I have what is probably an unflattering obsession with correcting them. I, of course, say thank you and then go on to explain that at this point the goal isn’t just to finish but to be a part of the race. While the definition of “compete” is extremely relative depending on the fitness and goals of the racer, I believe it is a crucial distinction and one that has helped me bridge the gap between professional triathlete Ben Deal versus being talented but underachieving high school runner Ben Deal.

To be clear, I only truly realized the value of this in the past year or so. I’ve always been a natural athlete; but it wasn’t until I found triathlon that I became a motivated competitor. For me, this shift of compete versus complete meant not just setting goals more aggressive than just finishing but in putting in the work to achieve them. During that trainer workout, barriers will fall. I might drop my power target by 20 watts, or I might cut an interval off the end, but that doesn’t mean I’m not competing. Relying on the thought, “I need to get through this. I just want to finish,” to push through the pain is an exercise in futility for me. I know this because I’ve been there. Even just changing the mental phrasing of “complete” to “compete against myself”, could mean the difference between getting through a workout or a race. Most importantly, however, opening my mind to the prospect of competition and conflict allows for stronger sources of motivation, just like what the farmer has. An obvious, external challenge such as oxygen deprivation during an interval (the training equivalent of our farmer engaging in a fight just because his avocados are being stolen), is real and yet unmotivating. Finding a genuine internal source, however, unlocks new levels of self-encouragement and motivation.

During a hard bike ride, it’s not me vs. the watts. It’s me vs. the knowledge that my competitors are pushing higher watts and doing harder workouts at the very same time.

During a tempo run, it’s not me vs. a six-minute mile pace. It’s me vs. the knowledge that I’m capable of running a six-minute mile pace and I have no excuse as to why I’m not.

During a low energy day, it’s not me vs. being lazy and skipping the workout. It’s me vs. the insecurity of how it will look when I don’t deliver on the lofty goals I confidently stated to friends and family.

As corny as it sounds, my mental war will never be won fighting surface battles. Only a deep acceptance of my internal conflicts allow my body to push past my mind. Our farmer friend knew this, and when he made his mind up to stand his ground and fight for his farm, he didn’t go in as a completer, but as a competitor.

End note: If you would like to read my full screenplay you can download it here. It was my first complete screenplay and it may not be perfect, but I do think it’s some of my more inspired work from school.


  • Dave Loomis

    I enjoyed reading this, and getting a little insight into the mind of a true competitor. I have always enjoyed watching endurance events, whether they be triathlons or Everest climbs, because I have a deep respect for and fascination of the mental toughness that it takes to compete/complete.

    Your article also has some relevance to my efforts at present (although at a much more plebeian, ordinary level). I am training to run my first (and probably last) marathon in the spring, and although I am one of those complete not compete guys (obviously, I am 55 years old and my knees hurt after each run), the mental game has been the biggest challenge. When I do multiple 2-mile laps in the neighborhood, a part of me wants to stop each time I pass the mail box. On today’s long run (13 miles), several times I caught myself thinking defeatist thoughts, and had refocus on the mile I was on and the goal to respectably complete a marathon. It really is the mind more than the body that seeks to limit our accomplishments.

    • Ben

      Awesome that you’re going for your first marathon. If you haven’t already, you’ll probably have a longer run than any I’ve ever done (18 miles)! While I will at some point do a marathon, I’ve got no interest now and it gives me greater admiration for anyone doing them.

      I definitely understand the struggle of just wanting to turn in, especially when you’re running loops. I also have a 2 mile loop I do often and every time I pass the exit I’m tempted to head home and call it a day. Thankfully I find that it only takes a few seconds of mental toughness to commit to the next 2 miles; as soon as I take a few steps away from the exit the only way out for me is all the way around again.

  • Joe Wilson

    Dood! This is some good stuff. Thanks for posting. I really like the competing vs completing mantra. I’ve been saying this for years. I am trying to be part of the race. Good luck in your upcoming season.

    • Ben

      Thank you for reading! I’m glad it spoke to you. I think your line there, “be part of the race,” is a great summary of my mindset. Anyone can do all 3 parts of a triathlon at home on our own time but the fact is that we paid money to do it with other people; might as well take advantage of all that has to offer.

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