I don’t recall what triggered the thought, but over the Thanksgiving break I had a little insight into the vital difference between a challenge and a competition. A competition is something like a sporting event where there can only be one winner (excluding ties). It is an event where the winner is determined as a function of relative position. A challenge is an event where there can be multiple winners because winning is determined as a function of achievement based on static criteria.
A marathon provides a good example of both. Winning a marathon is a competition. The winning time of any one race has no bearing on the outcome of other races. Your time in one race may be too slow to win while the same time in another race would constitute first place. Finishing a marathon is a challenge – any marathon runner will congratulate any other on the accomplishment of running that 26.2 mile race. Finishing a marathon in under 3 hours is a challenge – no matter how many people accomplish the feat, my finishing in under three hours does not diminish your success in finishing in under three hours.
The distinction here might seem trivial, but I believe that we can find valuable benefits from being able to distinguish between a competition and a challenge. For some non-athletic examples: getting elected to a political office is a competition (assuming you are not unapposed) while getting into heaven is a challenge.