This week’s Take It and Run Thursday is hosted by MCM Mama, and she wants to know, “Why do you race?”
Before I launch into my reply, I should mention that it actually is Thursday (night) that I am writing this, but there is something wrong with blogger tonight and I cannot open a new post, or much of anything else in blogger. So I’m writing now and hoping that things will be fixed on Friday so I can post properly. (Ed. Comment: too tired to finish on Thursday night, too busy to finish on Friday or Saturday, now hoping to finish and possibly even post on Sunday night! But maybe Monday.)
Okay then. I am happy to respond to a topic suggested by MCM Mama, because I feel like we have a kind of bloggy bond…our race and running paces are very similar, and I feel like we could enjoy running together if we didn’t live on opposite sides of the country and, you know, not actually know each other at all.
I had been running for quite a while before it ever occurred to me to sign up for a race. In fact, to go back even further (many, many decades), I ran for fun and exercise (well, for exercise, anyway) back in high school and college, in off and on spells, but the idea of signing up for something as competitive as a 5K horrified me. (I had a friend who once expressed interest in it, but I rejected the concept soundly!)
After all, I didn’t even run in track or cross country. That, too, would never occur to me, because I was not a fast runner, and only fast runners did track. I am still not a fast runner, but nowadays a 9-minute pace, which was pathetic back in 9th grade, is suddenly quite reasonable for a 44-year-old person (not even just a 44-year-old female), and when I run faster than that, I am, suddenly, almost competitive!
But I’ve jumped ahead of myself.
Back in the spring of 2006 I had been treadmill running for about a year, and had just ventured into outside running on a trip to England. I thought I would go back to the treadmill when I got home (and I did), but that June I happened to pick up a flier for the Race for the Cure 5K at Starbucks one day.
It seems so simple and silly now, but it was a BIG decision back then to do something as momentous as sign up for a formal 5K race. But I had an irresistible urge to participate in a running event that was bigger and more formal and organized than my morning treadmill run. I even made an effort to collect donations and ended up raising more than $500.
In many ways that first Race for the Cure was my favorite of the ones (Races for the Cure) I’ve done. As I’ve become more race-sophisticated I have been frustrated by the crowds, the walkers that crowd the front of the pack, and the way the race has turned into a fun run more than a formal race. First they dropped the official timing (though there is a clock), then stopped assigning bib numbers (really, they just handed them out randomly). But not to complain—I did enough of that in my posts about the runs.
But back then it was all fun and new to me. I had no idea how fast or slow I would run, but I felt safe lining up with the 10-minute mile crowd (back then they had pace signs, something soon abandoned). When I finished the race I was shocked and delighted to see my time was under 30 minutes—far better than I dreamed. Things changed for me right there. That race was the last time I would run a race without caring about my pace!
I was hooked. Soon I signed up for the Yankee Doodle Dash 10K on July 4, then another 5K on my birthday in August, a 10K in September, and the Jingle Bell Run 5K in December. And by December I was making plans to run the Whidbey Island Half Marathon the following April!
My racing addiction was picking up tempo. In 2007 I ran two half marathons, two 15K’s, and a bunch of 5 and 10K’s. In 2008, I ran six half marathons, plus all the rest! And a couple of 8K’s and one 12K. 2008 was really my biggest year as far as volume.
But you know what? Until sometime in mid-2008, I never worried about PR’s. I wanted to do well, I wanted to run fast, I wanted to win an occasional age-group ribbon in the small local races. But I never expected that each race would, or could, be faster than the one before it. Sure, I was disappointed if I was unexpectedly slower than I wanted to be. But I was satisfied with a typical pace of 8:30-8:45 in short and medium distance runs, and around 9:00 (give or take a few seconds) in the longer runs.*
So why, if my standards were so “low,” did I keep signing up for so many races?
Well, first, I still ran a lot faster in a race than I could just on my own. Something about the competition and adrenaline, you know? So races were an opportunity to push myself in a way I usually could not, or did not.** Races are really the ultimate, best tempo runs.
Second, I do love the race atmosphere. Being surrounded by runners, who are such happy, buzzy people! Even my mother, who does not run (and barely manages to take pictures of me running), likes a race crowd.
Third, I do it for the shirt. I am only joking a little. The race shirt is a tangible, usable, commemorative of the race, and proof! I wear some of mine to the Y (even the cotton ones), and the nicer technical shirts I use for running. I’ll admit I have too many cotton shirts, and some are now stored away as mementos. I like noticing other people in shirts from the races they’ve run, especially if they’re ones that I did too! I am generally too shy to strike up a conversation though.
And I do it for the bling (a bit). I like getting the medal at the end of half marathons (wish they always had them) and the ribbons in my age group awards. I don’t really have anywhere to put them, or at least I haven’t designated a spot, so I let my parents keep them and they have them on a shelf in the living room. It’s a little bit of fun for them because my sister and I never did anything to get ribbons and trophies when we were young!
Finally, I like the way it makes me feel when I sprint across the finish line. Triumphant! Even if I haven’t PR’d, or won (obviously), or placed in my age group. I’ve finished a race, and that’s a victory!
*15K and Half Marathons.
**It’s still true. Even though my speed work and tempo runs have made me a lot faster in general, I cannot achieve the speeds I do in races!