If you haven’t yet signed up for a race, here are the reasons to consider crossing that starting line.
Adapted from Bart Yasso’s and Erin Strout’s new book, Runner’s World Race Everything: How to Conquer Any Race at Any Distance in Any Environment and Have Fun Doing It
The people on the sidelines shaking their heads, grumbling about the street closures, may never understand why so many of us rise with the roosters, put on our runners, and head to starting lines around the world every weekend. The easier choice is to sleep in, linger over the Sunday morning coffee and read the newspaper.
Not all people who run choose to race, of course. But I’ve found that putting events on the calendar can lead to all sorts of good results – not only the kind that are measured by times and PBs, but those less-tangible, quality-of-life ways, too.
Here are my top reasons runners should consider racing.
Running every day is an accomplishment. Running just a few times a week is an achievement, too. But registering for a race and forking over some hard-earned dollars gives your running increased importance and priority. Now you’re accountable because you have to be prepared to run to the best of your ability on a specified date. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to run your fastest, but it does mean you have committed to train as well as you can to cover the distance. Sometimes you just need to give yourself a deadline and a race will inevitably jumpstart your routine.
Often, races are just measuring sticks – opportunities to gauge where our fitness is and where it needs to improve. It’s easier to give yourself an honest check when you’ve pinned a race bib to your shirt and lined up with other people. You’re not there to compare yourself with everybody else, but the presence of those around you can bring more out of you than just another time trial by yourself. This isn’t a pass/fail test – it’s just a way to find out what you need to work on next.
A Change of Scenery
Every runner gets stuck in a rut once in a while, when training feels forced and the drudgery of the routine starts to wear us down. To me that is the perfect time to scan the Internet for events that offer some sort of new challenge or are in a place you’ve wanted to visit, but never had reason to go. You can find races in every corner of the world if you look hard enough. Finding one that stokes new inspiration or excitement can get you back on track.
I say it over and over again, but truly, the greatest gift that running has given me is this global community of like-minded people, most of whom I’ve met because of all the races I attend. If you train mostly on your own and you are looking for buddies, the first place to find them is at a race. You can strike up a conversation with just about anybody and it’s not even awkward. There’s a genuine “we’re all in this together” mentality among runners on a starting line.
Inspiration From the Top
One of the most unique parts about our sport is that anybody of any age or skill level can run the same race as the professional athletes. Those poor saps who take to the league basketball team will never play in the same game or on the same court as Steph Curry, but we runners line up behind Shalane Flanagan, Desiree Linden, and Meb Keflezighi all the time. They may finish hours ahead of us, but we’re following in their footsteps every step of the way. And that’s pretty cool.
Inspiration From Everywhere Else, Too
I leave races in awe of the accomplishments of so many different kinds of people. There are the older runners still crushing their goals. Then we see the newer people, some of them trying to lose a few kilos or just run further than they ever have before. People run while fighting cancer and other illnesses – their strength and determination is beyond admirable. If you’re looking for motivation, it’s everywhere. If you leave a race without being touched by it, make sure you still have a heart.
Be Better Than Before
Most of us aren’t there to win any prize money, though if that is your goal, more power to you and good luck! Races are the obvious place to go to be our best, to try to run faster than we ever have before. It’s you against the clock, you against a former version of yourself. A race can be a big turning point, a confidence booster, and an indication that you have more ability than you thought possible. Dreams come true at races. Just stand at a finish line for 15 minutes and watch the reactions of everybody reaching new heights.
Even on the days that don’t go our way, these events are also a setting where we can help others achieve their goals. If you’re not feeling 100 per cent, don’t hit snooze. Wake up, get yourself to the starting line, and help somebody else. Pace a friend or merely cheer on the people around you. You’ll be surprised how fulfilling it can be to spur somebody else on to her own greatness.
Support a Good Cause
So many events now donate proceeds to charities. Even if you’re not looking to blaze a new personal record, you can still sign up to run and know that your money is doing some good in the community.
If you’re at that point of marathon training when the long runs are getting really long, signing up for a race as part of that day’s training can help the kilometres fly by. If you have a 32K run on your plate, make a 10K part of it by running some of the kilometres beforehand and some afterward. The race portion of the long run can serve as a tempo or as the pace-work portion of the run. You’ll have instant running buddies, water stops, and even toilets readily available, should you need any of those amenities. And you’ll probably get a medal or a T-shirt for your efforts, which never happens after your typical Sunday morning grind.
Right. Did I forget to mention that running is supposed to be fun? Race events try to make it that way. Bands, food, festival-like finish line areas – it’s a celebration of running. You can’t help but get caught up in the atmosphere and smile. And smiling is a perfectly legal performance enhancer – we should all do it more often.
Get out of Your Comfort Zone
Registering for a race in which you’ve set a big, scary goal or one that’s further than you’ve ever gone before is uncomfortable. The butterflies and anxiety-ridden pre-race dreams confirm that. But there’s no better feeling than facing that kind of fear, staring it down, and learning you’re more capable than you realised. These kinds of racing moments transfer to every other aspect of our lives, somehow making us realise we can excel in our careers, relationships, and other areas we hope to improve. We open doors to all sorts of possibilities with each finish line we cross.