A friend of mine once asked me why I run races. It was unusual only in that she herself is a runner. My initial response was, “Well, doesn’t every runner want to run at least one race at some point in his/her life?” In my friend’s mind, she didn’t feel the usual desire to prove to herself or to anyone else how far or how fast she could run. Paying an entry fee and showing up early on weekend morning certainly didn’t make races more enticing. I almost got her to run a trail race with me 2 years ago, but alas, she forgot to register and said she was too hungover to run anyway.
Anyway, my point is that, despite all of the races I’d run, I didn’t have a great answer to her question. Most of the time, I registered for races to motivate myself to run more regularly. Sometimes, it was because my friends were running a race, and I thought, “Why not? Sounds fun.” Only in a couple of instances have I set a specific goal and trained for it.
Yesterday, TC and I ran the Lake Merritt Joggers and Striders Annual Couples Relay. It was a 10K where I ran the first 5K and TC ran the second half. For the first time ever, I was nervous. Maybe because we were running as a team and I didn’t want to let TC down, or maybe because I’ve been training for the Oakland Half, so I knew that I should be able to break my personal record (PR). I had even dreamt about running the race and then getting trapped in molasses 100 feet from the finish line. Ridiculous, right?
As we walked to the race, TC and I talked strategy. He asked when he should expect to start his leg of the race. Since I’ve never come in under 30 minutes for a 5K, I told him to start looking for me at 28 minutes, but maybe that was even pushing it. I thought the best way to manage my surprising case of nerves was to lower expectations.
Then, the race started and I was off! I noticed I was running at a much faster pace than usual. I kept checking in with myself to make sure I could keep up the pace. I don’t know if it was the adrenaline or what, but I was speeding along at a sub-9 minute/mile pace. (Keep in mind, I usually run at 10 minutes/mile.) That’s when I started to worry — why did I tell TC 28 minutes?? At this rate, I was bound to finish faster than that. Oh well, I thought. He’s a smart guy; hopefully he’ll figure it out. Luckily he did, and when I finished my leg at 27:42, I was exhausted but very excited. I broke my PR by over 2 minutes and ran at a 8:56 pace! TC did great too with a time of 20:52, even though he was disappointed he didn’t beat his PR from last year of 19:27. As a team, we came in 52nd out of 146, so I’m pretty proud of how we did.
I know it might not seem like a big deal to most people, but breaking my PR by that much was a big deal to me. Yesterday’s 5K experience also put into sharp focus why I race:
– To prove that on any given day (not of your own choosing), you can get it done. Without a race, you can run whenever and however (slow, fast) you want. If you have a minor ailment or if you’re feeling tired, you can sit it out. But not on race day. On race day, you suck it up and run your hardest. You can rest tomorrow.
– To compete with yourself as well as with others. Races are funny. Yes, you’re running against other people, but unless you’re a super elite runner, you’re mostly competing against yourself. Also, I think that running is unusual because you can draw strength from your competitors. For instance, yesterday, I used the runners ahead of me for pacing and motivation. I believe that’s how I was able to cut my mile pace by a minute.
– To participate in the running community. For such a solitary sport, it’s nice to be with others for a change. Usually, I run alone or with one other person, so it’s a pretty cool feeling to be running with a pack of people. It is especially cool when the group spans all ages, sizes, and ethnicities. Also, it might sound cheesy and weird, but seeing all of the people that come out on race day gives me hope that not every American is a lazy couch potato.
With the confidence boost from yesterday’s 5K, I’m really excited to tackle the half marathon in 4 weeks! What about y’all — any big plans for races this year or thoughts about racing?