I don’t believe that you have to race to be considered a runner. I don’t believe that you have to race to prove your times or prove your ability or prove your status and legitimacy as a runner. I don’t believe that running is only done because you are training for a race, or that there’s no point in going for a run if you don’t have an end goal.
In fact I’m more about not racing if you don’t want to. You don’t like it; it doesn’t make you happy? Don’t do it. I’m not about just racing for the sake of it or because it’s what you are supposed to do, or because that’s what runners do. Is it something that you do?
Maybe you don’t know yet. Maybe you aren’t that experienced with racing and are just starting out in this whole running thing and are trying to find your place. Or maybe you have done a few races, but you aren’t really sure how you feel about them and part of you is itching to go again, while part of you is remembering those feelings of anxiety, or that you were’t good enough. Or that it just hurt really bad and you aren’t sure you want to do it again.
But what if we took all of that away and we just talked about using racing for learning. Not for comparing times, or beating records. Not for setting PRs or proving your validity as a runner. Not for qualifying or timing or pacing or pushing. Just to teach you something about yourself and your running and you as a runner. There are lots you can learn from races:
- What you are capable of – Races push you to your bitter ends. Whether it’s the ends where you don’t think you are going to make it and you are literally putting one foot in front of the other to get to the finish line, or it’s the ends where you are on the edge of getting a PR and you are pushing yourself as hard as you can. And we say that we train hard, and that we push ourselves in training, but sometimes the race lets us do magical things and get to places we never thought we could go.
- That you are part of a community – You likely hear the idea tossed around a lot of runners being part of this great community where we are all each other’s biggest fans, biggest supporter, training partner and motivation. If you haven’t experienced that yet, or just don’t know what anybody could be talking about, come to a race. Come to a race and see the amazing cheering and support you get from the sidelines and on the course. Come to a race and see how many people actually help you out when you are down or struggling, and more than that, how other people will help you help yourself when you want to give up or don’t know if you can do anymore.
- Your threshold – Whenever I am doing something in my every day life and it hurts, or it’s hard, or I think I want to quit, or I don’t know if I can do it, I think back to my hardest races. The ones that I struggle through the most, that hurt the worst and that pushed me to my lowest lows. And I remember that on those days I did it anyway, and today I can too. What you learn about yourself from races is applicable to your every day life, your every day activities, your every day challenges, and it gives you a much better perspective of your threshold of how far you can go.
- How to pick yourself back up – Sometimes you have a bad race. You don’t nail your PR, you don’t qualify for Boston, you don’t feel good and at your best, and every part becomes a struggle. And in your mind, for a while, you see that you have failed, because you didn’t do the one thing you set out to do that day. But that sadness and disappointment passes. Running has this way of pulling us back into its grip and making us want more, even when at one point we said “I’m never doing that again!” And so you pick yourself up and you put the pieces back together and you put everything behind you and start again. Because running teaches you how to not give up.
- How to challenge yourself – For many of us, whether we realize it or not, we often float through life without really being that challenged. Our job is the same, our day-to-day life at home is the same, dealing with the kids is the same, and really we are just in this routine that has minimal deviation. And so running is where you get to challenge yourself. It’s where you get to take on a hard, lofty goal that scares you, that you doubt and question, but that you tackle anyway. Because running lets you challenge yourself. And you may be surprised at your own success!
The next time you see an upcoming race, don’t look at is as something you have to do because you are a runner, or think you have to do it because all your other running friends are. Instead, look at it and say what if? What if I ran that as a challenge for myself? What if I ran that to see how much I am truly capable of? What if I ran that because I am part of this incredible running community and that is something worth celebrating!