April 30, 2016

Why I run races (which I have no hope of winning)

"I hope you win!" my daughter said the first time I told her I was running a race. I laughed. 

A more realistic goal is to finish without injury, and to not delay the people picking up the traffic cones. 

I'm slow. I'm overweight. I'm not especially competitive.

So why do I run races?

1. It pushes me.

I sign up for races months ahead of time, because I love the forward momentum of training.

"I'm training for a half marathon" has been my reason to schedule running dates with myself, to pack sneakers on business trips, to veer off my familiar trail, to download new playlists, and to push past my comfort zone. These actions aren't just making me a better runner; they're making me better. 

2. Race day energy.

I get intoxicated by the collective buzz of a crowd gathered to do something healthy and challenging. There's upbeat music, runners wearing tutus and superhero capes, and scores of cheerful people handing out water or applauding the runners from the curb.

Who are these people? I don't know, but I'm grateful for their support. I make a point of smiling and acknowledging every stranger who brightens my way. 

3. It's fun with friends.

The Cheese Curd 5k: My favorite race theme so far.

I love any excuse to spend time with my friends, and a race is a fun bonding experience. The anticipation, the joy of finishing, and the post-race brunch are all best shared. 

4. Swag.

Sure, I could go to a store and buy a t-shirt or a pint glass, and I haven't figured out a use for those finisher's medals, but there's something special about a tangible reminder of my effort and accomplishment. I showed up. I worked hard. I earned that ugly orange shirt! 

Not my best color.
Race swag also builds community. When I see someone wearing a matching "Women Rock" jacket, I feel instant kinship - because we do, in fact, rock.

5. Weather: the element of chance.

If I wake to drizzle on a regular Saturday, I'll skip my run or take it indoors. But on race day, I'm all in. I ran a New Year's 5k when it was 2 below zero. My friend and I ran a half marathon relay in the rain, slogging through mud and finishing as drenched as if we had been swimming. 

I watch the forecast, hope for the best, and remind myself it's win-win. I'll either enjoy nice running weather, or I'll be miserable for a couple of hours and have a good story to tell afterward.

Soggiest race ever.
6. Post-race snacks.

No matter what they're serving at the end of the race, it will be the best that thing ever. I've had champagne and truffles, hot cocoa, and cheese curds (not all at the same race). Even a waxy red apple is mind-blowing when a volunteer hands it to you moments after you've crossed the finish line. You're no longer running; you're now eating. Wow.

7. There's always someone who puts it all into perspective.

At the start of a race, runners line up by speed, with the fastest at the front. It minimizes chaos and jostling for position. I run in the back with the chubby moms and the moderately active seniors. I always meet someone with a powerful reason to race, something more meaningful than my pursuit of swag, snacks, and fun.

Some people wear their reasons on their shirts, literally: "Cancer survivor." "100 pounds lost." "In memory of __."

Last year, I met a woman my age who started racing after being diagnosed with MS. She wanted to use her legs to their fullest while she still could.

There are runners who win races by beating others to the finish line, and there are runners who win just by finishing.


Jessica Bring said...

All great reasons! Along with they are addictive, the post run endorphins and setting an amazing example. Way to be so inspiring.

Anne O said...

Thanks for getting real on this - I also am not a champion runner and I get teased for being slow. But I enjoy it! I'm not looking to be number 1!