I’ve been thinking a lot this week about running and racing for fun. As I’ve mentioned many times on this blog, when I first started running, I made a promise to myself that I would not ever let it become just another competitive activity. I took every activity I tried very seriously when I was a kid, and running was going to be something I did just for me, to have fun, get outside in the fresh air, and get away from the craziness of life in law school. And then, about six months after I started running, I entered my first 10K race.
I kept my promise during that 10K and the few races that followed in the first year. I was just happy to be running, and when I crossed the finish line of my first half marathon in March 2014, about a year to the day after I first laced up, I began to dream of completing a full marathon not out of any sense of competition, but as something of a lifetime achievement, a personal goal.
I was injured later that spring, and didn’t really get into racing again until the autumn. Then I ran my second half marathon, the Walt Disney World Half Marathon in January 2015, and took a second stab at the New York City Half Marathon. I was just happy to be able to run again after months of even the slightest move from a walk to a jog causing me hip pain, and it was only later last spring that I decided to go for my goal of finishing a full marathon by completing the New York Road Runners 9+1 program for entry in 2016.
Suddenly, I was signing up to race on a biweekly basis. From late last May through June, I ran 4 races in 5 weeks. More than I ever planned on racing in a year, let alone a month. I didn’t care about my times or anything other than finishing and getting my 9+1 credits, but I realized that no matter what, when I’m in a race, I’m going a little faster, pounding the pavement a little harder, and need a bit more recovery afterwards. That recovery is mental as well as physical.
I didn’t consider the mental part until later last year. I took all of July and August off racing during bar exam crunch time and my travels to England, though I was still running. On my bar trip to California, the start of which was the Dumbo Double Dare, I ran a 10K and half marathon. By the end of the weekend I understood. I took it easy during the first few miles of the half, stopping for photos, enjoying the sunrise over an Anaheim boulevard, and running very negative splits without even trying in what ended up being my “slowest” half to date. Afterwards when I called my parents, my mom asked if I’d gotten sick, since I was “so slow” the first 5k. I was surprised, and said of course not, I was just having fun during the first few miles since they were in the theme parks, there were lots of photo ops, and in my mind the whole race was about enjoying myself. It was part of my post-exam bar trip and I was in Disneyland with my cousin and good friend. What more did I need?
The truth is, I didn’t need more. I didn’t need to run at a particular pace or finish in a specific amount of time. For some people, racing is both fun and a competition. For me, fun and competition are inversely proportional. Achieving a PR in the 4-mile race that marked the end of my 9+1, and at my recent third try at the New York City Half Marathon, did make me genuinely happy. But I didn’t plan on a PR in either case, and it wasn’t my focus. It meant more to me for reasons other than running. And in neither case did I need as much mental recovery as I did in the races last spring, when I kept lining up in a corral week after week and running and racing began to feel like more of a chore than a gift.
I’m thrilled that I get to run the New York City Marathon this November. I’m glad I completed my 9+1 and ran all those races last year, because it means I get to work towards that big goal. But I don’t think I’d ever race that much again, because I want to keep racing for fun. I sometimes smile on the run when I’m reminded that being able to be outside and on the fly is a blessing, and I wouldn’t want any race to change that.
Why do you run races?
Do you find that race recovery is mental as well as physical?
What’s your biggest running goal?
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13 thoughts on “Racing For Fun”
This was a great post, Alyssa!
As you know from reading my blog, racing for fun has always been a concept that’s a little lost on me, despite my best efforts. It’s a little different with the marathon though – it’s just a different experience than lining up at the start line of a shorter distance that you could just randomly decide to do any weekend, and for that reason, there is always a sense of accomplishment and pride in just finishing the darn thing.
As for the recovery, I tend to bounce back pretty quickly from races, mentally and physically, and I think that contributes to my competitive attitude. I almost wish I needed more recovery time, as it might force me to be more selective about how much I take on and reevaluate my attitude going into races.
One of the things I love so much about races is that “magic” that’s often in the air, the butterflies, the adrenaline, the shared experience with hundred or thousands of strangers (and I’m an introvert!). But lately I’ve found that except for marathons, races don’t have that spark anymore, which is why I’ve decided to take a break soon and reevaluate so I can hopefully appreciate them more and get that “magic” back.
That’s such a good plan, because the spark is really what fuels a good run, isn’t it?
This really made me think….Racing for me has been a mix of fun and work. When I first started running, I was out there racing all the time. I mean like every weekend. I loved it! I could see the improvement every week and it became more fun! Then I started helping my friends. All of the sudden I wasn’t racing as much (due to them getting longer and life happening). But the fun wasn’t there as much. Someone else was always counting on me to pace them or train with them or do something else with them. I wasn’t focused on me and why I loved it anymore. So much so that I put my training last to focus on friends and ended up injured.
Since then they still bug me to run with them and I decline. I want the fun back in the race, the smiles to be there in reality not just for show.
So my biggest race goal…run them for me! I have my first race that I am running just for me without any friends in two weeks! I can’t wait to see what it feels like to be out there again because I want to be!!! 🙂
‘I made a promise to myself that I would not ever let it become just another competitive activity.’
If you are gifted and running and naturally fast, I think it’s fantastic if you get some top places, but I love that you want running to still be fun and enjoyable. I did so many races a couple years ago that running started to lose its joy. This year, I’ve been doing running 3 days a week, but I haven’t done very many races. Running is becoming fun again! 🙂
I have yet to enter my first race, and I think a big part of the reason why I’m so hesitant is because I don’t want running to become super competitive for me. Right now I’m running at a pace that I enjoy and not really paying attention to numbers…. and I think that’s the main reason I was able to stick with it for so long, because before I’d just get caught up in the numbers game and start hating it.
I definitely understand why you feel that way. I think after the Marathon I won’t be racing much even if I continue to do long runs on a weekly basis.
Oh my goodness yes, you nailed it – race recovery is as mental as physical! Even if my body handled it fine, I don’t think I could race more than 4 times per year. Granted, I tend to release my competitive side during races, which for me is fun but only in small doses. The rest of the year, running for the pure joy of running is fun. So excited for you to run your first marathon this year!!
This is great! I race a lot, but I don’t run all of my races for PRs. I am like you though, I don’t ever want to be running when I don’t love it and aren’t doing it for fun. I will be running NYC marathon this fall too 🙂 It’s going to be EPIC!!!!
I absolutely run for fun! especially Disney races!
I like racing for fun, too. There are one or two races I’ll choose each year to try to PR but other than that, I like to keep things light.
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