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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