Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Why race?

I occasionally meet other runners who seem to train all the time but never race. If asked about it, they either say that they just don’t care to race, or that they don’t like racing. If you press them, they sometimes will claim that they are not competitive and/or dislike people who are. Hmm. I suppose that I can accept that for some people running is a kind of meditative experience and that jumping into a race would feel uncomfortable. On the other hand, life is filled with uncomfortable experiences, some of which are not only important, but lead to deeper self-awareness and personal growth. If you never challenge yourself, then how can you know who you really are? You say you don't like people who are competitive? Good luck with that one, because it's human nature to compete (Disagree? Observe a group of children for an hour and get back to me). Furthermore (and leaving the psychobabble behind) putting a few races on your calendar is likely to make you a better runner, period. Here are some of the reasons that I think all runners should plan to participate in at least a few races every year:
  • Racing is honest. It provides you with an objective measuring stick for your fitness. The clock does not lie. The results of your races can be used to establish the proper training paces for your workouts, which will lead to improvement.
  • Racing provides focus to your running. It guides your training cycles (weeks of build up, peak, race, recover, repeat), which in turn makes you a better runner and reduces your risk of injury. With no races on the calendar, you can get into a rut, do the same workouts week after week, eventually tire and feel burned out.
  • Racing provides focus to your lifestyle. When you have a race planned you are likely to eat better, get to bed earlier, spend more time at home with your family, limit your distractions and vices.
  • Racing inspires. You are inspired by those around you, and they in turn by you (that goes for your fellow runners as well as spectators and supporters).
  • Racing motivates. This is especially true if you are a member of a team or have friends in the same race. There is something about a race that I call the pull-push phenomenon: The fastest runners at the front of the race “pull” the rest of the field along and help everyone to better performances … but in addition the back of the pack, by running hard and doing their best, also "push" the front of the pack to faster and better performances.
  • Racing is exhilarating. It is a peak experience. Racing is an opportunity to challenge yourself and your boundaries, to feel truly and completely alive.
  • Racing is satisfying. George Sheehan said, “Happiness is different from pleasure. Happiness has something to do with struggling and enduring and accomplishing.” Pleasure is cheap and readily available, you can get pleasure from a good ice cream cone ... but you get true happiness by pushing yourself and battling your inner demons until you have succeeded, and a race is a perfect crucible for that experience.
  • Racing is self-affirming. By completing a race, you realize the reward for the preparation. You feel the glow of having reached for a goal and achieved it.
  • Racing is a fun and social activity. It is a chance to see your friendly rivals and to meet potential new ones. It is a shared experience. In a race, you have become part of a community. We’re all in this together, after all.
  • Racing is ACTIVE, not passive. In a race, no matter your pace, you are doing instead of just watching. In an of itself, doesn’t that just feel good?

So, sign up for a race soon. See if you can prove me wrong on one, some, or all of the above. Then again, you might discover something I’ve missed … if so, send it along.

See you at the starting line.


  1. Pleasure is cheap and readily available, you can get pleasure from a good ice cream cone -- That's awesome.

    See you in Sept.

    Denis Tranchemacallit

  2. Well said, Douglas. I agree with everything you said. I actually enjoy racing more than training. And one of the things I love most about racing? Right after, talking to strangers and friends about the race and how people did and felt.



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