I’ve run nearly every day of my life for the past nine years. There are precious few things in life that I love more than lacing up my shoes and going out for a run. It doesn’t matter where I’m going (provided I’m safe) or how long I’m out there because as long as I’m moving, I’m happy. An hours-long run through the mountains, a handful of minutes around my neighborhood block, or a solid half-hour session on my local school track: the variety is endless. It all depends on what I’m in the mood for and what race is on my calendar.
Having the opportunity to race – to compete with both others (extrinsically) and yourself (intrinsically) – is an opportunity that few other sports give their recreational athletes once they graduate from school. While I’ll never be able to play basketball at Madison Square Garden, I can still run the very same Boston Marathon that the world’s best and most elite runners traverse, which is a pretty special and cool feeling.
While many runners love to run simply for the sake of running, for many other people, they find a greater joy and a greater pull for racing. There are definitely some benefits to racing, and for me, I really like the structure that training gives me, and I love toeing the line and pushing my limits to see what I’m capable of.
If you’re a regular or semi-regular runner – or hell, even if you’re just starting out – I can’t recommend enough that you sign-up for your first race. Here’s why:
Putting a race date on the calendar will help keep you accountable. I don’t think I know a single human who says that he or she has tons of time to kill every day; most people I know say quite the opposite, that there aren’t enough hours in the day, and that if they could only eke out one more hour, they’d get so much more done, including exercise. Many people often say this stuff because they want to get into a regular fitness or running routine but feel like they can’t, and they get discouraged day after day and eventually fall victim to bad habits and unhealthy choices. I’ll admit that sometimes the last thing I want to do is go out for a run, but when I have a race on my calendar – one that I’m training for and one that I paid my hard-earned money on – I get out there and do what I need to do, excuses be damned. More often than not, race entry fees are non-transferable and non-refundable, so if you sign-up and don’t train, chances are high that you won’t show up on race day, and you’re essentially throwing your cash down the drain. Even when the weather is horrible, if there’s a race on my radar, I figure it out and do what I need to do to train so that come race day, I know I am prepared as possible and have zero regrets and thoughts about what I “should have done.” There is great peace in knowing that you’re standing at the starting line prepared.
Training for a race will show you how strong you are. How many times in your adult life do you get to see and experience firsthand how physically and mentally strong you are? Or better yet, how many times do you get the opportunity to test your physical and mental limits? Training for a race gives you all of these opportunities each week for months at a time. It can be uncomfortable to venture outside your comfort zone, but it’ll in these non-comfort-zone areas that you’ll find out how strong you really are, both mentally and physically, and when you get comfortable being uncomfortable – running farther distances or running faster paces – you’ll be able to push yourself in ways that you never could have imagined doing. It’s intimidating, sure, but it’s also exhilarating.
It’ll structure your training and shake things up. We runners like our routines, but again, it’s when we’re outside our comfort zones that we grow as athletes. When you’re training for a race, you’ll likely find that you run distances, paces, and workouts that you usually don’t do. To be sure, you’ll still have days where you can simply “just run” for a set number of miles or minutes, but you’ll also shaking things up by running in ways that you probably weren’t doing before – workouts like tempo runs, track work, long runs, hills, fartleks, trail runs, and the list goes on. Variety is the spice of life, after all.
Take a tip from Nike, and just do it. You’ve got nothing to lose by signing up for your first race. Provided that you’re healthy, able to train for whatever the distance is that you’re eying, and that you’re uninjured, seriously, why not race? It can be so easy to wait to race until something else happens first, but take life by the reigns and control your own destiny, as cheesy as that sounds. There will inevitably always be some reason that you’ll use against yourself, a reason that you’ll rationalize necessitates you waiting to race “some other time,” but more often than not, excuses are garbage. Stop procrastinating, and just do it. Give yourself a chance.
The running community is very welcoming, and you’ll see that firsthand when you’re toeing the line at your first race. Running is very popular right now, from running 5ks on roads all the way up to running 100-milers on trails and mountains, and with a little research and some appropriate training and planning, you’ll surely be able to find the distance that suits your fancy.
Writing from Copenhagen, Denmark, Dan is an entrepreneur, husband and ultramarathon distance runner. He spends most of his time on runnerclick.com, monicashealthmag.com and nicershoes.com. He has been featured on runner blogs all over the world.