Fitness Articles

Discover Your Reason to Race

Advice From a Former Olympian Marathoner

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Racing teaches us to challenge ourselves. It teaches us to push beyond where we thought we could go. It helps us to find out what we are made of.
                                                                          – Patti Sue Plumer

The words "I’m too slow" are perhaps the most used three words of any would-be racer or racing veteran. Many runners head to the starting line with the fear that they will be the last one to finish. Then they surprise themselves and cross the finish line well ahead of other runners. Better yet, they are well beyond their own personal goals. No one is too slow to run a race. In fact, many of today’s races welcome both walkers and runners of all abilities. Everyone is applauded for simply participating.

There are so many great reasons to go to the races. For sport, competition, camaraderie, motivation, achievement, causes and just for the fun of it all.

GOOD TIMES
It used to be that racing was purely competitive. A bunch of skinny runners, predominantly men, would charge down a road with grim faces and skimpy clothes. Some would collect their prizes and promptly head home. All of that has changed. Of course, I give women more credit than men for this great boom in racing.

Marathons, 10Ks and 5Ks have now become huge events. Hoards of runners and walkers of all ages and abilities, along with their families, neighbors, friends and co-workers band together to walk or run countless races. The courses are unique, the entertainment is fun, and the fans are plentiful. Some races are known for their parties afterwards or the food and drink at the finish line. That’s the fun stuff and a great way to tie everything together – work hard, play hard.

You can choose what you want to get out of each race for yourself. Maybe this one is for your strongest and fastest effort? Perhaps you are going to help another friend get to the finish, or this could be the family affair in which you spend some quality time with spouses and children. It could even benefit a charity that’s close to your heart.

INSPIRATION AND IMPROVEMENT
When I was competing, I used races as goals to help keep me motivated and focused. I often found that when I didn’t have a race planned, it was much easier to stray from my quality training and goof off a bit. There was nothing to look forward to or "test" myself with.

If you have trouble getting out the door regularly, commit to doing a race even if you don’t want to run it competitively. Sometimes a local 5K or 10K race is the ideal place for this. The distance doesn’t dictate extensive training. They don’t take a lot of time out of your day. They usually benefit a charity and they’re generally a lot of fun to be around.

For those I coach, I write down a training schedule that takes them up to the date of that race. It’s so nice to have a plan that guarantees that they will be able to run a good race. Consequently, most people follow the schedule religiously.

Racing can further motivate you by providing a personal athletic challenge. Crossing a finish line is exciting. Finishing your second race faster than your first is even more "breathtaking." It’s very easy to get caught up in the joy of accomplishment, and as long as your goals are realistic, you can continue to improve in so many ways.

YOU ARE A BEAUTIFUL ATHLETE
During high school and college, some of us didn’t have the opportunity or the encouragement to play various sports. One of the great things about racing is that athletes like you can do it no matter your size, shape or ability.

You get to line up at the starting line with the very finest in the sport and you don’t need to be a speedster to race competitively. Just having the courage to start is a good beginning. If you have trained well and perform your very best that day, then you are a beautiful and passionate athlete.

CONFIDENCE
When you are an athlete, there is a certain sense of confidence and self-esteem that you acquire and build. There is accomplishment, most certainly, in simply running. But when you add racing to the mix, train hard and challenge yourself to go beyond where you thought you could go, you feel a greater sense of achievement. It’s quite meaningful to discover how much you can do just for YOU.

A WINNER
In the end, winning really isn’t about crossing that finish line first. I love to stand on a finish line and watch the faces of every runner and walker who comes across. Whether someone comes in first, fifth or 50th, there is a certain look on their face. I don’t mean that somewhat painful expression: it’s more of a joyful "I-Did-It" look.

You see, anyone who crosses a finish line always wins because winning could be finishing, or maybe it’s beating your next door neighbor, or setting a personal best time, or having the courage to begin the race itself. There are as many reasons as runners. What’s yours?


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Member Comments

  • www.pbs.org/wgbh/
    nova/body/mar
    athon-challenge.html is link that someone else mentioned

    I'm interested primarily in the challenge & inspiration for myself. I'm fairly non-competitive, & actually think it has fostered some of society's ills. I've done 1 5k almost 7 years ago. I actually like running for its own sake, but stopped, because.... But now, motivated to start again to try & do one in 10.5 weeks - couch to 5k.
  • It's all about the bling! I love races with finisher medals!
  • I thought I wasn't interested in 'racing' until I started running 5k with Park Run. The emphasis is on everyone getting round the course, timed, but not a 'real race'. However, I soon found I was very motivated by my 'time' and the quest to improve it, or at least to run it more easily. I discovered I was actually quite competitive - and having someone just in front of me to 'chase' is also very motivating!
  • This is a great article. One I will read a few more times to keep it in my memory! Thanks so much!!
  • Thank you for writing this. I'm one of those who never did sports growing up, and never thought of myself as good enough. I'm running now (at 42), not very brilliantly, but with great joy. Your quote about being a beautiful and passionate athlete brought tears to my eyes.
  • Sorry, I don't jog and I don't do windows. I tried running back in the '70s when I was much younger, slimmer and more fit. I could not get a stride no matter how hard I tried, short steps, long strides, forget it. So I went back to walking. Just because my husband had to run because he was in the military didn't mean I had to.
    When we were in Germany we did 10K Volksmarsches. They were fun, but I can't do them today. I've done 2 5K Race for the Cure, but probably can't do them now because of health problems.
    Not everyone can race, and those of us who can't or don't want to shouldn't be made to feel guilty.
  • I am running my first 5k tomorrow! I am so excited! Does anyone have any pointers about what to do the day before and the day of the race? I want to make sure that I am ready!
  • I love this article! This describes me completely! I can't say that I really love running, but I definitely enjoy racing and that's why I keep running! I like training for the runs and I love the rush you get while running the race!!!
  • RACEWELLWON
    Great blog and true , not to long ago I DFL'd in an 8 mile race but this was after I recovered from two broken legs - what amazed me was that most of the Seasoned Athletes that attended the race stayed to cheer me on as I crossed the finish line - now I am training for a Tri - never give up !
  • I have never run but I always liked walking.
  • I like running. But never tried running in a race. No more than a dog after me. Lol
  • I am running my first 10k next weekend. While I have done a few 5k's I have never considered myself a fan of running. A friend asked if I would do the 10k with her and now 8 weeks of training into it and I actually enjoy it! I always feel so great after a run. Today we ran 5 miles. Sometimes it's hard to believe I can run this much 3 times a week. It's an amazing feeling of accomplishment!
  • I will be walking/running my first 5k on Saturday! I am looking forward to that feeling of making it over the finish line.
  • SUSANGLAU1
    I have been the last one over the finish line before, it was one of the most fun races I have ever run. It was my daughter's first half marathon, it rained, and the hills were slippery. We were cold and silly and enjoyed each other. Someone has to be last. My goal is always "Same day finish" It is all good as long as the finish banner is still up! Slow and steady finishes the race.

    P.S. the medal is the same size no matter what your time is.
  • I'm new to running and ran my first 5K ever. It was a FANTASTIC experience and I've definitely got the running bug now. I loved this line "During high school and college, some of us didnít have the opportunity or the encouragement to play various sports." I always felt too uncoordinated and awkward when I was younger to play sports. And I certainly didn't receive any encouragement either. Now, as an adult, I can finally say "I am an athlete."

About The Author

Julie Isphording Julie Isphording
Julie, a former Olympic marathon runner, is an author, radio host and fitness expert.

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