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Life on California's beautiful Central Coast

Racing Again

More than six years ago, I effectively gave up on running races. At the time, I had been a highly competitive prep and recreational runner for over ten years (I did not compete collegiately, which is high on my regrets short list).  I was tired, and I decided to take a break.  Running, of course, never ceased. If I go more than two days without running my sense of perspective begins to warp in very negative and unpalatable ways.

But racing wasn’t hard to live without. I relished not competing at first. It felt like a way to give a huge cause of stress in my life a long vacation. My professional life had changed drastically around the same time I gave up racing and I was genuinely too busy to do more than run an hour or less each day. On weekends, I rested. The last thing I wanted to do was get up early, drive to a race, pay money to run, worry about why I wasn’t running well, and so on. There was a race here and there, sure, but they were usually motivated by friends participating or fortuitous circumstances, not a desire to run well.

During the last year, my job situation has become much more reasonable. About a year ago, I was starting to train decently again and I realized that one of the things I missed, along with having time to read books and the chance to have adventures with my friends, was racing. Maybe it was time to try it again. Thankfully, a new employer and reasonable work hours helped make this possible.

I struggled with the idea of getting back to it. For one thing, I knew how much it was going to hurt. Anyone who has ever run competitively knows that it is not a pleasant experience. Even when you are trained well and uninjured, the whole purpose of racing is to stress your body to the max. I know I’ve met my limits when I have debilitating stomach pain post-race. I’ve never been a napper, but after any competition I can sleep solidly for several hours, no matter what time of day.

When I decided to try racing again, I put very limited expectations on the experience. I wasn’t sure if my competitive spirit was still lurking somewhere under the rationalizations and excuses I’d heaped on top of it. When I went to dig it out, I found it wasn’t buried very deep. The first race I jumped into earlier this year, I found it in the first mile. I was running with a couple of women who I knew from past competitions, and wanted to beat them. Game on.

I’ve made some real strides in how I approach competition. Most importantly, it is something I CHOOSE to do, not something I HAVE to do. I am no less of a person or less of a runner if I decide not to race. I run the races that speak to me, not every race available. Usually, my friends are there too, which makes  everything much more fun. At this point, competition is a lifestyle choice. I hope it’ll stay part of my world, but if it goes away again at some point, that will be OK too.

The greatest job I take from racing is being around other runners. They’re such good people, with friendly spirits and kind intentions and interesting worldviews. Especially here in Santa Barbara, I love seeing so many faces that I’ve known for so many years. Most of them haven’t changed, though new characters have come into the mix. It’s nice to hear my name come out of the crowd when I get to a finish line. It feels like coming home.

Thanks to Dennis Mihora for this photo, taken at the July 4 Semana Nautica 15K.

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