“I’m not a racer.” The words continued to ring in my head even after I excused myself from a group conversation with a few fellow runners.
What does that even mean? Was that an involuntary accusation by this person that the rest of us who pay to run in races have a problem? Simply because this person claims to have only ever paid for a handful of races, does that make them any different than the rest of us who pay for a few races over the course of a year? Did this person not just compete in a race a few weeks ago and recently sign up for another one?
Unable to come to a conclusion, I found myself pondering the question: Why Do We Race? Like most things in life, the decision to race is based on a far deeper and infinitely more complex reason than to simply suggest that we race for the purpose of competing and winning. For those of us who have adopted running as a way of life, running becomes a ritual that we do every day without question. No thought goes into this consistent activity; no wondering why we are running and what the point is. We quite simply become complacent to running.
When we sign up for a race, though, we are reminded of the once coveted innocence that motivated us to throw caution to the wind and believe in something greater than ourselves, something that held deeper meaning, something that at one time we deemed as irreplaceable. What is it that brought us to our feet countless times? Why did we pick up running in the first place?
In racing, not everyone competing is a winner. Let’s face it: If you’re not the first person to cross the finish line, you’re not a winner. Yet knowing the fact that we’re most likely not going to win, we go out and sign up for a race anyway. Because victory is not the reason we race. Neither is it to achieve superiority, and on most occasions, it isn’t even about beating our competitor.
Here are a few reasons why we race:
Set a personal record. At the end of each year, we sit down to set goals for the following year. We strive to improve not only by racing better but by picking races that take us out of our comfort zone. We push distance and push pace, and in doing so we compete against ourselves — current and past — to see if we can set a new personal best.
Win your age group. We all inevitably age and become slower. PRs become a thing of the past, but one must continue to challenge oneself; therefore, we race to compete with our peers. We push to see if we can place in our age group simply to satisfy that need to improve.
Comradery. Who can deny the social aspect of racing? Not every single reason for signing up for a race can be pinned to emphasize the need to compete. FOMO, also known as Fear of Missing Out, is a strong motivator. Missing out on meeting a new running friend. Betting together with old running buddies. Having an opportunity to hang out post-race and eat, drink, socialize, and celebrate the winners and all things racing.
Charity Race. All racing is not self-centered. We sign up for races to support a cause, support a friend and to raise funds. Let’s face it: Who wouldn’t want to kill two birds with one stone? Feed your love of racing and support a cause while doing so — sign me up!
Escape. Racing allows homemakers, school teachers, mechanics, truck drivers, salesman, engineers and so forth the ability to suit up in running gear every race weekend and perform. There are no agents involved, no union restrictions, no contracts to worry about and no multi-million dollar endorsement deals to be adhered to. Racing is real life without a reset button. It’s one of those precious life experiences that cannot be duplicated or imitated or falsified using gimmicks or unreal statements.
This is why we race. Running is a sport that encompasses all of life’s raw emotions — every unadulterated feeling, everything it means to be human can be found here — and racing brings them to a boil. The life lessons learned through running and racing cannot be found on the Internet, they cannot be found in an encyclopedia or a text book, they can only be found by lacing up and hitting the road.
The joys and pains of defeat. The graciousness of both winning and losing at the same time. To watch a runner, a mere mortal, push both the laws of physics and nature on a weekly basis is an art. If these words don’t give you goose bumps, if these reasons don’t get your heart pumping and make you want to sign-up for a race, then there can be only one explanation: You have assumed room temperature, and you have officially reached your warranty expiration.
Now go sign up for a race! See and feel for yourself what all the fuss is about!
Author: Shalini Kovach is the lead organizer of Terrain Trail Runners.