I’ve been running alone for almost nine months now. While I value the solitude running affords (see here for why), I’m a little curious about what it would be like to run with others. Specifically, I’m interested in the idea of running a race. Not a long race, mind you; I want to run a 5k.
Right off the bat, this doesn’t seem like the most inspirational challenge to write about. To clarify: I run 3.1 miles (a 5k) six days a week. This race wouldn’t exactly be Rocky Balboa taking on Apollo Creed. Instead, this is a little like if Rocky had been punching hanging, frozen meat in preparation for a championship bout against some hanging, frozen meat. There’s not much suspense when you do it everyday anyway.
|Well, maybe there's a little suspense. Will he make it into a sandwich later?|
So I want to run a race not because of its physical challenge, but because I want to address some of the mental and emotional challenges competitive events pose for me. (Not only am I a runner, guys, but I’m a super sensitive runner. It’s like my emotional nipples also chafe. Gross.)
|Pictured: me as I consider running a short race|
So races confuse and scare me for a bunch of reasons. Here are some:
1. People. I don’t know how you can start a race with so many people just…milling about. Do we know who’s going to be fastest? Do they go up front? What if there’s a disagreement about who’s fastest? Is the race momentarily a mosh pit when the gun goes off? What if I assume I’ll be faster than some old person, but then they end up passing me at the start? That last one haunts me at night.
2. Pace. First off, I know there are pacers throughout the event, but I’m more worried about how to be comfortable with my pace as people pass me and I pass others. One of the most awkward things about running now is passing people who are going just .00001% slower than me. I either have to go faster to pass them, which screws with my stamina, or pass them super slowly. The latter means that I will lurk up behind them breathing heavily like that asthmatic stalker from Hey Arnold before glacially passing beside them and gasping, “Excuse me.” The thought of doing that two hundred times in one run does not appeal to me.
|Pictured: me as I pass you|
3. Money. So, it costs money to join one of these races. “That’s only fair,” I pleaded with my dried-up, whimpering bank account as it slipped the noose around its neck, “they have administrative costs, and they’ll probably give us a shirt! It will be fun and healthy, and you can do it! It’s just like fifty bucks—NO!”
Don’t worry, I save the account every time. Then, the cycle starts over again when I start browsing Amazon “just to see what something costs.”
But more than anything else, I worry about a race just not fitting with my whole reason for running. As I said before, I value the solitude of running. I’m an introvert, so doing things by myself gives me emotional energy even as it drains me physically. Being around a bunch of people before, during, and after a race can only deplete my energy, right? It just doesn’t sound very fun.
At least, that’s what I thought for a long time. Recently, though, I realized that maybe that doesn’t have to be true. I remember being a kid and loving sports. Running around was fun, playing games was fun, and other people made it more fun. But I also remember this changing quickly when I became a teenager because all of a sudden sports were more focused on competition than fun. Or rather, for too many people competition and winning became the definition of fun. And while that’s fine for some, a sensitive wee soul like me found everything too angry and serious to feel comfortable. It wasn’t self-love; instead, it was more along the lines of the “extreme” trend I talked about last time.
So how does this relate to my decision to enter the public racing arena? Basically, I get the feeling that runners don’t operate with that same aggression. I get the feeling most of them just abide.
|What I imagine most runners feel like on a day to day basis|
I know that competitiveness exists in the community, but I think it’s largely internal. More importantly, I believe that it isn’t the focus of running culture for adults. For me, running requires a strong sense of self-awareness and a good sense of humor. I think that you can’t spend much time alone with yourself on a daily basis without making some peace with who you are and what you’re like. I believe that runners have matured past the Lord of the Flies-style chaos of my high school sports experience. I’m optimistic that people won’t be awful and remind me of high school like a vet suffering PTSD flashbacks of Vietnam.
|Stallone: always relevant|
I’ll let you guys know when I find a race and can sell enough bone marrow to afford registration!