This past Sunday I ran the NYRR Staten Island Half Marathon. It was my first race in three weeks, and my first run over eight miles in three weeks since I aggravated my foot. It was a fantastic race. I PR'd with a time of 1:30:53, a 6:57-per-mile pace. While of course the excitement of feeling healthy and fresh made this a fantastic race, I also walked away feeling enlightened. Somewhere between miles 10 and 11 it hit me... why I love to run. Well, not just run... but to race.
Racing, in my opinion, is what sets aside joggers from runners. You don't need to be fast to race, and many aren't. In any given race one must figure that 99 percent of the field has no expectation to come in first place. Yet, as an old runner's saying goes, "Runners just do it -- they run for the finish line even if someone else has reached it first."
I love to race because it makes me feel free. We as runners tend to be slightly reclusive. We leave parties early so that we don't miss our morning runs. When our co-workers ask us about our weekend, we talk about splits and paces and distances that bore them. We make our travel plans not around the typical calendar of holidays, but around race schedules.
And pretty much every weekend a whole bunch of us get together to race. We get packed into corrals, our identity reduced to the color and number on our bib and the team name on our singlet. And then, with the blast of a gun, we're all off. I suppose there must be something different that drives all of us to run, but this is what drives me to run.
In the words of Dr. George Sheehan:
Just to run and feel the sweat and the breathing and the power in my legs. To feel again what it was like to toil up hills and to push through pain. Just that and perhaps that good tired feeling after a race.
There is nothing quite like crossing a finish line with tired muscles and a sweat-soaked singlet knowing you did the very best you could and left everything you had to give somewhere on the course behind you. The feeling of your legs growing heavy and sore and pushing through it with all you have as the finish line comes into view. And knowing that in a week, you will do it all again and in that moment it won't matter how fast you've run before, or how far you've traveled to get there. All that matters is that you gave it your all. Running, for me, is a personal challenge. Post race I will congratulate a teammate who just PR'd with an 9:00-mile-per-minute pace the same I will a teammate who PR'd with a 6:00-mile-per-minute pace. Both are champions, both ran the course as hard as they could and both gave the run all their mind and body had to give.
Even as we are reduced to bib numbers and the singlet of our running club, and even as each race is an individual race with our own mind and body, there is something very social that happens once we get spread out across the course. This past sunday the course I ran was an out and back course, meaning you spend half the time running one way, and then turn around and run back. This means that for a long portion of the race you are passing by people who are faster and slower than you. There is a comradery that happens on the course, even with burning lungs I will shout out words of encouragement to fellow teammates and friends as I pass by them. Each of us in different parts of our own race, pushing our own mind and body, yet experiencing the same race. The same surface under foot, the same hills to climb, turns to make, and the same goal: to cross the finish line with a self victory.
In the words of Ken Doherty:
A runners creed: I will win; if I cannot win, I shall be second; if I cannot be second, I shall be third; if I cannot place at all, I shall still do my best.
So if you're just a casual jogger, my advice for you is to sign up for a race. When you hear the report of the starting gun, run like hell and don't stop until you reach the finish. You'll be back for the next race, I guarantee. And if you're already a racer, I'll see you out there soon.
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