Until recently, I never understood why runners felt the need to participate in races. Even though I’ve been running for a few years, I didn’t have a strong desire to run a 5K or 10K race. I know I’m not fast enough to ever win so I didn’t understand why I’d want to wake up early on a Saturday or Sunday morning just to do the same running workout I could do another time of the day or day of the week.
A couple of months ago, one of my co-workers and friends talked me into running a 5K race that was being held on the Microsoft campus. I figured I’d give it a try since I didn’t have to train for it and since I’d have a friend there to run it with me. I didn’t have high expectations for the race – in fact, I was nervous that my body would somehow become incapable of running the 3 miles (even though that’s a distance I’ve been pretty comfortable running the past few years). But I’m really glad I ran that first race. I somehow managed to run my best that day (my time was 33:24, which is a lot faster than my usual 38ish minutes) and I can now say I GET IT! The whole atmosphere was really fun and motivating. Sure, there were the people who were taking it a bit too seriously – running laps and over doing it with the stretching (seriously, people – you’re running on the Stevens Creek Trail in Mountain View!). But there were people of all sorts of ages, sizes, and fitness levels and most seemed to be there to have some fun and do something healthy on a Sunday morning. Running for me has always been a solitary activity – just me, my iPod, that reassuring pounding of my feet and heart, and my thoughts. But when I ran that race, I felt a great sense of community and the motivation to push myself to do my best. I’m never going to be an athlete but that day, I felt like one. It may sound silly but there was just something really empowering (and kinda cool) about getting a little race bib and going through the rituals of a race (lining up at the start line, being given my time after that first mile, having high school kids cheering the runners on during the course, and crossing that finish line). I never participated in sports as a child so my only experiences with group fitness activities were those awful PE classes with PE teachers barking orders. That 5K race was a totally different and positive experience for me. I finally understood what I had been missing.
After running that race, I decided that I want to run 5 and 10K races on a more regular basis. For now, my goal is to run one race a month. To try to minimize injuries, I think I’m going to alternate between the two distances. I’m going to hold off on attempting a half-marathon and marathon until I’m closer to my goal weight. I ran my first 10K race last weekend (my time was 70:30 – about 5 minutes faster than my usual training pace) and I’m running a little 5K run tomorrow morning at Stanford. I’m hoping I can improve my 5K time tomorrow morning but I’ve been under a lot of stress lately so aiming for under 35 minutes might be more realistic.
I think these races are going to be really important for me as I maintain my weight loss, especially during annoyingly long plateaus like the one I’ve been experiencing most of this year. These races keep me focused on training and remind me of how far I’ve come so far.