Your focus is the moving target ahead. All you see is the gap between, all you hear is the sound of your breath entering and exiting your chest, and all you feel is hunger – the hunt is the only thing on your mind.
Racing is a part of running that I really enjoy, which is funny because I used to think paying to run was idiotic. I had zero drive to compare myself against someone else doing the same thing. One could probably dig deep psychologically to find out why, but after spending a few years in the local racing circuit, I think I know.
Especially for women, being competitive is looked down upon. Admitting you want to beat someone else seems to send you flying into a whirlwind of labels that say you’re a poor sport, mean-spirited, and a witch with a capital B. This underlying ideology has swung us so far in the opposite direction that I feel like racing has almost become a taboo. It’s thrown into the realm of tearing down and discouraging others. Real women don’t race against each other.
Yes we do! I’m calling you out, and I’m unashamedly saying that I love to compete and race against other women. I get that women stereo-typically compare themselves to other women and make a list in their head of why they themselves are better for whatever reason. We’re terrible people. But we don’t have to stay terrible. We can control what we do and say and forget about silly comparisons.
In the women’s running community, it has become pretty noticeable to me that there’s a weird vibe among competitors. Those that wish to actually race, try to hide behind a “girl-power-for-all-women” front, and some feel they have no right to say they want to race because they’re no where near the top finishing times.
Racing is a sport. That’s the whole point. When everybody wins, the sport dies. It doesn’t have to be left up to the elites and the big races. Getting 12th over 13th is meant to be fought over. Respect the sport, give it all you got, and run to “win.” You can race for age groups at any level and you can simply choose to race that person who is just 10 yards ahead of you. You paid for shameless racing in your entry fee, to be chip timed against everyone else.
Plenty of people enter races for the effort alone, without a time or placing goal. Maybe they just want to run with friends, or maybe they only want to “compete” against themselves and their past time. I’m not saying any of that is wrong or dumb. If that’s what you want, then that’s great. But it’s also okay to want more than that. It’s okay to want to compete against each other.
There are some guidelines that I try to stick by when I race, that I feel keeps my mind in perspective.
- Don’t be so serious pre-race. It’s okay to smile, or even start up a conversation.
- When the gun goes off, flip the switch – you’re out for blood.
- During a race, when you come upon an opponent, DON’T say anything. This is kind of a big one when it comes to respecting the race. Of course you shouldn’t say anything negative, but saying something positive sounds like you don’t really view them as a real “threat” and are mocking their efforts. For example, I was once in a race where I was in 2nd at the halfway point and 3rd came up on me. As she was passing, she looked back and said “Nice job hun” and sailed on by. While she did eventually leave me in the dust after we leap-frogged, I felt it was rude to make a comment like that, especially when you’re in the top three spots. BUT there are a few exceptions to this rule, one of them is if you’re on a team and you’re encouraging a teammate. The other is when it’s clear that a race between the two of you definitely isn’t happening that day (i.e. they’re way ahead on an out-an-back, you’re racing different distances, etc.).
- If you are challenging an opponent near the finish and you win, it is YOUR responsibility to initiate a handshake and encouraging words. After all, they are the reason why you pushed yourself so hard. If they don’t respond well, leave it at that and keep peace.
- When you lose (because you can’t always win), lose graciously. Congratulate them on their victory.
Racing is my kind of fun. I love the adrenaline rush, the mind games, and that extra kick you find in yourself when you thought you had nothing left. I know I’m not alone. But you do have to know how to flip the switch. When the race is over, it’s over.