Recently, I heard another running coach describe two kinds of runners. Well, ok, two kinds of runners who race. (For a long time, I fit into a different category altogether: runner who never races. And I'm sure there are a lot of runners out there who fit this description as well!).
Here are the two kinds of racers:
The kind of runner who races relatively infrequently, but systematically. Most of the races on this runner's schedule are planned out in advance as part of a deliberate build to an "A" race, or a priority race for that season or training cycle.
The kind of runner who races ALLLLLLL the time! Not every one of these races will be run for a particular time goal. Often they are just a way to get out and be a part of the community and run longer training runs with about 2,000 of your closest friends!
These days, I am gradually becoming the first type of runner. For a long time, I didn't race at all. And when I say "a long time," I mean like a decade. I would love to say it was because I simply ran for the love of running. And that's partly true. You have to love running to do it regularly week in and week out for years on end without any particular outcome in mind.
But the other half of the story is that I was afraid to race.
I was afraid to test myself because I worried that I wouldn't be able to live up to my own expectations. That I would fail. And also, races are freaking hard! I find 5ks especially painful. But I built that pain up in my head until it became something I feared instead of something I faced.
2021 was a year of big changes for me, but one of the most significant was hiring my own running coach to help me reach a big, audacious goal. I want to qualify for the Boston Marathon. This is a goal that has lived as a whisper in the depths of my mind and heart for a looooong time. But I never intentionally pursued it because the limiting voices that also lived in the depths of my head had grown much louder.
Even coaches need coaches, because in our very first meeting, my coach showed me that my goal was potentially a LOT closer than I thought - as long as I was willing to put in the work. And part of that work? Racing more often to test fitness along the way to a bigger goal.
I was still afraid, but I was determined to do whatever it took to reach my goal.
I raced more from November of 2021 to March of 2022 than I had in years! My first race was a 5k Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving. The night before, I couldn't sleep. The whole drive to the race, I attempted to give myself a pep talk through rounds of deep breaths. And you should have seen me at that starting line! It wasn't even that cold, but I was shivering and shaking like a leaf from my nerves!
I survived the race, but it wasn't pretty.
I still get pretty nervous for races, but I'm learning how to handle it better. The most helpful mindset shift for me was to remember that no one, single race is the definitive test of my abilities or my worth as a runner. There is always another race, another shot.
I don't use this an an excuse to give less than my best on race day ("I wasn't even trying" is like nails on a chalkboard to me), but it's a good reminder that each race is just a data point, a learning experience along the way. This is not pass/fail. There's no final grade. (Type A, much?) I'm doing this for myself. Not to prove anything to anyone else. I'm doing this to face my fears and quiet those limiting beliefs.
And the more I'm around the second type of racer, the more I remember that this whole thing is supposed to be FUN! I believe that sports are just one of many possible vehicles we can use in this world to explore our potential and our capacity for growth. It's more about who we become in the process than it is about any one outcome. But there can and should be joy in that process! And we can and should uplift and support each other along the way!
If you are afraid to race or struggle with a lot of pre-race anxiety, take heart and remember to have some fun! Not every race is going to a PR. But when you approach every race as an opportunity to explore what you're capable of, you might just surprise yourself. And remember, one race isn't definitive, it's just a data point.
My first attempt at qualifying for Boston is just a few short weeks away. I'm nervous, for sure! And you better believe I'm going to give it everything I've got. But I also know that regardless of what happens, I'm in it for the long run. If I don't achieve my goal this time, I'll keep showing up until I do.
And also, Eminem is wrong. You don't only get one shot. You get as many shots as you allow yourself to take. So keep showing up at that starting line.
I'll see you there.
If you're interested in learning how to incorporate strength training into your weekly routine to help you run faster, run farther and finish stronger, check out Run Empowered, our running-specific strength program! Get access to a plan and a coach to help you crush your goals!