Many athletes who consider themselves “recreational” shy away from racing. They make various justifications for their decision to not race, like ‘I didn’t start running because I wanted to race’ or ‘why should I pay twenty dollars to race if I can just go for a run on my own.’ As realistic as these justifications may seem, people who limit themselves by avoiding races miss out on a variety of benefits that come out of races.
Perhaps the greatest benefit to signing up for a road race is that it requires commitment. By paying the normally modest entry fee, an athlete’s training immediately takes on a brand new focus. So, the next time you want to hit the “snooze button” when the alarm goes off in time for your before-work run, you have your twenty-five dollar commitment looming in the back of your mind. The next time you return home from work mentally exhausted, you have your twenty-five dollar commitment reminding you that the opportunity to improve your fitness and to take a mental break by going for a run is important to you.
This commitment also forces athletes to be honest with their training. It is easy for athletes to lie to themselves when assessing their own fitness. For example, a person may use age as a reason for why their everyday runs are getting slower while avoiding other factors like diet, overall volume of training and rest. Although increases in age do not necessarily help an athlete’s speed, it may be beneficial to assess other aspects of training and life before settling on age as the ultimate reason for slowing down or for feeling increasingly fatigued over a familiar distance. So, when you enter a road race year after year, your result provides a quantitative assessment of all factors that go into your fitness and ability to perform.
An example of this is if a 45 year old athlete runs 40:00 for an 8 kilometer road race one year and proceeds to run 40:15 the next year, it might be a fair assessment to say that the person has done a good job maintaining fitness but perhaps age slowed down their time a bit. But, if the person ran 2:00 slower the next year, the result demonstrates that the athlete’s fitness has decreased. At that point, the athlete can use the feedback (the race result) to assess what may have changed in their life to cause the large increase in time.
Additionally, using races to compare times is a fun way to incentivize training. As you get older and maybe expect your times to get slower, trying to beat “last year’s time” at a certain course is a great way to help you commit to doing “the little things” in training to help “beat the age.” Some of the “little things” may include committing to stretching, improving diet, incorporating strides into a weekly training routine, focusing on improved daily recovery and using a foam roller to massage muscles and to help prevent injuries.
Finally, road races help to expose you to your surrounding running community and often give you an opportunity to raise money for a local charity. Although some athletes begin running with groups, others never get to experience the joys and benefits of training with their peers. Attending races where you can easily find other athletes of similar ability who may also live similar lifestyles can open up opportunities to reduce the monotony of training.
So, with many 4th of July road races – and other summer events – coming up, break out of your comfort zone and enter yourself in a road race. Who knows, it may change your goals as a runner, help you meet a new training partner, or kick-start your training for the future…and maybe, just maybe, you’ll have a little fun doing it.
About the author: Jake Shoemaker is currently a senior at Dartmouth College where he competes for the Cross Country and Track and Field teams. Jake competed in a variety of sports as a kid, but settled on running, following in the footsteps of his brother – USA Triathlon Olympian Jarrod Shoemaker. Following graduation Jake hopes to pursue a career in education or journalism. He enjoys teaching swim and spin classes, cooking and watching ‘his’ Boston Bruins.