Racing is so different than anything else I’ve ever done. I guess you could call me a primitive racer - I enjoy that most ancient of races, the kind where you put one foot in front of the other as fast as you can - and I can’t deny it, there’s something that fascinates me about how my body’s able to not only run, but to run like it was made from the beginning to do so. There’s a cathartic joy in just walking out the front door and following wherever your feet take you, even if it is over a well-trodden course. When I started running, I imagined it as a habit to build for my own good, like eating my greens. Now it’s an activity that I return to whenever I can, like eating my greens, since it turns out greens are delicious both in reality and metaphorically.
But racing is such an odd thing. Running in and of itself isn’t odd; it’s just another activity that I undertake on a regular basis. I train, and I push myself, I try to get better, and I return to it as an enjoyable process for its own sake. I can run socially, carrying on a solid conversation while maintaining a pretty good clip, though I’m generally alone listening to an audio book. And I run at my own convenience: I pick the time, the place, the distance, the pace, etc.
When I line up to start a race, though - then it gets weird. For one thing, I’ve chosen to get up and run at a crazy hour on a Saturday morning, when I could’ve just as easily waited a few hours and run out my front door. Or it might be a Sunday afternoon when I’d normally be enjoying a quiet nap. Or maybe I’m at a programming conference, dragging myself out of bed after a late night of talking tech to wander through a strange city and try to find the starting line.
And it’s not like I’m actually going to run socially in a race - ha! When I race, I like to actually race, so I’m spending all of my breath and focus on pushing my body to the limits of what it can do, and I can’t spare an iota of it on the people around me. Racing is super self-centered: it’s you, the road, and an ever-ticking clock. I don’t even try to listen to anything while I race, since the necessary apparatus is too much of a distraction. And if I go to a race with a friend, I’ll wish them luck right before the gun and not see them again until one or the other of us is cheering the other across the finish line.
Then there’s the fact that in any race large enough to have an official course and chipped time tracking, there’s no way I’ll come in first. I go out and run a race knowing that I’ll make a good showing, but also knowing I’ll get trounced by some 23 year old that was smart enough to take up running 5k’s before he turned 30. I’m not even really a risk to the other guys in my age bracket since, while I love running, I love coding even more and so I won’t be spending those extra hours training that I’d need to in order to place even bronze for 30-35.
But here’s the thing: I love to race. Every time I get out there I think, “What in the world am I doing here?” and then the gun fires and I’m off and I’m loving it. Someone else has laid down a very specific set of constraints - run this route, start at this time - and now I get to push myself to do the absolute best that I can within those constraints. I’m not being social, and yet I have this whole host of humanity in so many (admittedly all very fit) varieties, and I get to run beside and behind and around them. And while I’ll never come in first, I get to race myself on the course, seeing if I can best my own best and show that I have continued to improve and grow since the last time I crossed the line.
Racing is so bizarre, and I love every minute of it.