Saturday, 17 August 2013

Do You Run Or Do You Race?

About a year ago I ran my first 10km race – “The Cumbernauld 10k” - just outside Glasgow.
I was running as fast as I could, trying to pace myself and aiming for a sub 40 minute time. About midway through the run I felt someone running quite close behind me.  With two kilometres to go the race entered a park area where the path narrowed to single file running. I could feel myself tiring and the other runner was now right on my shoulder. Thinking I was actually getting in his way I motioned for him to pass me, but he just stayed behind me. 
With one kilometre to go I could literally feel his breath on my neck and I knew I was slowing down. I thought to myself; “I’m stopping this guy from getting the best time he could get” so I turned around and said “you can overtake me” and deliberately ran on one side of the narrow path to make room for him, but he just kept running behind me. 
Then with a few hundred meters to go he shifted his running up a gear, overtook me and seemed to sprint to the finish line. 
I realised later; I was “running” and he was “racing”.
Most of us runners when we enter races - from 5k’s to ultra-marathons - are not actually “racing”, we are “running”. We are running the best we can run, we are running to get a new Personal Best time (PB), we are running to complete a marathon for the first time, we are running to enjoy the personal challenge, we are running to lose weight. In fact there are any number of reasons to run. 
What we are not doing is “racing”.
Ask most people where they came in a race and they don’t have a clue (27th or 127th?). We are running “in parallel” with the people that are running with us, we are not running “against them”. When you are a “runner” you are not trying to beat your fellow runners, for non-runners this might seem a little strange but we are not actually racing them.
The man running behind me for most of the Cumbernauld 10k was “racing” me, he wanted to beat me. As a “runner” and not a “racer” I had completely missed the point. Offering him the opportunity to overtake me was as strange to him as it would have been to Ibrahim Jeilan if Mo Farrah made a similar offer at the recent 10k World Championships (for those who don’t know Mo and Jeilan are arch rivals).
I only realised this difference between “running” and “racing” last week when for the first time I crossed the Rubicon and became a “racer”. Again it was at another 10k race – this time the RunThroughBrixton 10k. I entered the 10k as a runner but after one kilometre I found myself in third place, and at that point I became a “racer”. Where I came in the race mattered to me and as it was quite a hilly course I realised a PB was out of the question. 
The race was on! 
Throughout the race I knew how many people were in front of me and I occasionally looked behind me to see how close the next runner was to me.
In the end I came forth. 
Since I started taking running seriously a few years ago it continues to surprise me and teach me new things about myself. I had not raced since I was 15 and had not taken part in any competitive sport for over twenty years. The experience of competing when I was younger (both winning and losing) taught me valuable life lessons. Now as an adult entering mid-life I wonder what lessons it will hold in store for me.
(The picture today is of Mo Farah "racing" in many ways the opposite of "running"). 

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