If you’re anything like me and have caught the racing bug, it’s very likely that your calendar is scrawled with circles, around the dates of running races you’ve signed up for.
There’s no question that signing up for regular events is a great way to keep your motivation levels high throughout the year. As well as a great means of testing your fitness, improving your running, and gauging the effectiveness of your training.
But, for many of us (rightly or wrongly), races somehow seem to 'count' for more than regular training runs. In the same way training runs somehow don’t count unless they are recorded and logged on Strava. Which of course, just isn't true!
Races are by their very nature ‘official’ with rankings and finish times and medals. A chance to achieve personal goals, compete with other runners and gain social recognition and approval. So naturally, it’s difficult to get the same sense of excitement and achievement from a regular run, as you do from an organised and timed race.
But by racing too much in a short space of time, or by obsessing over one race/one rigid time goal, events can become all-consuming and beat you down both mentally and physically. The constant urge to race more and do better can be destructive rather than rewarding, and put you at risk of undermining your personal, loving relationship with running.
If you find yourself putting your self-worth on the line for every race, I would strongly encourage you step back and take a look at the big picture.
Focus on the journey, not the destination.
There are number of telltale signs that you may be overdoing it, from pre-race anxiety and stress, to a plateau in performance, to putting yourself down on the basis that you feel races and results define who you are.
Don’t get me wrong, there are countless good and positive things about racing and events – trying a new distance or terrain can be a real motivation, mood, and confidence booster, for experienced runners and newbies alike. But we must accept and be wary of the pressure that racing entails for some. It’s important to remember that racing isn’t everything and hardly the only reason people run!
Races are, after all, the icing on the cake – the payoff at the end of weeks and months of training. It’s the cakey goodness – those early starts, midweek miles and longer-than-usual weekend runs –that deserve most of our care and attention. With the right mindset and approach, the journey: your regular runs, training and the build-up, will bring you as much joy, pride and gratification as the destination: the race itself.
Identify new running goals
It helps to have running goals that have nothing to do with racing, which you can draw upon to maintain a more rich and rewarding (and sustainable) relationship with running for years to come.
Your goal could be anything from meeting people and socialising, to stress relief and escapism, to sheer enjoyment! Equally worthy goals as racing and competing, which, once identified, will help you will get more from every run. These goals may of course change over time and that’s perfectly normal.
Run for sheer enjoyment
Every once in a while, it’s important to allow yourself time to run with no specific purpose other than the sheer enjoyment of it!
This summer I did exactly that! I headed for the hills on the West Coast of Scotland to soak up the scenery and run purely for my own enjoyment. I spent a weekend camping in Fort William and Glencoe with a relaxed programme of running, eating, sleeping, repeating. On the Saturday I ran up Ben Nevis via the CMD arête, a steep and technical run that I did without looking at my watch, with no concern about my time or pace. The following day, I ran up Buachaille Etive Mor in Glencoe. Again more steep ascents, but zero time pressure. I walked when I needed a breather, I sat and soaked up the scenery for as long as I liked. There was need to hurry, it wasn't a race!
Remember to do what you enjoy and makes you feel good. That’s not to say it need be easy – pleasure and pain go hand in hand in running, as anyone who loves hard effort runs or hill sessions will know! But whatever your poison, create your own adventures and be content with them, instead of being sucked into the comparison trap.
Seek out new adventures
I find bringing something new and unknown to my training, helps keeps me motivated and fired up. Something as simple as running in different location, running a different route, listening to a new playlist or podcast, or trying out a different type of workout, works wonders.
During autumn and winter, I go running in the ever-darker evenings, but far from the city lights. Close to where I live, there is a forest that morphs into a different place entirely after dark. It's quiet, desolate and calming – I can hear nothing but the sound of my own breath and footsteps. I have to admit, it can be eerie at times, but I can distinguish the city lights far off and enjoy the sense of focus and freedom I get from running for an hour or more on forest trails, just me, with a head torch to light the way.
It's moments like these when you can enjoy the meditative essence of running, be in the present moment and forget everything else!