This morning I raced in a 5-6K trail run that gave runners two options: "short and brutal" or "longer and a little less brutal." The two options were intended to represent equivalent opportunities. I chose the short course.
I did something I never do before a race: I warmed up. I'm now convinced this is essential--particularly in a 5K race. I ran 25 minutes of trail from 8:00-8:25 prior to the 9:00 a.m. start. I broke a good sweat but wasn't even close to feeling fatigue, just warmed up. The idea (I had read) was to get the heart rate up and prepare the body so that it didn't have to shift through all the warm-up gears during the race. I certainly felt that at the 9:00 gun I could run my faster pace in the first mile without getting way out ahead of my aerobic system.
The race went well. I was second in my 50+ age group, and I felt up to the challenge. I also like the $15 Gazelle gift certificate I won.
Maybe the lingering thoughts I have from the day are about the nature of competition. Competition is an age-old human calling. Some people seem to have the bug more than others. I think I'm kind of in the middle. I like to win; I like the emotional feeling of victory. I guess at some basic level it causes us to feel good about ourselves. And as everyone that has ever competed knows, competition functions on two levels: against the self and against others. It's socially acceptable to compete against the self, a little less so to compete against others--unless you are a gifted athlete, then everyone understands. If not, it appears . . . uh, "competitive" in the pejorative.
The people I run with work hard every week to become better runners. It is fun to see these folks compete and feel good about their accomplishments. Competitive or not, the thing that seemed to bind together the 400-plus runners there today, was the craving for accomplishment and the satisfaction of establishing benchmarks and personal records.
Having endured, feels good. I think that's a big part of why we are there. We all run multiple times each week, but there seems to be some craving to have moments of closing and satisfaction, to tie off a week or a month or several months of running with a permanent record that is archived somewhere on a website, recorded forever in the replicating power of cyberspace. It's less about how fast we run or the finishing place, but more about just pulling together countless running threads into one final event. Then we start again. Our next run is a kind of new beginning that will build over weeks, months (maybe for some even years) and then once again find its satisfaction and ending in some race somewhere.
We wear a clock chip when we run these races. The clock times mean something. They mean more than we might admit and perhaps more than we fully understand.