It’s easy to realize why I sign up for races. I started competing at the age of 4…Oh wait…I started competing once I realized I was competitive and had a brother. Those 2 things, competition and my brother, were key ingredients to the beginning of my swimming career. I wanted to be right there with my brother, doing whatever he and his friends were doing, and keeping up with them every step of the way. Much of the time, he wouldn’t let me join in, which made me work even harder for it. When you are born competitive and raised competitive, the juices never really stop flowing through your system. Sure the flow can slow, as it did after my competitive swimming career, but it never really dries up. And that is why I race now.
In the beginning, I was a afraid to sign up for any race because I wasn’t sure I could keep myself from turning into super competitive Summer. You see, after you win a gold medal people think you should be able to win EVERYTHING. And for me, someone who’d spent her entire life doing nothing but swimming, that saying “fish out of water” was even more true. I didn’t run because I was a good runner; I ran because it gave me an outlet to free my mind and do something just for me. Thus for years, I didn’t participate in races. I worked out, stayed fit, and cheered on my friends and family when they raced. Then came a day in San Luis Obispo, where I went to cheer on my brother in a triathlon he had been training for. When I arrived, his friends were coming up to me one after another to say, “You should do this!” I thought my reasons for not competing were rock solid, so I simply responded, “No thanks. I don’t have any gear.” Wink wink, I didn’t want to do it, but I also didn’t have a bike, which meant there was no way I could do it, right? Wrong. As soon as I said “GEAR”, the gear arrived. I was suddenly holding a suit, shoes, and a bike. What had just happened? Next thing I knew, I had a number and it was on.
I was SO bad in that race. I hadn’t hopped in the pool in forever, the chain came off my mountain bike…and yes, I said “mountain bike” in a road race…but I loved the run. I loved that each time I passed someone in the run they would yell, “Damn it!” I was racing and even though I wasn’t winning, I was having fun.
It took me another six years to decide I was ready for a real race: a marathon. The New York City Marathon to be exact. It was a big moment, and I felt like a little kid. I was so nervous, and I took any advice I could get: bring old sweats that you don’t care about, bring a plastic bag that you can sit on as the grass is often wet and you’ll have to wait for hours, bring magazines to read, bring Vaseline to protect from blisters and chafing, and MOST IMPORTANTLY bring toilet paper. I did it all. Seems crazy now. But I soaked up every moment. I wasn’t racing, I was living the race! It was literally fueling my soul. Even the pain was superseded by the experience, every moment fueled me along that 26.2 mile course. And then of course, the finish line appeared. There is almost nothing more beautiful or full of happiness than a finish line…and that moment is what keeps me coming back for more. Accomplishment.
I race because I want more of those moments. And not just my own, but to witness everyone else’s happiness and take in their experience as part of this great running community I am now a part of. I sign up for races because that action makes it official. There’s training and a goal. Until you hit that “purchase” button, it is all talk. But once you put your money where your mouth is, it’s your race. I realize they are called races, but each race is actually an event. I don’t feel competitive with anyone except for myself, and that is only occasionally. Mostly, I feel a belonging, and I long to push myself for the joy of the run, triathlon, walk or whatever I have signed up for. I love taking it all in with my family and friends and making it about the FUN.
So if you are on the fence about making the big PUSH and signing up for a race, let me tell you with all the passion in my voice “DO IT!” You will surprise yourself in such a GREAT way. The worst that can happen is you’ll accomplish something you’ve never done before OR you will get hooked on the magic of that finish line and want more. Either way, not too bad!
Up next for me, the 2013 ING New York City Marathon! Finish line here I come…