One of the more common conversations I end up having after mentioning that I’m running a marathon is the one about how crazy it is that literally THOUSANDS of other people pay money to do the same thing. The Chicago Marathon, for example, had 45,000 non-charity slots available and sold out within 5 hours of opening registration. Actually, the registration site kind of crashed after the first 3 hours, and they had to raffle off the remaining 15,000 slots.
So like I said, thousands of people pay money to put their bodies not only through 26.2 miles of agony on race day, but also through months of training agony leading up to that. Those numbers are plain ludicrous to non-runners, but even I, as a runner, am surprised that they are as high as they are. It begs the question: what gives?
I have a few theories.
Lots of people, first and foremost, like a good challenge. A marathon is nothing if not a physical and mental challenge, and it’s sort of a perfect one at that. It takes, as a minimum, months of time and dedication to bring to fruition. The only way to succeed in a marathon is to train for it modestly and consistently (especially at first), so each week of marathon training is a mini-challenge that helps you boost confidence.
You also don’t need to uproot your life or spend (too much) money on it – buy some good running shoes, pay your registration fee, and just go run. So simple. So poetic. And if you manage to put in the miles and stay injury-free (easier said than done!), you get bragging rights for the rest of your life for having conquered the infamous marathon. When viewing the marathon as a bucket list challenge item, it’s clear why so many people choose to do one…once.
But what about people who do them regularly? And not just marathons, but races of all lengths? Why do some people (myself included) choose to pay money to compete in these things time and time again? I could spout off a whole slew of typical reasons, most of which are the same reasons why people just generally run. But I won’t, because when it comes to racing, those reasons aren’t at the heart of it.
People race to be measured. They race to know definitively, officially, where they stand. It’s about numbers. How many seconds faster am I this year than last year? How many seconds slower? How many runners my age were ahead of me? Am I faster or slower than the average (insert distance) finisher? Can I beat my (insert relation)‘s time?
The fact of the matter is that habitual racers are all obsessive number crunchers and probably, most likely, compete with themselves, others, or both, in every other area of their lives. You’ll notice that every running blogger out there writes about the anxiety and rage they experience upon (gasp! F***!) forgetting their Garmins. We map out our runs and/or know the routes well enough so that even before heading out, we know how long a certain loop is or where we have to turn around in order to hit the right mileage. Yet, God forbid we run without that ever-knowing watch because, you know, 5.98 miles is so not 6 miles. And obviously, the world will end if we don’t know our pace for each of those 6 miles. Fact.
As obsessive as it is, I think it’s awesome that there are other people out there that are willing to face the cold, hard reality of their abilities and test themselves regularly. It’s not easy to get outrun by someone that was once slower than you; to realize you aren’t as fast as your teenage self; to be mentally and physically annihilated by a hilly course. Whether they are better or worse than anyone else’s, my numbers are mine. My unique mosaic of personal records tells stories and holds memories and stands to be judged by myself and others.
For whatever reason, when it comes to measuring up, I’m just happier knowing than not knowing. And I think thousands of habitual racers would agree.
To end, let me share my numbers from my 8 mile “medium” run this morning:
This run was funny because I started out (as evidenced below) going not-so-fast, but for whatever reason, I though I was flying in that first mile. Gotta love delusions of grandeur, eh? I think it felt that way because a) it was the first mile and any running seems fast to me at first, and b) I was wearing my Brooks Pure Connects and they really put wings on my feet.
At any rate, when I looked down and realized that my numbers did not match my thoughts, I made a concerted effort to settle into a better pace. I planned on running comfortably until the half-way point, and then letting myself go on the way back. That strategy worked, and I managed to surprise myself by going under 8:00 min pace for the whole second half.
I felt great the whole time, so I’m happy. I knew at the end, however, that I had used up my legs and would most likely have lead in them the next day. Lina and I toyed with the idea of doing our hill workout the next day due to some social obligations, but when she managed to run exactly the same average pace on her 8 mile run, we both decided we would be better off doing the easy 3 miles as planned.
I italicized that part about Lina running the same average pace because I think it’s super cool. It’s kind of like we ran together, even though we didn’t! I just love that.
Anyways, training is all going well in general and because of that, we still have that dreaded hill workout to look forward to. What makes it better is knowing that if we do it, the next time we line up to race, to be measured, we will be in better shape. So that’s that.