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Why Racing Matters
How and why to choose a race
It’s the time of year here, in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado, when yellow aspen leaves speckle the damp, dark brown trail. Meadow grasses fade from green to golden brown. My husband Morgan and I celebrated when we heard rain drumming on the metal rooftop, and this morning, I see that the precious precipitation dusted the 14’er Wilson Peak with fresh snow.
I am on a not-so-long run, 11ish miles, that takes me from a riverside path near Telluride up to the ski runs. Back in my old home of the East Bay Area of California, a client I coach tells me of dusty brown trails in the Oakland hills where majestic oaks look shrunken and stressed, and the sky above the bay has been tarnished from wildfire smoke. I feel anxiety about drought along with profound gratitude that we were able to move here five years ago, to this place where I spent much of my childhood and my family roots reach back to the town’s founding.
But part of me misses Northern California, and I muse about signing up for an ultra in the Marin Headlands in the spring. I could put my name in the lottery for the Miwok 100K, a classic race in early May that I ran a decade ago.
My mind begins to flip through the annual calendar of ultras while picturing the possibilities for structuring training and racing in 2022, and I quicken my pace with eagerness. Of course, I’ll try my luck at the Hardrock 100 lottery again, but that remains a long shot. I could do High Lonesome 100 again, or maybe return to Steamboat Springs for Run Rabbit Run 100. I’d like to kick off the spring with a strong 50-miler such as Behind the Rocks 50 in Moab.
It hits me that this anticipation, and plan-making, for racing in 2022 is the manifestation of optimism, and I savor it as an antidote to pessimism about the future. For a quarter-century, I’ve structured my life around an annual pattern of building up to, then recovering from, long-distance races. It started out with road marathons, then became ultra-distance odysseys on trail. How strange, and how wonderful and privileged, that this calendar of races has shaped my adulthood and given me motivation and a greater sense of purpose.
I was supposed to do a 50K in October, but we need to travel to Los Angeles that weekend for my brother-in-law’s memorial service. He was my age, 52, when he died of cancer earlier this month. We’re grieving the loss of Morgan’s only sibling. I redouble a commitment to take care of my health—a commitment hardened by seeing my parents decline from smoking and other bad habits—and I realize that running at my age is more about taking care of my heart, lungs and brain than about competing.
But still, I love to race. I love the training buildup, the strategizing, the opportunity to socialize in an otherwise solo sport. By racing, I give aging the middle finger. I prove that my body can still run the distance, slower than in years past, but still strong. I challenge myself to be the best I can on that given day.
In late August, I lined up for the extra-tough 40-mile Telluride Mountain Run, four weeks after I finished the mountainous High Lonesome 100. I was the only over-50 woman on the entrants’ list, and the six women who beat me were all under 30. Ha!
What drives you to pin on a bib and race? Or, what’s holding you back?
If you want to plan for one or more goal races, ask yourself, what excites you about a particular race? It could be the destination and prospect of running through a special landscape, such as traveling out of state for a long weekend to experience a desert or coastal course. It could be the tradition and challenge of comparing your times year after year, such as racing your town’s annual Turkey Trot 5K. Tune into what excites you about racing, and register for a race accordingly. Genuine desire is a prerequisite for a good outcome.
Also ask yourself, does your desire to race fit with your work and family plans? For years, when my two kids were in school, I didn’t race in late August or early September because I knew I’d be preoccupied with their back-to-school adjustment. Choose to train and race when you can make the time, not when it will be an added stressor.
Finally, ask yourself, what are your “A,” “B” and “C” races? I tend to choose only one “A” race annually, the one I care most about and give my all. The “B” races are stepping stones and dress rehearsals for the “A” race. The “C” races are just-for-fun supported training runs where I care little about my time or place; I’m just out there to enjoy good-quality running in the company of others with aid stations along the way.
To find a race, try using Ultrasignup.com’s race finder tool.
Thank you for reading this introductory newsletter from this corner of Colorado. I’ll post every Wednesday, and you can read the “About” page to learn why I started it.
I’ll try to keep these posts to under 1000 words, so bye for now. If you have an “A” race goal on the horizon, please share in the comments how and why you chose it.