Traditionally, I’ve not raced very often, but, inspired by The Wounded Pelicans, I’m going to race more this year. So, for 2017, alongside all the regular training, I’m going to do at least one challenging event each month. My 12 in 12 currently contains 3 marathons, 3 ultras, 2 triathlons, racing a train and several as yet unknowns, which you could help to decide…
If I like running, why not just run? Why even bother to enter races? By not entering races, I could save myself a small fortune for one thing (12 in 12 is going to set me back a few bob – don’t tell the good Sharon)! I could set myself a challenge each month and not bother to race at all. I’d have the stats and data of the race from my running watch (proof!), and the inner satisfaction of knowing I’d done it. So why do I need to race, and see my name on a results sheet afterwards? It’s an interesting question, and one to which the obvious answers, although important, aren’t perhaps the most pertinent. There’s the clear benefit that racing provides a focus for the training – I definitely run more on the build up to a race than I do if I’ve a couple of months without racing, and I often find my motivation slumps dramatically between races. There’s also the lure of adrenaline from racing against others, and although this does play a part for me, as a mid-pack runner, it’s also not my biggest reason.
The truth is, racing really excites me – before it, during it and after it. I love getting my gear ready (especially for an ultra), and I love the sharp focus a race brings for really zoning in on my food and water intake on the build-up to it. I even enjoy, in a weird way, the pre-race nerves. Sharon will testify that sometimes I get very edgy before the longest races, but it’s all a part of it. I think I need the nerves in order to be ready both mentally and physically. All of this builds up to create a fertile bed for the events which follow on race day itself – arriving at the start and seeing the banners and flags; the growing tension as everyone prepares their mind for what lies ahead; the atmosphere on those last minutes queued before the start line, trying to gather the thoughts and stay calm (I’m as edgy at the start of a 10K as I am at the start of 100 miles!). And then, the huge feeling of relief when the horn goes off and there’s nothing left to do but give it my best shot – it’s such a release! During the race, I love the camaraderie of shared suffering; the snatched conversations with strangers; the encouraging shouts from the crowds and the high-5’s from the kids. And afterwards, I like looking at the results sheet… Yes, I do! I’m a geek! I rarely finish higher than a third of the way down the field, but I love to look at what the fastest and slowest times were, as for me, that’s where huge inspirations can lie. And I like to see who the age group winners were too – especially at the upper and lower age groups, epic achievements can also be found. And knowing that I was there, that I was a small part of that race, means something to me. It’s a sense of belonging, of being part of a new extended family which existed only for that one race. To put it in a sentence, the atmosphere generated by both the organisers, crowds and the other athletes alongside the camaraderie of the competitors are what pulls me back to races. There’s a magic in them which you have to experience for yourself to fully appreciate.
I was fascinated to read that this question had bothered arguably the greatest Ultra / Trail / Sky runner the world has ever known, Kilian Jornet. He touches on the subject of why he races in his Foreword to Ian Corless’ stunning coffee-table book ‘Running Beyond‘ (if you love looking at photos of inspiring runners dwarfed within the incredible landscapes of some of the world’s most iconic trail races, I can heartily recommend you grab yourself a copy, it really is a fantastic book). Kilian talks of how the sharing of emotions create a special aura at a race, and in those words, he’s summed my thoughts up perfectly.
So, 12 in 12 months – what am I actually going to be doing…?
12 in 12 – the races
With so many races to choose from, how do you go about deciding which ones to enter? For my 12 in 12, it was a combination of when the race is, and where it is. Although it’s cool to travel all over the place to race, with a limited budget and lots of domestic considerations, anywhere too far from home isn’t always an option for me. But some of this year’s races are special for various reasons. I get to run two of my ‘bucket list’ races – the London Marathon in April, and the Race the Train in August. I’ll talk more about these as the races get closer. And I’m also going back to a city that was once very familiar to me, and to which I’ve not been for over 15 years. When I was last there running was not a part of my life, at all. And this time I go back to race a marathon around its streets. I’m very excited about that! I’ll also be doing my first ever Triathlon in June, which will be a practice one for my Half Ironman in July. The thought of a tri still slightly terrifies me, but slightly less than it did when I wrote this post about conquering my fear!
Some of the months have ‘Challenge‘ assigned to them. The first month of January is a Challenge month, and in it I’m going to run a 20-mile long run each weekend of the month (five in total). It’s my hope that when I’ve done that, I’ll be able to keep it going for almost every weekend of the year. November and December both currently have ‘Challenge‘ assigned to them too, and I haven’t yet decided on what they’ll be. If you’ve any suggestions, I’m all ears…
I’ve been buzzing as I’ve been working out and signing up for the 12 in 12 challenges for the year ahead! The feeling of nervous excitement I get when I sign up for a race is childlike! (I feel a goof admitting it, but it’s true.) If it’s a new race for me, I wonder to myself what the course will be like, what the finish looks like and what iconic landmarks I may run past. And, new race or an old favourite, I always wonder how the race will feel for me – will it be a great one where I feel like I could run forever, or a mental slog to just keep putting one foot in front of another? There are never guarantees, and I’m never complacent. Despite running ultras, a marathon can still floor me if I get it wrong. So, this is where I’d love for you to join in. I’d like to ask that you do two things after you finish reading this. Firstly, find and sign up for a challenge, something which challenges you – go that bit further than you ever have before or try something completely new. And secondly, leave a quick note in the comments section below. Tell us what you’ve signed up for and why this is a challenge for you. Lots of lovely people engage with this blog through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (as well as good old word of mouth!), but it would be great if you shared those comments below too, so they’re all in one place, and so that we can all hopefully inspire and encourage each other along the way.