Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Racing vs. Participating

Boy, this blog is schizophrenic isn't it?


Elizabeth and Jennifer have been doing a monthlyish podcast that I've recently started listening to.  Their most recent podcast was a Q&A from questions that people had sent in beforehand.  (I sent in a question, but mine was not answered.  :(  I'm hoping maybe they'll answer it in their part 2 of Q&A.)  I don't remember the exact question but they addressed the question regarding racing vs. participating - a very interesting question for two coaches who coach a lot of people who are wanting to do an ironman or run a marathon.  It begs the question, is it more comfortable to go longer than to actually "race"?

And a very interesting question that has followed me for most of my running career.

My friend Andrea and I used to have some serious spoken and unspoken disagreements regarding racing.  Although we trained together, our racing schedule was very different.  I would do two marathons a year, while she would do more than that.  I would actual train for races, while her intent was just to run the races.  The frustrating thing for me is that she kept getting faster and my times seemed to stay steady.  A couple years ago she moved to Colorado and changed her running habits.  I changed over to triathlon.  She has now begun to RACE and has gotten incredibly fast.  So fast, I can't even be jealous anymore because I'm not even in the same time zone as her race times.  I have had some success in racing again, but obviously took a step back since getting pregnant.  She has struggled with injury and mental blocks recently, so I suggested to her that maybe she should just "participate" for a while.  I can't believe I actually said that.  (Of course, she went out and busted a 1:29 PR in a half marathon so it's a good thing she didn't listen to me.)

Myself, having gotten pregnant in the middle of my racing season last year, I was forced to participate.  And you know what?  I kinda enjoyed it.  There were no expectations, there was no training, there was no nervousness, the people in the back of the pack were nicer, etc.  I never finished DFL but came in with most "average" runners.

With only a few weeks left of my pregnancy, I've thought a lot about what will life be like afterwards.  I have not signed up for any races.  I have not outlined a race schedule.  I don't even know if I will be able to or will want to continue to run.  But, I have thought a lot about short versus long races.  I do like to go long.  I enjoy getting lost in the monotony of mile after mile after mile.  Training for long distance races takes a toll on the body and for me, at least mentally, I struggle with putting all my eggs in one basket for a single race.  Personally, I've done the marathon.  I've done well in the marathon.  I really have nothing to prove in the marathon.  Would I like to go 3:20, 3:15, or better in the marathon?  Absolutely.  Does this define me as a runner?  I'm not sure.

And then there's the damn ironman.  Yes, I will continue to call it the damn ironman until I finish the damn thing.  I sometimes feel a little haunted having not finished the race.  Although as time has passed, I'm okay with not being an ironman.  However, I still want to finish the race.

As I tip over the edge of early 30s into my late 30s this spring, I think about how much time I actually have left to get faster.  Let's be honest, time is ticking.  I would love to do another marathon.  I would love to do the ironman.  Heck, I'd even like to try a 50K.  But, why would I do all that stuff now when I only have a limited time left to get faster at the shorter distances.  Is doing the marathon, ironman, ultras really all about participating?  Can one actually race those distances?

What are your thoughts on this topic?  Do you think being called a runner is dependent on finishing a marathon?  Or triathlete finishing an ironman?  Which distance of race do you prefer?  Are you comfortable with the uncomfortable?  What are your thoughts on speed and age and how to pick races?


Andrea Hill said...

Hey Meredith, So I saw this post the other day and had to think about a response..

first off.. thank you (I guess) for mentioning me and how well I'm doing. I appreciate it! But I also feel a bit weird about you feeling we're in different leagues now. We just have had different foci.

But also.. I think we both know that diverging in terms of my switching to roller derby for awhile and you going into triathlon was probably one of the best things that could have happened to our friendship :-) We're both stubborn and competitive, and it's inevitable we're going to clash so long as we share different viewpoints.

But... lo and behold, it seems in our --old age-- maturing days, we may be converging a bit and realize there are merits in both approaches! Sure, you're going to perform better on a day you've specifically trained for and are prepared for, but there's also some joy in just participating for the sake of being there. GASP! We were/are both right! :-)

Your question about how whether you feel an athlete has to complete a specific distance gave me something good to think about, too. I run with a woman who is crazy fast - she ran a 1:26 half in Columbus in October. But she's never run further than that. She logs probably 60-70MPW, but she just isn't mentally ready to dedicate herself to racing 26.2 miles. I keep telling her she 'has to' just because I know she could, and probably really well, too. But after I read your post, I realized I was enforcing my perception of what a 'real runner' should do, which is actually kinda silly. I consider her much more of a runner than someone who walks a marathon just to say she's done it. So maybe I think there is a difference between a runner (activity) and marathoner (distance?) Although I guess I should just welcome them both to the club...

Melissa C said...

I think Andrea totally hit the nail on the head with her comment. I have a friend who exceptionally fast in the 5k/10k distances. She only does races with sizable purses. She is a mother, her daughter is about the same age as Keira, and we have many mutual friends. She could not fathom the amount of training it would take for her to train for a marathon. She runs an insane amount and that is for the 10k. She is no less a runner for that.

Also, you would think that since I have done the "damn ironman", I would think of myself as an experience triathlete. I don't. I still think of myself as a beginner, and as a runner, not a triathlete. I just love running too much. I enjoy tris and will continue to do them, but I like that I can do them rather haphazardly like Andrea does/did with her running, yet I keep my running regimented like you.