Oh, the ritual of the race! There are these dangerous moments when you think that it would be fun to run a race. It’s in those moments that you run the risk of signing up for an actual race; before your head can contemplate the wisdom of this idea, you find that your fingers have already pushed the “enter” button. What have you gone and done now? It’s not uncommon to then require a few days of cowering behind the couch and sucking on your thumbs to come to terms with the gravity or your actions, but eventually you find that you are capable of switching from avoidance to approach coping. You then go through several trees worth of paper in the process of drawing up and refining the ultimate plan for achieving world domination a particular finish time come race day.
Following this, you will probably spend the next couple of weeks wrestling with this master plan; you will have weeks of changing things around only to find that you have missed a run or two. This is inevitably followed by a panic week, in which you consistently overdo your training and basically view your carefully tinkered plan as defining the bare minimum of your training. At the same time, you begin to cultivate mental images of yourself crossing the finish line, light on your feet, the running definition of glorious grace, all while – naturally – smashing your personal best time. But be warned: the effects of religiously overtraining combined with the distorted view of yourself can encourage you to revise your target race pace downwards to something deliriously optimistic.
A few weeks before the race, you start to notice little bits of evidence in training – whether real or imagined – that your naive finishing time might be possible after all. For instance, you have just run the fourth kilometre of a 5km tempo run at target race pace and didn’t die. Therefore, why shouldn’t it be possible to run that exact same pace for 10km, 21.1km, 6 hours at a time, right? But the instant when things are beginning to look promising is also when your taper begins, which means that you’ll feel rather grumpy about your reduction in training. While in this state of endorphin-withdrawal, you will most likely first feel cranky about the race, and then experience a general animosity towards life in general. In those moments, you would much rather just go for a long run, without a care in the world, not limited by the prospects of a silly race. This is often followed by a phase in which you tell yourself that target times for races are a stupid anyway and that nobody cares about your finishing time, so you might as well walk the race and be done with it.
On the morning of the race, it’s perfectly normal to contemplate why you are doing this at all and to spend a significant amount of energy searching for an exit route. But after the gun has finally bellowed and you are, at last, allowed to stretch your legs, you might find that it’s not so bad after all and settle into a personal kind of groove. You enjoy the moments early on in the race, when you are running much too fast but it still feels good to do so. You even tell yourself that you are feeling so awesome, there’s no reason why you can’t maintain this pace and set a new world record. This act of idiotic thinking is immediately punished by a thousand shades of pain for the remainder of the race, which are sprinkled with just enough magical bouts of the elusive “runner’s high” to stop you from pulling out of the race altogether. It’s true that you learn a lot about yourself while racing; for instance, you become intimately aware of several parts of your body you have never really appreciated before – before they started to hurt like hell, that is. And finally, once you have run, walked, crawled or staggered across the finish like, your biggest achievement of the day (i.e. not throwing up this very moment) is rewarded by a stranger hanging a medal around your neck.
You swear you’ll never do this to yourself ever again. You go home, ice your legs, and convince yourself that a tub of ice-cream and an alcoholic beverage are excellent recovery foods. But a week or so later, usually after another glass or wine or two, you begin to think that it might be fun to run a race one of these days…