The anxiety at the start. The way-too-fast first mile. The crash. The finish line in sight, and finally, the exultant finish itself.
That is the quick version of one of running’s favorite pastimes: racing.
But why do we do them? What draws us to compete in the same sport that many love for its being a solo sport, one where you can measure yourself only against yourself and no-one else? Well, that’s exactly it. Setting and achieving personal challenges is fun; but our needy egos wouldn’t merely be satisfied with that. No, we need to flaunt our successes, yell to the world, “Hey, look what I can do!”
I can run a half marathon distance on my own. But it’s not nearly as fun as running the same distance (which I will be this Sunday at the Long Island half) with thousands of other people. And yes, the allure lies partly in bragging rights, in the selfish glow we have when we get to tell people about our most recent PR. But I think there’s more to it than that; it’s a chance to community within our lonely sport.
Running is a solo sport, few people will deny that. There are, of course, team events, but the training, the majority of our running lives, are spent alone. Even those who train with a partner or with a club, you’re still on your own. In a real team sport, the other players can back you up, take over for you. In running, there’s no one to ease the work for you. But because running is such a solo event, I think we sometimes seek to embrace our communal sides. And that’s why we race. It gives us a group feeling, a sense for the larger running community, that we lack during the rest of our running. And though we still run the race alone and without the help of other runners, we take some strength from the mass gathering of our running brethren. The moment when I hit the first hill in a big race and I see hundreds of legs moving seemingly in unison upward; well, that’s when I understand why I love racing. The unity of the individuals.
It’s fun to run fast and to care about mile-splits and PR’s and all that. But that feeling of running togetherness which comes over me during a race is unbeatable.
To be completely honest, though, if I don’t PR at my half marathon this Sunday, I won’t give a crap after the race about all this running togetherness stuff.