Writing, Running, Being.

The finish line is a shifty Thing and what is life, but reckoning?
Ani DiFranco

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Running should be free, man.

I don't race very much. Sometimes I feel like less of a runner because of this. I hate missing out on local races. I feel guilty about it, like I really should be running all of them. If I'm not racing in my own town's Turkey Trot, can I even call myself a runner? People who don't even run come out at least for the Turkey Trot. If I don't run the Turkey Trot, am I less than a non-runner? It seems silly, but I think most of us, to some degree, feel compelled to race just to maintain our identities as runners.

When you meet people and they find out you're into running, they always ask how many races or "marathons" you've done. I hate that question. If they're less than impressed with your number (which then becomes your status), they'll tell you about their friend, or co-worker, or co-worker's friend who does a marathon every month. The subliminal message is: "THERE! Betcha don't feel like such a runner anymore, huh?" Running several marathons per year, or completing the "50 states" challenge only proves one thing as far as I'm concerned. You have money.

If you want to get really personal, or even if you don't, I'll tell you that my husband and I make ~25K per year (together). We happen to be really good at budgeting and managed to pay off 10K of credit card debt in 2 years, and buy a house on our meager rations. We worked really hard to do that. We said "no" in a lot of places we wanted to say "yes". For me, that meant saying "no" to races. It hurt a lot at first. For a short time, between graduating college and becoming a mom, I had the financial freedom to do whichever races I wanted. I could afford coaching, entry fees, travel expenses, and even *gulp* triathlons! If it was the "season" I was busy racing every weekend, collecting those shiny medals and hoarding wrinkled bib numbers. Who did I think I was? Were all those meaningless trinkets defining me as a runner? Yup. Well, I was allowing them to, anyway. Each race was another notch in my belt. I was compiling evidence that I was in fact, not a loser (even though you can certainly be the technical loser of a race and still get the medal). I needed these things to uphold my "Runner" status. Somehow I missed how simple it really was. To be a runner, all I needed to do was run.

Sometimes I have to catch myself because I start basing my runner-esteem on the races I've done. When I count them up, there aren't too many and I get a little depressed. "I should race more," I say. "I need to catch up. [So and so]'s been running 1/5 as long as I have and he's already done 6 marathons. I've only done 3." I have to consciously draw myself out of these self-depricating chats. I have been running half my life. I'm 26. I'm a runner, and I don't need 2 million finisher's medals to prove it.

In my opinion, road races have gotten out of control. They are too big and too expensive. Do you really need a medal, another tech shirt and a bag full of useless sample products to motivate yourself to compete in a race? Are you even competing? Or are you just buying yourself another medal? I don't want to knock anyone for being out there and getting exercise but when I see people in races, walking and happily chatting on their cell phones or treating the road race as a parade (writing their names on their shirts, waving like political candidates at spectators) I have to wonder if they're missing the point. Or if racing has deviated from its original intent. I mean, it's supposed to be painful, right?

In In the last few years, I have gone down to running one or two main events per year. I live in Colorado Springs, where there is some kind of local race almost every weekend, all year round. I'd go broke if I did all of them. The Pikes Peak Road Runners is a group that puts on many of the races here. For the most part, they are void of nonsense medals and schwag bags. They charge just enough to put on the race and keep the runners hydrated. I like that. We want to run for the competition and the camaraderie, not the goodies. We don't need another shirt, we don't need to be pampered at every aid station, and we don't need to be marketed to at giant, crowded expos. We just need to race. Whether it's other runners, the clock, or just ourselves, racing is what we come to do.

I know that there are as many reasons to run as there are runners. There are as many reasons to race as there are racers. I'm fine with just being a runner. I would do it if races didn't exist. I would do it if Garmin didn't exist. I would run for the same conflicting reasons I have always run: the pure joy and total agony of it. Take away all the glitter and tell me why you really love to race.

I don’t want anyone to do anything except come run, party, dance, eat, and hang with us. Running isn’t about making people buy stuff. Running should be free, man. -Micah True (from Born to Run)


Anonymous said...

It's official. You're my new hero! Seriously, I couldn't agree with you more! I never used to race, and only started to motivate a small group of lady friends I met when we moved from Utah to Texas.
I hear ya on the budget thing, we've been there done that and I commend you for being able to say no when you need to! Doesn't paying off all that debt feel GREAT??! I know! :)

Anne Marie said...

Great honest post!
I definitely hear you on the budget thing and how freakin' expensive races/and tri's are. It's a bit crazy.
We use all our 'entertainment' $ for them, literally. Either a nice dinner, or a triathlon fee?

and I just tapped into a san fran running group that puts on 5k's and 10k's every weekend for $5. It's been the best. Again, nice post. looking forward to reading what ps say;-)


Tracey Kite said...

I dont race much either, I pick a few special races a year to do and the rest of the time run alone. You are right it is way to expensive to run them all and for me when I do run them it is for a reason, to beat my time, or move up to the next distance.
I hate that people judge you as a runner by what you have run or how fast you run. I am a runner and that is it, I don't need to prove it to anyone but myself. Great post!

Aimee (I Tri To Be Me) said...

Love the quote at the end and I love your post! You're right, running should just be about getting out there and doing your thing, not about how many medals you have.

On the other hand, I have friends (myself included) that sign up for races to meet a certain goal. So, they pay the fee, and then have to put in the work and training in order to actually do the race. Yes, in a perfect world, it should all be about internal motivation. But, sometimes we need some kind of goal (whether it be a 5k, triathlon, or marathon) to get us going.

Oh..and I chuckled when I read the first part about the Turkey Trot. The one here in Denver has gotten so out of hand and big that my husband and I boycotted it. Instead, we put our boys in the jogger and did our own Turkey Trot 5k on one of our favorite running trails. We ended up playing in the park with our boys when we finished. It was perfect!

Jill said...

I love your post, beautifully written! We all run for our own reasons and those reasons may change many times over our running lives - at least I know mine have.

More snow in Denver right now. Ugh. So ready for spring. Nice job on all your great running!!

Barefoot AngieB said...

I absolutely love that quote by Caballo Blanco! Nice post and I am glad to start getting to know you!

tara said...

Great, honest post Marny. I think we are all runners if we lace up (or don't lace up for you minimalists out there) and hit the trails/roads. We aren't defined by races you are right. It is funny I hate that question about how many marathons I have done as well, feel like I am being sized up by my answer. But have to say I do like some of the gear I get at races. But would happily pay half the entry fee and get nothing, that would rock.

Marny said...

For me races are the time to reach my goals and (hopefully)make my PRs "official". They are great because even if you're only really competing against yourself, you can use other runners to fuel your efforts. It can be through competition or motivation. It's great to have strangers to run with. I just feel like we can get too caught up in our race resumes, and let them affect how we think of ourselves as runners, especially when we compare ourselves with each other. I'm a BIG comparer...something I'm working on. :)

Paula-Adventure Junkie Mom said...

Amen to that sista!! I too believe that races have gotten out of control. We are runners, that love to run, plain and simple. I went for a long time without racing because of the "hype" It's my passion no matter what.
Nice that you have a local running group that puts on races. We have one here that will put on 5k's for free. Christmas, Valentines etc, open to anyone, completely free. That's what is should really be about. Just the joy of running!
Great quote, from a great book!

Anne said...

This is an excellent and extremely thought-provoking post. I can't believe you're only 26?! I read about your blog on Anne-Marie's latest post.
I am a new runner and have been thinking about the role of racing in my life. I mentioned to my husband that I didn't think I'd be doing tons of races...although I totally look forward to doing some (I'm still a race-virgin). I want to run for the rest of my life and that means being careful not to injure myself. I still want to get better at running and improve my time and yes, I do have the comparing bug...especially these days...but, I'm working on that :)
Thanks for this post!

careysue said...

Just found your blog! Love it, I'm a mom of 6 and started running for the mental release and solitude...I absolutely agree with you concerning racing and budgets. I too compare myself to other runners who do a lot more races than I! I simply love to run and if I can afford and have the time to do a race, be it a Marathon or 10k I do it, but only for the excitement of running with others! I definitely will be a reader of your blog! I'm not blogging anymore (time factor) but I'm on facebook if you would friend me!

Thanks again!
Carey Geyer

Marny said...

Thanks Carey! A running mom of 6?? Wow! You're my new hero!

leo said...

marny i love your post. i used to be a runner, then a cyclist, and now i'm a runner/cyclist. back when i was a cyclist i experienced situations where cycling WAS about the bike and gear and races, and NOT about the enjoyment of cycling. i stopped racing because i couldn't keep up financially, so became "the ex-cyclist." i have signed up for a marathon this year but it is my first one in many many years. looking forward to a new shirt :)

Jeff McMahon/Road Dog Runner said...

Thanks for the attitude check! As the director of a charity program, I run and coach runners at many events. But I have caught myself feeling somewhat guilty that I will be traveling on tour and won't be snagging much "I crossed the finish line" bling to hang around the lampshade in my office this year.

Thanks for takin' the boot off my neck; I'll just run!