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)