Monday, June 24, 2013

The Spirit of Racing

There's just something so special about racing. A race is a target to aim for in your training, whether your goal is to complete a new distance, or better your finish time in a distance you've completed before. It's a chance to test your limits, see how you perform under pressure, and how you fare against other competitors. It's a coming together of a community of like-minded individuals for a few hours of good, healthy fun. No matter if I went to a race to watch, to work, to cheer on friends, or to run it for myself, and whether or not I run for fun or run to achieve, I always seem to come home with a big smile on my face. There's really no comparison for the experience. I'm feeling a bit of a high after spending the day yesterday working at the Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon seeing so many happy runners, friends, and our TNT team out there with much to be proud of.

The last couple of months, I've been to quite a few races. After 2 half marathons in April, I didn't race at all in May. But I did go to both our local marathons that month. I captained a water station at the BMO Vancouver Marathon and it was loads of fun, cheering on thousands of runners that went by and providing a service back to the race that so many runners stopped to acknowledge despite the blistering heat, and their obvious struggle at mile 16 of a marathon. It was a wonderful reminder to me of the community I'm part of, realizing it was a year ago that I had run that very same race as my first ever marathon, and I was looking ahead to my 3rd marathon that was happening in a month's time. I saw several of my friends and our TNT participants go by and it was incredible to cheer them on and put a smile on their face to help them along. I know whenever I have run a big race, seeing a familiar face on the course has helped me stay relaxed and has given me a boost to keep going strong. I'm never going to forget seeing Humphrey come along to the water station, yelling with excitement seeing me on the course, while running his first ever marathon.

Later in May, I went out to the Run For Water in Abbotsford to cheer on my friend David who was hoping for a first place finish at the race (which he got!). This was such a different race experience for me, a much quieter one, driving the course with Sally, seeing David out on the course almost completely by himself, save his lead cyclist and the 2nd place finisher. I'm used to seeing crowds upon crowds and being part of that crowd when I'm at a race. The lead elite runners are just people you see for a brief flash at the start of a race, or go by you as a race turns around. They are there just long enough for you to remember they were part of the same race as you (but done so much sooner!). Here being out in front following the lead runner, I didn't see any other runners, runners like me, until we went to the finish line. What an inspiration to see what it's like at the front of a race. Much different from my usual experience in the middle of the pack.

June has been a rather busy month when it comes to races. I went into the month with having my eyes on my June 2nd marathon in San Diego. Knowing that this was my goal race, and one that would require significant recovery time, I made zero other racing plans. That was until the Longest Day 5km (& 10km) at UBC came around on June 14th. I hadn't done a shorter distance race since the Icebreaker 8km in Steveston back in January, and this race hadn't occurred to me until I started to hear about it. In fact, I was hearing more about the post-race BBQ than anything, given it's on a Friday night (by the way, the amount of food was indeed epic), and several of my friends convinced me to sign up. I decided to do the 5km as it was a shorter commitment to put on my legs, and a race distance I'd never done before.

Knowing this was less than 2 weeks after the marathon, my legs and lungs just getting used to running again, I promised myself I wouldn't push too hard, and would pace myself somewhat conservatively. The time I clocked was 25:36 which surprised me as my goal was about 27min. Knowing I didn't push myself in the way I could have if the race was under different circumstances (ie., not so soon after a marathon), I was super pleased with this. I'd never raced a 5km before and now I wonder what I could do if I were to try this distance again on recovered legs. Sub-25 is definitely a within-reach goal, maybe even closer to 24:00 - who knows until I find a race to try it out. This was certainly a major boost to my confidence. It was even more so a boost when I checked my results, did some math and realized I had finished roughly within the top 15% out of all women in the race in 12th in my age category when in longer distance races, I tend to finish in the top 1/3 to 1/2. Coach John suggested that shorter races are a great training tool because they give that mental boost during the long slog of training for a big race. Training for a marathon is very much both about training your body as it is training your mind, and a confidence boost will never hurt you.

The day after running the Longest Day 5km, I got an email reminder that I had signed up to be part of a fundraiser 8km run/walk that my friend Annie's work was putting on Sunday (as in 2 days after I raced the 5km) at Iona Beach in Richmond. I completely forgot about this, with all the busy that life was throwing at me. Knowing this was not at all a competitive race or an official one, I originally signed on just to go have fun and contribute to a fundraiser to support a friend. But after feeling really good about how I performed at the Longest Day 5K, and then finally reading about what I had signed up for, I realized there was a prize for "Fastest Runner" for this 8km event.  In official race circumstances, winning top prize would be a stretch given how I fare against other runners who are more naturally gifted in the area of speed! But I have to remind myself that my abilities aren't average when I compare myself to the general public. An unofficial running event put together by a community group, is very much a representative sampling of actual people - some runners, some not. I realized here I might actually be the one that stands out as a serious runner. Here I might be accused of being fast. Here there might be others who run, some who run a lot, but maybe not as many who take it quite as seriously as I do. Here I might have a chance to win. And even though I had no idea what the prize was for winning, I wanted it so badly! It wasn't about the prize or the attention I'd get for it, but about the confidence boost. It was all about me showing myself what I've achieved over the years. The girl who was overweight most her life, hated running, and who was always chosen last for teams in PE class has grown into an athlete, and was going to win this race no matter what. From last to first, that's where I was going. Running is something I am good at.

It was a really hot day and a later start for this run. I brought a bottle with me and filled it with just enough for a couple mouthfuls to keep me comfortable, knowing there'd be no water anywhere on the course. The crowd gathered at the start line and I took my place front and centre, feeling a bit sheepish about doing so. I got into my ready-to-run position, which sparked someone to say about me, "oh wow, I have this feeling she's going to be fast." The moment the signal went off to start the race, I took off. I soon realized I had a good lead and I was determined to keep it. I felt rather lonely out in front and admit I wondered a few times if it was a bad idea to be trying at this run. I mean, wouldn't it be more fun to run at an easy pace and have people to talk to? Was I spoiling the spirit of the event by going out hard when the focus here was fundraising first, not running? Should I be walking with the friend who invited me instead? The prize couldn't be all that awesome for a modest fundraiser event? But I soon dismissed all of this, reminding myself that I was invited because Annie knows I love running. And I reminded myself of how good it would feel when asked how I did, to say nonchalantly, "I won."

When I made it around the 4km turnaround point, I finally realized I had company in this race, seeing the next two finishers approaching the turnaround for themselves. My lead in front of them appeared quite comfortable, but knowing they were there kept me honest. I felt I'd be ok if I maintained the same pace and if I felt they were getting any closer, I could pour the heat on toward the end of the race. When I got to the 7km marker, I knew it was mine for sure and just kept running and enjoying my beautiful surroundings. I finished in just over 41min. Not sure what my actual time was, as I forgot to stop my watch, but I do know that the next finisher came in a good 2 min later. I felt like a million bucks after, and a bit like a celebrity too :)
Breaking the Tape for a First Place Finish!
Being presented with my 'prize purse' (gift certificate for dinner!) and taking a bite out of my "medal"

I feel rather proud of this piece of paper :)


  1. How cool is that!? Winning a race must feel so amazing!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. You inspire me for the next "Longest Day Race" I hope you will be able to join us again.
    Colleen ~ The Travel Group