I hate racing. There, I’ve said it. And I can’t believe I’m the only one. In fact, I’m convinced that race-hating is the dirty little secret of the running universe.
Really, what is there to like about it? You train for months, or years, just to suffer for hours (or days) all for a medal that you could just as easily buy online for a couple of bucks. And the stress. The worrying for weeks ahead of time about the weather, your conviction that you are dying from a rare form of cancer that only attacks your plantar fascia, and the nagging unease that builds towards full blown panic at the thought of having to use a Port-a-Potty with fifteen thousand other sweaty people. And this is supposed to be fun!
Truly, I hate it.
Because I primarily run ultras, I start hating every race at about mile ten and continue to hate it for the next twenty-two plus hours. That is a long time to be in a state of hate. Yes, there are ups and downs in the level of loathing I feel while I’m racing – sometimes I can feel downright punch drunk with endorphins – but none of the highs ever go as high as the lows go low. My misery does not have a counterpart in racing, only a dim glow of I-might-not-die-this-time contentment when I hit mile 100 and I’m still moving forward.
And it’s not about losing. Winning a race is just as miserable while you are doing it as simply finishing, because everyone is covering the same distance. It’s not like winning makes the race shorter, or less pressure-filled. It just means you get a bigger medal, or a trophy, or a giant porcelain salamander (which I admit, is pretty cool, but I still question whether it’s worth running for nine hours to get) when it’s over.
And yet I continue to train every day for my next race. Mile after mile, pair of shoes after pair of shoes, I run and run.
“You’re like a good understudy,” my husband, Tim, says one day after I come through the front door, my earbuds still in my ears, singing “Come and Get Your Love” at the top of my lungs (there may have been some dancing, too – me, not Tim).
“What does that mean,” I ask accusingly. I know a compliment is not coming down the pike.
“You seem to really enjoy the practice – the running and the planning – but you hate the performance. You like all the work but not the show.”
“Um, I don’t think you quite get the concept of ‘understudy’,” I say grumpily, my run buzz quickly dissipating. “An understudy is dying to go onstage. But they have to wait for the performer to die or get sick or fall off a scaffold, or something.”
“Okay, so I’m not too good with theater metaphors, but you get my point, right?”
And I did. I want to go to all the rehearsals, put in all the work, but I really dread being called to perform. What’s up with that?
Frankly, I just know how hard it’s going to be. There is no easy way to get through a race, regardless of the distance. It’s always going to be six (or sixteen, or sixty) miles too long. I’m going to hit the wall, and probably more than once. I’m going to be whiny and bitchy and vomity (which should totally be a word in the running universe). Every. Single. Race.
But I keep going back, keep entering my name, address, birthday and shirt size into the boxes on Ultrasignup and Active.com because I can’t help myself.
For as much as I hate to race, hate the pain and the emotional toll it takes, I love to have run. I love the zig zaggy pleasure of bombing down a trail propelled by the adrenaline of chasing someone, or being chased. I love the supreme focus required to keep my numbers (and calories) straight when I’m running around a 400 meter track for twenty-four hours. I love every person on the side of the road holding a sign telling me I’m really a Kenyan, or that I’m looking maaaaaahevelous, and making me laugh out loud during a marathon. But mostly, I love getting a front row seat to watch people do near-heroic things in the late hours of a race. None of these things can be experienced during a solo training run of repeats on the hill near my house. And while no one is there to witness me doing a full face plant during those hill repeats, no one is there to inspire me to get up, shake it off, and keep moving, either.
So, I keep racing, even though I hate it, because I love what it gives, and shows, me a whole lot more.
But I still hate it. Really.