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Why I Keep Racing Even Though I Hate It (Or: Why I keep whining my way through 100 miles)

by Carilyn on October 24, 2014

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.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

olga October 24, 2014 at 7:55 am

I think I still hope to feel how I felt when I started racing. That’s why I keep entering. That, and expectations from friends all over the country, and wanting to meet them again, and see new places (that’s why I don’t like entering same races). But I come, I run – and I fail (in my eyes, anyway). And that’s why I finally was smart enough to pull my name from Javelina next week:) I would hate to walk the whole damn thing and hate it. It’s not what I want to remember about racing.
But then again, the difference is, I don’t train right now, and haven’t for a whole year…So, may be for me it’s backwards: I need to be inspired by a race I sign up for to get a solid training in. And with 12 years of competitive and extra-too-much racing all over, I had done all there is to run (in my trail ultra category I am interested).
So, I just run to stay fit:)
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Brenda @ Don't Lose the Trail October 24, 2014 at 9:54 am

I really love this post. I am embarking upon my first ultra in 7 weeks (just a 50k to start) and I love reading candid, honest posts like this from people who compete in and love the sport. Thanks for posting!
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ultrarunnergirl October 24, 2014 at 10:15 am

Who told you racing was supposed to be fun? Exhilarating maybe.
RUNNING is supposed to be fun. Racing has been fun a few times, as in, when I was running a race, but not running it hard. I guess that’s still technically racing? :)
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Char October 24, 2014 at 12:13 pm

An ultramarathon is a long time to be hating what you’re doing. You should have chosen 5k races instead. The pain is intense but it’s over so much quicker.
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Pam October 24, 2014 at 2:21 pm

We are opposites – I pretty much just train so I can race! I think if I didn’t have any races, I might just stop running and eat a lot more chocolate chip cookie dough (that was a beautiful post, BTW)! I want the excitement, the uncertainty, the break from routine, the people, the reason to push myself harder than I ever would in any workout, and that sense of satisfaction of hard race. Even group intervals on a track just can’t provide all of that! How could I convince myself to get up at 4:30 if I wasn’t training for something??? :)
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Kim October 24, 2014 at 7:08 pm

So interesting to read this because I decided to give up trying to run an ultra because I hate pretty much every second of the race. To know that you hate a lot of the race and yet still do it makes me wonder if it is really just a matter of me not being mentally tough enough.
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Jeff Dinkin October 24, 2014 at 11:12 pm

Hilarious stuff, Carilyn! :)

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