Just because you follow The Art of Running Slowly doesn’t mean that you can’t race. Far from it: races are highlights which give a special focus to your running, and make you feel like a “proper” runner instead of just someone who goes for an occasional run. The planning and build-up and training, the anticipation, and the atmosphere on the day are all fantastic and get into a runners head and spirit. And there is something undeniably special about pinning a race-number on your vest. TARS doesn’t mean that you have to give that up; rather, it helps make sure you enjoy the race and look back with satisfaction when you have that beer in the evening.
I have done many races, but in reality I have not raced in that sense, except with my own expectations and goals. I’ve certainly never been in the reckoning to be on the podium; and I’m not a club-runner so there are no prizes or ladder-places at stake. (That’s not to say I haven’t been determined, many times, to beat that annoying bloke who keeps getting in my line, or the one with the irritating stride, or from the town with the wrong football team….. but that’s not actually racing as such.) Sometimes I have been thrilled at my performance. Other times, I have burnt myself out completely but still been disappointed.
It’s always struck me that all times are relative.
- Let’s say I finish a race, a half-marathon, in my target window between 1:40 and 1:45. (My last Half was 1:40:56). I feel good, haven’t hurt myself in the process, and am proud of my run.
- A few seconds ahead of me, finishing inside 1:41 and well outside his target, a club-runner. He is gutted. He’s had a ‘mare of a run. He walks out of the end-funnel and his family meet him and say “Well done!” but actually he’s close to tears, demoralised and wondering why he bothers, all those months of work….
- By the time I’m paying for my polystyrene tea, another runner crosses the line, 1:59:04. He is ecstatic. In the last mile he seriously wanted to just lie down, but now he’s electrified, clenches his fists, even manages a little jump in the air. He walks out of the end-funnel and his family meet him and say “Well done!” and he’s close to tears, never believed he had this in him, all those months of work….
So. Who has had the best run?
- Surely it must be the club-runner. After all, he is the fastest.
- Or me, because I am on target?
- Or maybe, just maybe, could it possibly be the one with the slowest time? That would be upside-down, but…..
I read a very interesting blog recently called “Perform to Fail”(*) which set an expectation of making sure your exercise is effective by pushing to your limits each time, and finished with the thought that anything short of that is “better than nothing, but that’s about it”.
Maybe it’s a question of what your goals are, or perhaps more simply, just one of age and the realisation that there comes a point when you simply cannot keep getting faster. TARS says that you can have all the benefits of running without needing to push to the point of failure. I would go further: to push to the point of failure – that is, of disappointment at a missed target, or of injury – is actually worse than nothing, because it is negative. Taken too far, you might shorten or prematurely end your running years. TARS is designed to extend them.
So by all means plan, train, push yourself, adjust your plan, train some more and throw in some gym or yoga too. Race. Be excited to pin that number on your vest. Be elated some times. Fail some times. And then come back stronger and proud.
Just make sure that the targets, the goals, and the judgment on whether you won or not, are your own. The balance of running with work, family and the other roles of your life. Your body and your spirit. Your time.
And your medal, with a smile not disappointment.