The biggest question in choosing a race is why. In this excerpt from Racing Wisely, we explore the big reasons.
As you commit to your race, take a few minutes to jot down or type up some notes about why you chose this race. They can be broad (“I’ve wanted to run a marathon ever since I heard Jen describe her experience, and the training will give focus to my summer”) or specific (“Running in Yellowstone is a way to honor my father, who served as a park ranger there for two decades”). You can revisit these notes when you need an extra lift in training, and they will help you focus on the really big picture as the race draws near.
Pay close attention to these reasons. If you find that they’re originating from a training partner’s enthusiasm, or from your own preconceived ideas of how an athlete’s progression in the sport should go, reflect a while longer. When you are very clear on what drives you to race and make choices aligned with your personal motivations, you’ll have a much better chance of being intrinsically motivated to succeed. When your motivation comes from you alone, not from others and not from some projection of what, how, and where you think you should race, you’re setting yourself up for a personal best.
Take a look at the very, very big picture. You aren’t winning prize money to feed your family, you aren’t setting world records—so why race? How does it help people and contribute to society? What do you learn about yourself and your perceived limits that you could then turn into a positive force for change in the world? Ultimately, it’s not about the race. It’s about what you learn about yourself.
To that end, keep the very big picture in mind if you find yourself always reaching for more and more extreme goals. It is easy to get obsessive and self-centered in sport (heck, it’s easy to get obsessive and self-centered in Western culture!) and to lose sight of the noblest reasons to train and race. At some point, what can be an activity with wonderful benefits for your health can begin to adversely affect you, both physically and mentally.
The culture of competition in endurance sports can overshadow these big reasons. When you are regularly racing against familiar competition in your age group, it’s easy to get caught up in a numbers game. Who’s best this year? This race? Worse, there can be a temptation to race in group workouts, which is a great way to ensure you don’t bring your best on race day. If you find yourself consistently underperforming, perpetually frustrated, or hating your sport, remember the big, big picture. If your original goals are to test yourself, be healthy, and do something exciting, perhaps you’d serve humanity better volunteering in park services, at a fire department, or as a member of a backcountry rescue team. That kind of work benefits humanity while meeting the goals of learning your limits in the great outdoors.
To guide yourself as you make decisions that affect your race, you’ll need to be very clear on two things: your intention and your goals. These are not the same thing. Intention is about input: what attitude will you bring to the race? Goals are about output: your time, or your place in the field. Intention is a quality, and can’t be measured; goals are a quantity, and can. Your reflections as you choose your target race will help you start to define both intention and goals.
Read more in Racing Wisely.