As I sit here with yet another case of race jitters, I ask myself why I race. Why put myself through this if it makes me feel this way — anxious, nervous, exposed, vulnerable? Yup, if I had to choose one word, that’s how I feel: vulnerable. I care about the race experience and the outcome. I’ve put in the training time, I’ve paid my money, I want to see it all pay off. I’ve put my goal out there (race to the best of my ability, PR if I’m lucky, qualify for Boston someday). And I don’t want to embarrass myself or get injured.
But really, how could I embarrass myself? It’s not like anyone cares about my race time but me. It’s not like if I tripped and fell, other people would laugh. Quite the opposite, I’m sure. Family, friends, fellow racers, they would all offer sympathy and concern. So I why do I feel so vulnerable? I equate it to going up on stage to perform in a play. The actor has rehearsed for months and wants to do well. He knows if he flubs a line, it won’t be the end of the world. No one will throw tomatoes or boo him off the stage. His friends, family and fellow actors will still care for him, and they’ll offer sympathy. But he will still feel embarrassment, and a sense that he let himself down by not doing his best. And yet in spite of the pressure, he goes up on stage anyway, and makes himself vulnerable.
So why do I do it? Why do I race?
1. The challenge makes me grow.
2. Fear is a good motivator. I love to train, but sometimes that’s not enough to get me out the door early on a weekend morning for a long run. Having a lofty race goal on the horizon keeps me accountable.
3. The reward for putting oneself out there is greater than the risk of embarrassment or injury.
4. Every race teaches us something. A great race affirms our training and our choices. A “bad” race points out what we could do differently next time.
5. Pushing past that feeling of vulnerability gives you a sense of accomplishment, no matter the outcome.
Courage is its own reward.
~ Plautus, Roman playwright.
Tomorrow I will hit the starting line of the La Habra 10K. It’s a hilly, two-loop course that presents an interesting challenge. Two years ago I completed the race in 51:29. My 10K PR from the Turkey Trot trail race is 50:26. I’d love to finish this race in under 50 minutes. Who knows what race day will bring, but I am willing to make myself vulnerable to find out.