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Why Do You Race?


Despite the lingering recession, participation in endurance sports continues to grow. In 2010, more than 507,000 athletes finished a marathon, an 8.6 percent increase over 2009, according to Running USA’s annual marathon report. Membership in USA Triathlon has grown from 85,000 at the end of 2006 to more than 140,000 today. Sports such as stand-up paddleboarding and obstacle mud runs have soared in popularity over the last two years as more athletes, especially in the 35-to-45 age category, look for new ways to test their limits.

Reasons for the surge in interest during tough economic times range from the bucket-list appeal of many races to an increase in organized training programs. We thought we’d go a little deeper, asking athletes why they love racing, what they get out of it, and what mindset they take into the end of a race. It all boils down to one question: Why do you race?

DAWN BAKER, marathon/trail runner, Snellville, Ga.

I love racing because it’s an escape from my everyday ordinary routine—stress, kids, family, work—and just time to enjoy teaching my body new and improved ways to stay fit, and enjoy life. It’s a release but also a time to focus on my fitness, even a time to focus on disappointments and achievements. A time to remember my grandpa and remind myself I can always do more, and always be more. It's never the same.

What pushes me to finish a race is that I’m not a quitter. If I finish crawling or walking, I'm determined to finish. Recently I did a 4-mile trail run with obstacles and sprained my ankle with soft tissue tears. It burned so much, and I wanted so badly to stop. For the first time, I almost placed for my age group and was so frustrated because I had to stop, get my bearings for about 15 minutes, suck the pain up, and keep it moving to the end, even with a cargo net and rope climbs still to go. I finished, and although I missed placing, I was proud I fought through the pain and did my best. My determination and watching others, and hearing others support you, and you supporting them, makes me finish.

SUMMER CARTER, marathon runner, Portland, Ore.

I love testing myself, pushing myself to limits that I don’t even know I’m capable of until the gun goes off. And I love the feeling I get when I cross the finish line, when I feel so exhausted, yet so proud at the same time. There’s no feeling like that in the world.

It’s about pride, training, setting and achieving goals, fun, solitude, camaraderie. Racing is all of those things to me. It’s an addiction and becomes a way of life. It’s something that makes me proud, gives me purpose, and helps influence others. I love when my running/racing encourages others. I feel it’s what I was put on Earth to do—to share my love of running.

When I hit the point in a race when I have to dig deep (no matter the distance), I just think of all the time and effort I put into training and how much I love running and how I don’t want to let myself down, or any of the people I’ve told of my race. I think of each of them and push on. I often chant my friends’ and family members’ names at times like those, and I get myself out of the funk. I often think, ‘pain is temporary, pride is forever.’

CHRIS KENDALL, cyclist and triathlete, Sacramento, Calif.

I love the atmosphere that's both competitive and a place to bond with others who are as into doing fitness events as I am. It’s also about pushing myself to get better and better, trying to get a new personal best, hanging out with friends afterwards, and of course bragging rights.

As far as motivation at the end of the race, I look to see who is ahead of me that I might be able to overtake. Other than that, I do a lot of positive self-talk and appreciate the fact that I'm in the moment doing what I absolutely love.

JESSICA KOELSCH, triathlete/adventure runner, St. Petersburg, Fla.

I love the training as much or more than I love the racing. The best part of training is the sense of accomplishment and pride from being so disciplined when pushing through workouts.

I joke that my favorite part is finishing. But it’s an oxymoron. Why start if all you want to do is finish? It’s because you feel great when it's done. Actually, the harder you push (and hurt) during the race, the better it feels when you're done.

I usually go into races with a specific goal: time, finishing place, etc. Sometimes I think about all the people following online who supported me in my training so it becomes a pride thing. And if the race isn’t going well and I'm not going to make my goal, a little voice inside my head makes me question continuing. But I pick a new less lofty goal and tell myself anything can happen and sometimes it does.

During my first full distance Ironman, I was just four miles into the run and I didn’t want to keep going. But then I found out I was in seventh place and gaining on the women in front of me. That gave me new energy and even after almost eight hours of racing, I was able to refocus, and ended up fourth and qualified for Kona. So it shows that even if you don’t think you’re having the race that you want, you never know what’s going on with the other racers around you. So don’t quit.

CHRISTY MAHONEY, marathon runner, Alpharetta, Ga.

Running for me is mental therapy that I can't do without: the quiet, the solitude, and the competition against myself. It’s in my nature to take risks and push the limits making running a marathon or long distances seem attainable. I love the easiness of the sport; all you need is running shoes and you're on your way. Also, I love that it is an individual and a team sport as well as the shared fellowship amongst runners.

The spirit of camaraderie, rush of adrenaline, and personal achievement that comes with running, these very things keep me running, day after day, year after year. I enjoy that runners seem to share an inner drive for personal achievement. It's difficult not to run. Running teaches endurance; it's been a gift. It’s taught me to appreciate time alone and to use it as a time to reflect. I’ll continue running until my body no longer lets me and along the way I’ll be working on my own personal masterpiece. I finish the race because at the end of a run it really is all about you and your performance. What you do with that result is an individual decision. I enjoy pushing myself and experiencing the competition and thrill of “battle.” But at the end of race, your biggest competitor is yourself. While I refer to myself as a normally sane person, I continue to put myself through the agonies and ecstasy of chasing those endorphins because nothing else compares to the satisfaction at the end of a run.

JERRY NAPP, triathlete and stand-up paddleboarder, Aripeka, Fla.

I like the idea that it’s all about what you bring to the starting line that day: your mental outlook, nutritional status, energy, and everything else that went into your preparation. It’s like taking the test after all of that studying.

A race gives me an objective measure of where I'm with my training and there’s a moment of truth in every race where you ask ‘did I go for it or not?’ You have to find that edge. I’ve never quit a race and what keeps me going is having respect for my other competitors, the people who come out and put on the race and volunteer, and ultimately not wanting to quit on myself.

JESSI STENSLAND, all-around endurance sports adventurer, Boulder, Colo.

I love to test myself, to learn about the process, and push myself to new limits. Training is about mastering parts of a whole, but racing is about integrating them in one performance. I love getting to express my work in my racing, always confident in knowing what I’m capable of, yet also loving the element of the unknown in the racing I do, whether the weather, the terrain, the competition, or the gear. Having to mentally and physically work through any unforeseen challenges during the race, when time is of the essence, is something I thrive on.

By expressing myself in racing, I learn more about my strengths and weaknesses, not just on the racecourse but in life. There’s always a bigger picture application of the journey to the race and experience within it. It inspires me to work on my weaknesses and continue to have confidence in my strengths.

I finish what I start. If you need a break, take one, but keep going. There are so many little battles within a race. At some point, inevitably something awesome will happen and I’ll tell myself, no matter what happens from here on out, I’ve won. The finish line is a magical place. Those last 100 meters of the race, there is absolutely no better place to feel alive, to appreciate the journey, to high-five our own mind, body, soul and those of the people who were a part of it. It’s like a springboard launching me into whatever comes next in life—and I always want to get the full bounce.

Why do you race? Let us know in the comments below.

About The Author

Pete Williams – Pete Williams is a contributing writer for CorePerformance.com and the co-author of the Core Performance book series.

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Tags: Cycling, Running, Swimming, Race, Goals, Success Story, Triathlon, Outdoor Recreation