The thrill of the race

Posted on: 27 September 2023

I’ve got the run bug. And it’s a strong one. I dabbled with running back in 2012, when I trained for and ran a marathon, but it felt no more than a bucket list item back then. The training was gruelling, lonely, somewhat aimless, and unsociable. Fast forward 11 years and my relationship with running could not be more different.

Last weekend I ran a half marathon. My second half marathon race, and I achieved an 11-minute PB from my previous attempt 19 months prior. If the race taught me anything, it's this: if running is the hobby, racing is the treat. The cherry on top. But why is racing so great? In this blog post I will attempt to explain.

You can be forgiven for thinking racing, in the general sense of the word, favours the victor only. Our visions of historic races involve elite people at the top of their game battling it out for the ultimate prize. You come first, or you lose. But to us mere mortals, racing is so much more than that.

There’s an old adage about running a marathon. Your training is 95% of the marathon, the race is your victory lap, celebrating the completion of your training. Really this can be applied to most long distance races, not just the marathon.

And for my half marathon attempt, I’d put in the work. A proper, structured 16-week training plan of running 4+ times a week, averaging approximately 50km in distance. A concerted period of confidence and fitness building with a single, focused target in mind.

Race day

When you line up behind the start line with your fellow runners, there’s a spine-tingling sense of anticipation; the buzz in the air is palpable. You’ve set a target, you’ve put in the miles, you’ve tapered so you’re fresh; and this moment right here is the culmination of your effort.

When the horn sounds, it’s show time. The rush of adrenaline means you’re walking, or rather running, on air for the first few minutes. You can’t believe how easy it feels. The atmosphere is electric. The warm sense of camaraderie and togetherness. You feel on top of the world and with every step, stronger. Your legs have never felt fresher.

This is the reward at the end of months of hard work.

Everything is in your favour. Your outfit is precisely selected, your shoes are fast, and you’re fuelled up to your eyeballs. Your focus is unwavering, the route ahead clear, the distance set. You’re laser focused on one thing: crossing that finish line. Training runs are the hard bit; this is the easy bit. Everything is in place for you to succeed.

But you reign it in. You have a plan. To not throw everything out there in the first few kilometres. It takes discipline to hold your pace and your excitement, because no race is won in the first few minutes, but many are lost.

Training is full of “am I good enough?” moments. Can I hit my target? Perhaps I was too ambitious. They’ll be as many bad days as good ones. But how confident you feel standing on that start line is directly proportional to how often you gritted your teeth and got it done anyway.

For the first few kilometres, you can’t believe how effortless the pace feels compared to those early goal pace runs in training. “How on earth am I going to do this for X distance?” you exclaimed. But you do. Because today is race day and today it matters. All those hard efforts where the only prize was a tick and some kudos on Strava have paved the way for this.

There’s a real sense of friendly competition and a boost each time you catch up with and overtake another runner. You don’t get this in training. You realise everyone’s running their own race, everyone has their own plan.

At some point during the race, you will feel it in your bones that your goal is achievable. You know you’re going to hit that PB today. When that feeling comes, nothing can stop your charge to the finish line.

It won’t always be that way. Not every race can be perfect. But even when that PB is just out of reach, the realisation cannot take away from the rush of race day. The admiration and energy from the crowd. The familiar, rhythmic patter of those around you. The shared competitive spirit of the human body and mind. The unwavering grit to get over the finish line.

And the post-run high? Unmatched. You’ve heard of the runners high, but the post-race high; that’s something else. Once you’ve collected your medal, caught your breath, taken the load off your legs, and maybe delivered a few fist bumps, all that’s left is to hazily bask in the feeling of accomplishment.

Race day energy is an unexplainable, magic phenomenon. As runners, we live for this. It solidifies and validates our love of running and in one moment vindicates our months of preparation. And the formula is simple. Consistent effort and a hunger to improve. You don't need to be the best, you just need to better than you used to be. It’s a high accessible to so many.

Tags: running