Less than a couple of weeks to go now until my first race – a local 10k which a good handful of my friends have run before. Not me though. I’m prepared for the distance, but am I prepared for running in a big pack? On the advice of a few who’ve experienced solo runner claustrophobia themselves, I did Coventry Parkrun at the weekend. The atmosphere was great, lots of cheerful faces, and it was a good feeling – to be surrounded by people who have the same enjoyment and get the same energy from running as me. As someone who runs alone almost all the time, even though I know there’s a massive community of runners out there, it was still a surprise: that so many people would ditch a Saturday lie-in or lazy breakfast, and show up at their local park, just to pelt twice around it with 578 others.
As suspected, I set off far too fast. The adrenaline rush of being surrounded by so much densely packed high-vis lycra and jostling Garmins was more than I could handle, and I dashed off at about a minute/mile faster than usual. Predictably this meant that I actually finished slower overall than my better 3 mile fast runs, hitting a real tough spot somewhere half way through, and struggling to get back into it. I spotted a friend about fifteen paces ahead of me for the final mile, and I really wanted to catch her, but I couldn’t do it – I just had nothing left but to keep plodding home.
So – mission accomplished, lesson learned, right? Well, yes. But more than just confirming the need to keep my head when I start the race on June 14th, I realised it wasn’t only nerves / excitement (or mild mob-related hysteria) which threw off my usual run-composure.
Did I just want to catch up with my friend, or did I want to pass her? And yes, it mattered. Healthy competition is a fundamental part of sport, but I needed to check where the drive to be better was coming from inside me. Improvement? Or having something to prove?
I have to run my race. It can’t matter where I come in the finishing pack. I’m running as if to win the prize – effort, focus, heart, they all matter. We train hard, we observe discipline, we give it everything. But whilst it is a race, life is not a competition. It’s a journey.
You can’t win a journey. You undertake it, you explore it, you enjoy it, you sometimes endure it. But you don’t win it, and those who journey with you aren’t your competitors. They’re your team.
So in a couple of weeks I’ll be running my own race, and finishing – in front of, behind, and alongside my team mates. And I’ll be enjoying the journey.