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Six reasons not to race and why they might be mistaken

I love racing, even though I’m a midlife, middle of the pack athlete. I know this puzzles some people (okay, some of my friends) and I often find myself in the situation of responding to the objections to racing that they raise.

Some of my friends are not at all interested in competition but I worry that their reasons are based on some misconceptions about why those of us who do race enjoy it.

I often think the anti-racing crowd might like it too.

So here’s my attempt to respond to the race-shy or the race-skeptical.

1. Some friends say, ‘I’ll never win so why race?’

Note first that this is true for lots of athletes. Think of how many riders there are in the Tour de France and how few are serious contenders for even winning one of the stages, let alone the overall race. Think about the numbers of people in the Hawaii Ironman. They aren’t all contenders for the podium, even in the age group categories. I’ve only won two races in my lifetime but I love the ‘winning moments’–passing someone even if I can’t hold them off, for example. In bike racing I love being part of the team effort, participating in strategies that get one of my team’s riders into the front pack.

2. Some friends say “I’m only interested in fitness.”

I get that but to be fit you have to push yourself and trust me, you’ll never ever push yourself as hard in training as you do when racing. I wear a heart rate monitor when training on the bike and I’ve done VO2 max testing so I’ve got some idea of what the various sports training zones mean for me. I’ve also worn the heart rate monitor when criterium racing. The first time I did this and then looked at the data after I laughed out loud at how much time I’d spent in the red zone, E4. That’s something I just can’t make myself do for very long outside race situations. I won’t bore you with all the geeky gory details but here’s the my HR data from a crit last year: Avg HR 171, max HR 178 (32% in E4) Avg speed 33.2, max speed 42. No way I could do that outside a race.

3.  Some friends say, “I just want to train, not race.”

Okay, but it helps to have a focus for your training, something to train for. Races give structure to your training as you build endurance, then speed, then both together, taper off coming up to the race, race, recover, and rebuild.

4.  Some friends say, “I’m too old.”

These friends admit they might have enjoyed racing in their youth but now they are too old, they think. They’ve grown up and put all the fun away. To which I say, don’t be ridiculous. It’s like saying that sex is for the young.  We’ve only got one kick at the can, one try at this life, and if something would have been fun when you were young, it’s probably still fun now. (Like sex.) The Vets Racing Club in Canberra requires a doctor’s notes in order to keep racing after age 75 and there are people in that category.

5.  Some friends say, “I might get hurt.”

Yes, that’s true you might. You also might get hurt sitting on your sofa for too long, or shoveling snow. Life is risky, no way around it. But in the category of recreational racing most people recognize that we aren’t professional athletes and there’s no sense risking injury unnecessarily. Some of the rules in masters and recreational racing reflect this. On the one dodgy corner on the crit racing course in Canberra–“collarbone corner” as it’s known–race organizers decided not to allow passing through that bend. For that one short turn the race is “neutralized” and riders are asked to hold their place. I also love the reminder that the race organizer gives riders before the start, “Remember we’re not racing for sheep stations out there.” In other words, we’re out there for fun not fortunes. (See image above.)

6. Some friends say, “I’m just doing this for fun.”

Racing is a lot of fun. Whether you most enjoy the training, being out there competing, or the music, snacks and prizes after, at the level of recreational athletics it’s all about the fun.

Hope to see you out there!!!

11 thoughts on “Six reasons not to race and why they might be mistaken

  1. Racing is the best!!! I had no idea I would fall in love with it as much as I have. (For me it’s running, not cycling, but I imagine racing shares many common threads between sports). The aspect I love most is how much the mental and physical aspects meld – it’s a whole-self thrill!

    Another reason I have heard from some friends: “I’m afraid I’ll be the last one to finish.” This is usually made by friends who have never raced before. I explain that many people walk in races that are 5- or 10-km, and so the likelihood that they will come in dead last is pretty slim. But, even if they did – someone has to be “last,” and even if that’s you, there’s absolutely no shame in it. Getting up and actually completing a race is a huge accomplishment, no matter what your time. And at the very least, you have a baseline to gauge your future progress. (Also: most races will give out finisher medals – no matter if you come in first, 10th, 100th, or last).

  2. Somehow I missed this post back when you posted it. It was a travel day for me and I wasn’t “following” the blog on email yet. Great post! But I do wonder whether, say in the ironman or even marathons where people have the goal of finishing, not winning, they push themselves the way you did in that bike race. I mean, if I”m just out there to finish, the race context isn’t necessarily going to make me push myself hard — or do you think the energy of the other racers will have the effect on most of us? We just will perform better. Thoughts?

  3. I think we have little mini-races within competitions. In running, I might set my sights on the woman ahead in the black shorts and try to keep up with her. I try to pass particular people in bike races who I race with regularly and with whom I enjoy a friendly rivalry. In bike races where it’s even not clear that I’ll be able to finish I try to hang on with a fast bunch as long as I can, so I still think I push myself really hard even if I’m not a serious competitor. I don’t know about running long long distances. There it’s lots about pacing, your own splits, and not getting caught up in the efforts of others. You need it to be your own race. Running is solitary in just the way you like! But bike racing is different. There’s a lot more strategy and a lot more interval efforts.

  4. I am with Sam on the performing better in races view (based entirely on a very small bit of anecdotal evidence). I ran in two races back in the days when I used to run. Came dead last in both (well in one I waited for a friend so she wouldn’t be even deader last). Knew for much of the race that I would be last–no mini-competitions available after the first few minutes–but I still ran faster than I ever had before (or after). Also had a blast!

    I don’t agree that you have to push yourself to be fit though, at least not if by fit you have in mind healthy and energetic and likely to enjoy a lengthy and vibrant old age. Recent studies seem to suggest that more moderate activity produces the best health outcomes. (Got to admit reading about that made me happy–might I have been having little frisson of competitiveness about being healthier than jocks?)

  5. Late to the post, just discovered your blog tonight, LOVE IT! I used to race, and used to try to get other women into racing too. It was fun, and challenging, and I occasionally won money! I’m not going to say I’ll never race again, but it’s an all consuming lifestyle-the training, the travel, being away from home every weekend, I just decided that it wasn’t worth it. Were my lifestyle different (urban apartment dweller instead of rural semi-homesteader), maybe it could work. Or if the race season didn’t coincide with the growing season! 🙂

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