On NOT doing the race

Susan posted yesterday about her first half marathon.   Despite health challenges and some loneliness in her training (which she wrote about last week) — spoiler alert —  she did great and looked radiant in her pics at the end.

Like Susan, I signed up for a race on impulse last winter — my first duathlon.  Also scheduled for last Sunday.  But unlike Susan, I didn’t do mine.  And I’m okay with that.

I’m not much of a racer or an organized event athlete.  When I first started running more than two decades ago, I did a lot of races, and lived in the world of PRs and complex training and this-half-marathon-as-prep-for-that-marathon.  I was reasonably fast and I liked getting faster and having milestones in the calendar to gear up for.  I felt great finding where I placed in the overall field, setting targets.

But then I injured myself, and did a big marathon anyway (it’s BOSTON!  I’m signed up! I have to do it!), and pretty much hooped myself from serious running ever again.  (Boring knee stuff, still waiting for the magical cartilage-fixing goop I keep imagining is just around the corner).

I took up road biking when I couldn’t run much anymore, and for more than 10 years, have been alternating between running two or three times a week, spinning and lots of long rides.  Half-arsed weights and occasional yoga classes.  I do events — last year’s Friends for Life Bike Rally, and the Triadventure that supports the project in Uganda I volunteer for.  But these aren’t races and timing isn’t a thing.

I’ve only “raced” twice in the past 10 years — a 10K about 4 years ago, and a very wet half marathon 3 years ago, both on Toronto island.  I ran those more for the fun of running on the island and having something to shape my workouts around, without any intentions around time.

And — even though I had no expectations around time, and although I know I’m 52 and could never compete with my 35 year self’s PRs, even a “well run race” feels… flat. It was an accomplishment to do a strong half-marathon, but I’ll never come near my best time again.  No matter how much I rationalize it, races that echo my younger self feel like a letdown.

So I just don’t really do them.  I set distance targets on my bike (150 km for Canada 150, anyone?) and learn how to fix my bike, and make myself run even when this spring’s everloving wind just won’t. calm. down.  I engage in generative challenges like the 217 workouts in 2017 facebook group (I’m at number 94).  But generally, I don’t race.

Some of the people around me have become racier as we’ve gotten older.  One of my former marathon training partners was recently national duathlon champion in his age group, and one of my best friends took up ski racing at 50.  Most of the contributors to this blog write a lot about their races, and what racing means to them. Races can provide shape to your training, motivate you, and give you a sense of community and momentum.

But… they just don’t, for me, much, anymore. And that’s okay.

The other day Sam wrote about how she doesn’t really like riding alone, and I commented that in many ways, I prefer it.  I love a ride with a good group or good company, and like feeling pushed to go faster and further.  I like riding and chatting and catching up.  But I also ride to stretch my inner self as much as my outer, and that’s easier when it’s quiet and just me and my bike and the road.  Riding alone has more flexibility — I don’t have to haul myself across the city to meet people for an early start, or deal with the inevitable execrable traffic when the ride is done and the cars are out and it takes three times as long to get home.  And my life is over-scheduled and over-structured, and just hopping on my bike when I feel like it is sometimes the most generative thing I can do.

So why did I even sign up for a duathlon?

For all the reasons above — to keep me moving through the winter, to give my training some impetus and shape, and to make me engage with myself as an athlete a little differently.  And it did those things.  I’ve done 25 spin classes since January, and got out in my running shoes at least twice a week, even if only for 3 km.  That’s way better than any winter workout results for the past 10 years for me.  I rode with Sam and Sarah a couple of weeks ago and was surprised to find that the hills were a piece of cake because of the spinning.  I feel fitter going into the summer than I have in years.  And I was looking forward to fusing the running and riding, just to see what was possible.

photo depicts Georgia, the cutest kitten in the world

But then, the same day Sam and Sarah and I rode 82 km, I also went to a wedding and danced too hard in bare feet. My metatarsals and knees ached all week.  Then I impulsively adopted a teeny tiny kitten that needed hand feeding.

Then on Friday night before the race I realized that the Ride for Heart was closing all possible avenues for me to get to the race in Milton, an hour away at the best of times.  I made the call not to do the race, and instead, went for a spontaneous, relaxed 32 km ride on Saturday with a friend.

We stood at the end of Leslie Spit looking at the water and the boats quietly for a few minutes in the middle of our two loops.  “I needed this,” my friend said.  “Me too.”

Sunday morning, I woke up to menstrual cramps and cold pouring rain, and felt Very Wise for my decision. I fed the cats and thought I’d lie down a bit more . I slept until 11 pm.  My body knew what I needed.

Sometimes what you need is a race.  Sometimes you don’t.  You just need to listen.




10 thoughts on “On NOT doing the race

  1. 150 km ride with no race/speed goal expectation for the day sounds like a great goal this year –in recognition of Canada’s birthday as a country.

  2. I totally get this. I’ve been there and done that, registered for the thing and not done it. Life can be too much sometimes. Like you, I haven’t felt guilty about it. Life is short. Glad that sometimes we blog about the things we don’t do, the things we stop doing.

    1. I think what we choose not to do is as important as what we DO do! Balance, baby, balance.

  3. I really appreciate your posting this. I’ve been adjusting and recalibrating my training strategy since I pushed my ITB strain past bearable. I’m coming to terms with how to keep myself moving without the drive of ambitious race training. It’s good to hear that there is some peace and joy in letting go of some of that pressure.

    The kitten is adorable!

    1. It took me a really long time to find my rhythm — I had to do a lot of reframing as “training for strength” or doing stuff for fun or exploring new things or new edges, or social stuff. It comes, and I still do variations in my running — e.,g mixing up short tempo with bread and butter 7ks with 10 – 12 k every couple of weeks — you just find a frame. But it does take some reshaping of expectations.

  4. Thanks for writing this. I have been running for 28 years. Suffered my first really injury this year two weeks before the Around the Bay. It would have been number 10 for me of that race and I had it in my head I HAD to do a number 10. The whole even number thing…I know….anyhow…very long and boring story later, I realized later that week I would not be running that day. It was the first time I would miss a race and I was miserable. I went to cheer on my running partner and she had a great day. I tried my best not to be disgruntled but it hit me that my racing days may be over. So we are here now 3 months later and just started running again. Feeling pretty good but also feeling ok about maybe racing is something that may not happen again. thanks again for writing this…was awesome to read and I wish you many happy miles ahead!

    1. Totally get the “10” thing — you’ll note I sprinkle my posts with numbers even when it’s not about actual time. The numbers let me feel completist, somehow, or build accomplishment even when I’m not surpassing time goals. Whatever floats your boat!

  5. Thanks, Cate! This post has helped me this week because I’m struggling simply with forced rest that is taking me out of my usual training routine (by even interfering with an event). I feel guilty every time I register “no activity because unwell” for my step entry for the corporate challenge this week. When you do that they assign you your average (precisely I’m assuming to ensure that people take the rest hey need when they’re down for the count). Truly I have been unable to do much of anything and I’m not “cheating” so why the guilt?? Thanks for the reminder that it is okay (and for linking back to a time when I even said that it was okay!!).

  6. What a great post! I needed to hear this. It’s so important to remind ourselves that we move to bring joy to ourselves, to see what our limits are, because we’re curious and restless, etc. I used to bike race, and honestly, I always found it awful. I was fearful and anxious at the start line, and full of rationalizations at the finish. The actual feelings during racing were fun, but it was hard to keep the self-judgment at bay before and after. So how about just go for the during-part– the riding itself?

    I read your PEI post too, and man, I’m already thinking about planning such a day for myself as I’m up to it. Here’s an idea for an activity/post: simultaneous 100 mile/100K/sunup-to-sundown rides/tour-de-coffeeshops– we do them in our towns, on our own (or with folks), and report back.

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