When I started running, it was just a way to burn off steam and lose some weight. I was living in Yokohama, Japan, near a river with a broad running path along it, and it seemed like a waste to NOT do something with that lovely expanse of concrete. Wide open uninterrupted paths are in short supply in the Tokyo/Yokohama megalopolis. So, I ran every other day. I found out I liked how I felt afterwards and I became stronger.
I never thought about being fast until I ran my first marathon in Nagano. I never thought about being faster than other people, but all of a sudden, I was! Somehow the competitive nature of running had never dawned on me. As I ran more races, longer and shorter, I realized that I was really competing against my previous time. Which is much more intense for an introvert like me: no need to get distracted by competition with other humans, I could beat myself.
Fast forward (ha!) to this summer. The local Fleet Feet offered a “speed camp” to introduce runners to the basics of speed training. I signed up, got some tips, and two weeks ago ran my fastest 5k ever. The course was challenging but I pushed hard and stayed near the leaders, I crossed the finish line and…nothing. There was no-one to share the accomplishment with. It was a real letdown.
A week later I ran a 5k in support of cancer research. A colleague had recently been diagnosed with ovarian cancer so there was a crowd of co-workers there to chat with before and after. I ran almost the same time as the week before and a colleague high-fived me after I finished. I left the race feeling better.
I still run mainly for myself. I think about work or problems or my form or going faster or not falling down. But I realized that races are social: the point is that we are running with/against other people. I wasn’t embracing that aspect of the race run. It’s not a competitive thing, exactly. It’s acknowledging that I shared this experience with other humans, this small connection. My time means nothing without the other runners, the faster and the slower.