As a personal trainer I’m always encouraging my clients that don’t compete to enter local races and events. Most of these individuals run or bike, but I also have skiers, swimmers and paddlers. For the ambitious recreational athlete there are events that incorporate all these activities and more. When I broach my clients on the prospect of racing most get excited about the idea. They are able to picture themselves in competitive condition, the envy of friends and family, capable and ready for the next event. However, when I suggest registering for a specific race, usually a month or two in advance attitudes usually do a 180-degree turn. Bring on the excuses: I’m not in good enough shape or I’m really busy this month, but they always reassure me that they will certainly try a race next season. Unfortunately, I have trained long enough to know that many people who push competing off never end up getting around to it.
From personal experience I know that entering your first competition can be terrifying, but why is that? Certainly most recreational joggers are capable of jogging or run/walking a 5k or 3.1 miles. I know most peoples’ fears do not center on becoming exhausted or dehydrated and incapable of finishing the event. Instead, it is the fear of being judged by others and not fitting in that keeps them from the starting line. If you have a negative self-image the last thing you want is for others to confirm that you truly are a loser. Just as the image of successfully completing an event can put our self-image on a pedestal, having an unsuccessful race could be the destruction of that image. I think these fears are similar to skipping the game of kickball as a kid because of the fear of being picked last. This article is an attempt to disarm some of this fear and give you many solid reasons to compete. Now I don’t believe everyone needs to be a competitive athlete, but I do know that most people benefit greatly from occasional healthy competition.
Most individuals that take up running, biking, or other outdoor endurance sports do it for a reason. They are interested in loosing some weight, becoming more toned, or increasing self-esteem. Now jogging is a great way to accomplish all of these things, but it takes time and consistency to change the human body. As adults it is sometimes very difficult to break our routine and make time to develop new habits even when the benefits are so lofty. This is where entering a competition becomes very useful. I once heard that most people fear public speaking more than death. People are terrified of being scrutinized and judged. Understanding this component of human nature, one can constructively use this fear to keep training consistently. To keep my clients who are attempting to implement a jogging program on track, I have them register for an event months ahead of time. It is amazing how consistent clients become once they have made a commitment to race. An important point to mention is the method of committing to a race. I have noticed a significant difference between clients who make a verbal or mental commitment compared to those who pay and send in their entry form. A much greater percentage of the verbal committers find excuses or previous commitments that interfere with the competition. Contrarily, those who are fully registered train religiously and run successful events.
Another important benefit of racing is acquiring the colorful tee-shirt that accompanies most races. What those tee-shirts symbolize are accomplishments and they contribute greatly to self-esteem and building a self-image as a runner. As we learned from the public speaking example much of human behavior is based on what we think of ourselves. Self-image is a difficult thing to manipulate and it is important to consciously break our typical behaviors to remold this image. If you currently view yourself as someone who is un-athletic, unworthy of competition, or afraid to take chances such as showing up on race day, it’s imperative to remold those negative self-images. Take the necessary steps towards becoming the real you! Preparing yourself for a competition with realistic expectations and successfully meeting your goal is a great way to begin shattering a poor self image. Receiving your tee-shirt classifies you as a competitor and an athlete. Wearing your tee-shirt reminds you and others that you had the ability to overcome your anxieties, the stamina to complete an event, and the discipline to successfully train for such an event.
Habitually competing in races also marks progress. Another way to relieve some anxiety about competition is to view an event as a stepping-stone. Your race time and placing never defines you as a person; it simply gives you an indication of where your condition was on a given day. The race you do today is quite different than the race you will do next season. Anyone that starts racing and continues to race will make progress. As a trainer my goal is to get anyone interested in improving their cardio condition to enter a competition as soon as I think they can safely cover a given distance, which is usually a short period of time. After this first step continuing to race is the single most effective strategy for progressing and keeping track of that progress. Simply by consistently entering races (once every month or two) my clients always progress, other factors such as training and diet always seem to fall into place once the commitment is established. Practice always improves performance and this is certainly true for racing.
I have saved the most important reason to race for last; it’s really fun and you are left with an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. I have gotten my fair share of hugs at race finish lines from clients thanking me for persuading them to race. For a trainer those hugs mean success. There is something very special about a race, the anxiousness before, the excitement at the start, the perseverance through the middle and the elation at the end. The racing experience is really incomparable. If I haven’t persuaded you to sign-up for a competition yet, try being a spectator first. Support a friend, or better yet, everyone that crosses the finish line. The thrill of racing is contagious and the energy of the event captures spectators who witness the participant’s courage. Many times those that finish last touch me more than the winners. True courage is displayed by those who have faced their fears and bring up the back of the pack sometimes hours behind the leaders. For those of you fearing ridicule, go to a race and see how many people are laughing at those who cross the finish line last. Those folks have guts and heart.
In summary, racing is a good idea. Don’t put competing on hold; find a race and sign up today (check the web for local race calendars, no matter where you live there are races in your area). The mental hurtles are the toughest to overcome, but once conquered are the most rewarding to have persevered. The best way that I deal with the mental hurtles of a race is to view it as a training session. A race in reality is just a faster run for most of us. 99% of contestants aren’t going there to win, they are going to test themselves and enjoy an event filled with excitement and camaraderie. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself for just one race either. You never know how you’re going to feel or perform on race day. Sometimes your running will feel like you’re floating through the entire course, other days every step will challenge you. The fewer expectations you have, the less unwanted tension that will accompany you at your event. So don’t “need” to beat a specific time, finish in front of your friend, or even beat the old guy next to you (watch out some old guys are really fast). Instead focus on enjoying the day, keeping consistent form and pace, and having the best “experience” you can.
So, don’t wait! Get out and find a race, and don’t forget to tell a friend about Mike’s Mix.