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Are You Ready to Race? 5 Questions You Should Ask Yourself First

Updated: Jan 5

This weekend, I listened to the Hidden Brain podcast episode called “Who do you want to be?” Although this isn’t a “running podcast,” I think the general ideas 100% apply to our running!

In the road running world, there is A LOT of pressure to qualify for Boston, run a race in all 50 states, get new PRs, etc. In the ultra-running world, there is a lot of pressure to run a 100-mile race (or many!) so you can be a “true” ultra-runner. But what if these things don’t align with what you inherently find enjoyable?

The podcast talks about how cultural and social pressures can lead us down paths that contribute to us being unhappy with different aspects of our lives. I think this can be true with running as well. If Boston doesn’t sound exciting to you or running 100-miles doesn’t sound fun…then don’t do it! We will enjoy the journey of training and racing if we do what is meaningful to us and aligns with our personal interests vs doing what other people say we “should” do.

So, before signing up for a race, a running adventure, or creating a running goal, go through the following list and make sure you check off all the boxes:

1. Is it realistic? Consider your current fitness level, race history, how much time you have available to train, and if you are currently experiencing an injury. All these factors will determine if your race goal will be realistic. Our bodies do not adapt overnight but rather after days, weeks, months, and years of training. The process is gradual, and runners tend to think they can make SIGNIFICANTLY more fitness gains in a short amount of time than they actually can. Along with that, if you do not have TIME to train, then the training will be stressful vs enjoyable. You also risk showing up to the race under-trained. Although you might be able to "suffer through it" mentally, that doesn't make your body magically strong enough to get through the distance without getting injured.

2. What are you willing to do during unpleasant times of the year? If you are not wanting to run much over the winter, then avoid doing early spring races. For those of you who live someplace really warm, fall races might not be your best choice since your peak mileage will be during a very hot time of the year.

3. Where is your fitness now vs where you WISH you were or where you were in the past?Have a realistic perspective of where you are at with your running right now vs through a lens of where you WISH it was. If you are not in the same running shape as you were a year ago or if you are experiencing an injury, then that is where you are in the here and now vs in the past when you were in PR shape. Viewing your current running self unrealistically can leads to runners pushing too hard in training, running more than their bodies can handle, building running volume too quickly, and having unrealistic goals on race day.

4. What will life be like for you in the future? Do you plan on having a baby? Are you moving? Are you up for a promotion where your job will be more time consuming or more stressful? Your running is not separate from the rest of your life so make sure to consider other life factors before deciding on what race you want to commit to.

5. And most importantly, what SOUNDS exciting to you right now? Speaking for myself, I have qualified for Boston Marathon 15 times but have never run the race. Why? IT doesn't excite me right now. If the race doesn't excite us, then we are less likely to enjoy it and enjoy the process of training for it! When deciding on a race, think about what race sounds exciting and then ask yourself if the training excites you. For example, if you are thinking about running a full marathon, but are dreading the idea of spending many hours every Saturday doing long runs, then it might not be the best race for you to do. If you are wanting to train for your first 100 miler but doing back-to-back long runs or running on hilly trails doesn’t sound exciting to you, then sign up for a shorter race! Remember, we do this because it makes use happy.

Focusing on INTRINSIC (internal) motivators vs extrinsic motivators is really important when answering this questions, since intrinsic motivators lead to more happiness than extrinsic ones. An example of an intrinsic motivator is that the race will be a new challenge and you feel it will help you grow as a person. Extrinsic motivators include social media attention after posting about the race, getting a medal or other swag you get at the race. Extrinsic motivators aren’t BAD, but tend to be less meaningful and contribute to lower amounts of happiness.

Here is the link to the Hidden Brain podcast if you want to give it a listen:

Happy Running!

-Dr. Jamie

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