5 Lessons Learned from a Pile of Race Safety Pins
The sheer number of races I ran in 2014 became a bit of a running joke amongst my friends – I sent the picture above around to a few of them with the caption,
Have you ever wondered what a $1,000 worth of safety pins looked like?
While I can’t say for sure what portion of my personal budget went to race entry fees last year (mostly because I don’t want to know – especially when you factor in windshield time and gas in my truck), it’s fair to say that I could have purchased a large bag of miscellaneous safety pins at your local big box store for quite a bit less
Thankfully, my year was about much more than simply starting a safety pin collection! Here are the 5 big things I learned about racing in 2014.
1. Follow the crowds – or Not
Over a year of attempting to complete as many different races and distances as possible, one of the most startling things which stood out was the diversity in how races are managed.
I ran a few tiny 5Ks in support of local charities which made each and every runner feel like a kind/queen, and also ran a few large (>10,000) races which made you feel just as well taken care of…but a lot more of my time was devoted to weaving in and out of traffic then simply trying to move forward.
When choosing a race, think about the experience you want to have – are you going with a group of friends and looking for a fun time where the miles slip by, or are you aiming for a new PR with minimal fuss?
The former goal is likely best served by a larger “themed” race (think something from the Team Ortho series as an example), while the latter can be much more easily found in small races (although don’t underestimate the really fast people who are thinking the same thing).
2. Find your Fast
This might fly a bit in the face of the previous paragraph, but sometimes bigger races can be better for fast times – if you choose wisely. A great example of this is the Torchlight 5K.
While the sheer number of runners can be a bit overwhelming, some honest choosing of your starting position can lead to being pushed towards that PR simply by virtue of the runners you are sharing the course with.
Being a USATF-sanctioned event (and this past year, it included an elite field vying for a 5K championship), there several fast runners in attendance – and simply having that level of competition around me was enough to cut over 30 seconds off of my PR at the time.
The lesson here is to not only judge an event by its size, but also by its purpose.
3. A Race is a Race… Except for when it’s Not
Not every race has to be your own personal Olympic Final. Sometimes, it can be fun to get wrapped up in the racing atmosphere while really just using the event as a chance to prepare for something else.
Whether it be a dress rehearsal for your goal race, or simply a way to get manned water stations along your planned long run (the White Bear Water Run is great for this!), sometimes it can be fun just to race to race, without necessarily planning to smash a PR or hope for the podium.
4. Stand for Something
Over the course of the year, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to be involved in some pretty special events. I ran a trail race in the spring to support the local nature center in my town – and had a delicious pile of pancakes with homemade maple syrup (harvested from trees on site!) to celebrate afterwards.
I ran a race (Maranatha’s Road Races) which helped support the church used as the start/finish line – and received some pretty amazing hand-made clay medals at the end. Being a firefighter/EMT in addition to my full-time job, it was nice to be able to help two other departments out by running their local fundraising races, and also a great chance to get a peek into how their departments are staffed/run (and hopefully this will lead to some activities put on by my own department…).
Running is often something we take up for own improved health or a personal sense of accomplishment, but being able to use our feet for the good of others can be pretty rewarding at the same time!
5. Run for Today, Prepare for a Lifetime
As luck would have it, I sustained a bit of an injury a few days before my first half marathon (maybe that is understating it, as I limped back from what supposed to be an easy run). As I sat and thought about what this might mean for my week, my immediate concern was with doing everything possible to get ready for the race (lots of foam rolling, ice, ibuprofen, compression sleeves, KT tape, and desperately trying to find a physical therapist with an opening in their schedule).
I ended up finishing the race (and even hit my goal time!), but I believe that that decision led to dealing with that particular injury for much longer than I would have if I simply rested a bit and waited for the next race. While the internal pressure to stick with something you have committed to can be strong, you need to be smart – listen to your body, and over time you will have a better handle on what is an excuse to sit on the couch versus what needs to be taken more seriously.
What lessons did you learn (or become reminded of yet again) over the past year? How many of you have a pile of safety pins tucked away somewhere? Have you started adding to it yet this year? Leave us a note in the comments below!