As my bedside alarm went off at the ungodly hour of 6:40 a.m. yesterday – that’s a Saturday morning, people, meaning a day of rest in many religions and a day of sleeping late and ordering in bagels in mine – I couldn’t quite remember whether I liked racing enough to justify the painfully early start. I had signed up for the first New York Run Runners race of the year a few weeks ago knowing that having the race on my radar over the holidays would help keep my gingerbread house consumption in check (it didn’t), but the idea of doing a full park loop at 8 a.m. in January suddenly seemed less enticing as race day dawned. As I reluctantly dragged myself out from under my duvet and set about coring apples and pears for the winter fruit salad (note: winter is a really boring season for fruit) I was making for my post-race brunch, the sun hadn’t even crested over the East River yet, and a small but very vocal part of me wanted out.
Luckily, we don’t decide things by oligarchy over here, so I laced up my running shoes, pinned on my bib number and made my way over to the park. And I’m glad I did, because as the starting gun went off and my corral started inching – then trotting – then running – forward, I was quickly reminded of something I first learned on Broad Street last year: I love racing.
I wish I could say I love racing because I always come in first and take home some hefty (and in my fantasy, tax-free) prize money, but – shockingly, I know – my 8:39 pace doesn’t always earn me a spot on the podium. It does, however, get my heart racing and had me grinning ear to sweaty ear before the first mile marker, Harlem Hills and all, and that’s something.
And now, folks, the top three reasons I like racing. Drumroll, please.
- The intersection of the public and private. Never a practitioner of the buddy system, running is typically a very private activity for me, performed just before daybreak in a delightfully silent Central Park. When I leave the apartment for my pre-work miles, even the most ambitious of tourists hasn’t yet rented his clunky $35/hour bicycle, meaning I can churn out my 4 to 6 music-free miles in absolute peace. But even the lone wolf in me can appreciate the palatable energy a crowd of 5,000+ runners creates and maintains over the course of a race. Even though I went the full 10K yesterday without a word to anyone else on the course, I still felt an overwhelming sense of community as I wove in and out of the crowds. Pardon the obscure 1973 children’s literature reference, but racing almost makes me feel like Swimmy the fish, who teams up with his other small, insignificant fish friends to swim in the shape of a giant fish and scare away the local fish bully. Anybody? No? Moving on then.
- The fact that it makes my running log colorful. Hey, it counts. Like many runners, I track my miles on runnersworld.com, and while short runs, long runs and hill workouts are all delightful shades of blue and green, raced miles are recorded in bright red, making my log look less like GB stronghold of ROYGBIV and more like Liberace.
Just try to tell me this doesn’t look awesome. Just try. (Unless you’re color-blind. In which case, stop trying. It’s never going to happen. Too soon?)
- Post-race refueling. Hands down, the best part of racing is eating in the hours after you cross the finish line. Like the good hydrator I am, I always make my way to the water station first, but then it’s over to the food station to see just how seriously each race takes itself. Saturday’s selection included a very respectable and New York-appropriate offering of bagels and apples. Not bad, but I was more impressed by Broad Street’s bananas and soft pretzels or the Baltimore Half’s Maryland crab soup and double-fisted Bud Lights. Stay classy, Baltimore.The fueling continued at the post-race brunch I hosted for a couple of running friends, a couple of their running friends and an accompaniment of nice boyfriends in jeans, including my own, who came out to support their speedy girlfriends but whose preferred kinds of runs are to the liquor store. I made the aforementioned winter fruit salad (using this recipe, minus the salt and pepper, because that sounded weird), this fiber-full bread in muffin form and a delicious and surprisingly healthy egg bake (subbed turkey breakfast sausage for pork sausage, skim milk for whole milk and a multigrain baguette for the Wonder Bread in this recipe). A full belly and two mimosas later, I was ready to crawl back into bed for a glorious mid-afternoon nap, which was undeniably a more noble and deserved return to sleep than a 6:40 a.m. snooze button would have offered.
Why do you race (or bike or ice dance or whatever it is you love to do)? And do ice dancing competitions distribute free bagels at the finish line?