Let me me blunt. When it comes to racing, you are likely a loser. There is only ONE winner in a race. The first person to cross the finish line is the winner. Doesn't matter if they are male or female, young or old, first timer or veteran...only ONE person wins. They are the fastest on that day. We have a tendency to falsely create the appearance of many winners--particularly with age groups and genders. Nonsense! One person wins, the rest lose. Everyone may make a valiant effort, but that is not the same as winning. We can all have the courage to train and step up to the starting line, but only one covers the course the quickest. They are the winner. The rest of us are not winners. So if you are reading this blog, and your name is not Scott Jurek or Jilian Kornet or Geoff Roes or Tony Krupicka (insert a few other winning ultra marathoners...and a few track stars...and road racers), then you are not a winner. I feel bad calling you a loser...so let's stick with "not a winner." Understood? This includes me too. Best I've ever done in a race is 3rd overall. Plenty of age-group wins. Tons of age-group awards and lots of top 10% overall finishes...but no victories in a race. I am not a winner.
This is all kind of sad, eh? Maybe. I find it cathartic and freeing. Once we realize we are not going to win a race---don't we all known this--we can then decide to race for "other" reasons. Or not race at all. So, why do we race? Races cost money, take time, and interfere with other life activities. What are we getting back in return for that time, effort, and money? Remember, we are likely not going to win the race. OK, OK...no overall victory, but we may have other reasons to race. Here are a few:
Set a personal record. I can always compete against myself, current and past, to see if I can set a new personal best. That's a lofty and admirable goal. Each year brings us closer to death's door...but we can strive to improve and race better.
Win your age group. I may not be able to keep setting PRs, but with age groups, I can always try to be competitive with my peers. Not a bad idea! We all inevitably age and become slower...but we can challenge age-group friends at every race.
Test ourselves at a new race distance. I suppose this would automatically qualify as a "personal best" attempt since it's your only race at this distance, but it's more than that too. We may not be confident in even finishing the distance---that's called a DNF (did not finish). It's very possible at an ultramarathon. Think you can't run a marathon? You can. What about a 50K? Sure. 50 miler? Why not. 100K? Yep. 100 miler? With the right training and discipline, almost any race distance is possible. Humans need to push themselves to find their limits...you can go farther than you think. And at a race, you'll have extra motivation and support to set a new "distance" personal record.
As we get older, we tend to slow down. Our running and racing suffers. Fortunately, there are many good reasons to race and we can still challenge ourselves, and our peers, to see how fit we are. In fact, there's another way to level the playing field and test our selves against everyone at the race at the same time--age-graded standards and race handicapping. With adjustments to our actual finish time based on two important factors (age and gender), we can compete "equally" across the entire race spectrum. We can determine who is the "overall" winner with scientifically determined adjustments. For me, this is cool and I wish more races did this adjustment. Personally, I think there should be two winners of every race--the first person to cross the finish line and the fastest WAVA-adjusted finisher. In some cases it could be the same person. WAVA = "World Association of Veteran Athletes." WAVA has now transformed into World Masters Athletics. Still, I call the conversion the WAVA calculator.
Here is a WAVA calculator where you can enter your race distance, time, age, and gender and dermine it's "adjusted score."
So, I stand by my declaration that there is only one "winner" in any race. Although I'm fine with declaring a WAVA-adjusted winner too. I'd be proud to fall in either category. We have many reasons to run and many reasons to race. Just don't fool yourself into thinking you'll win. You won't. But we can all still race. Give it your best, enjoy, and be proud of what you've achieved. Maybe you'll make a new friend. Set a personal best time. Win your age group. If nothing else, pick out a slow running friend and take comfort in crushing them! It's the small things in life that make it worth living. Enjoy your running and racing.