I had a curious realization yesterday, while participating in my first 10k road race – it highlighted a fact I’ve always known but have not paid much attention to in recent years: Running for exercise is vastly different from running in a race!
The Difference – Pushing Yourself Beyond your Comfort Zone:
All of the road racers out there will smile at this, since they live this fact almost every week – so this message is out to everyone that exercises to maintain fitness but never competes. The major difference I see between running and racing (or between any exercise and its competitive counterpart) is that competition will almost always push you harder than you push yourself on your own.
Certainly, there is something to be said about competing against your previous personal best time, your previous best max weight, or your previous best number of reps – but competing against others can drive you harder, faster, or farther than you currently think is possible.
Case in Point:
First off, I don’t consider myself to be a serious runner. I run for fitness, and I run distances that many people think are crazy (13 – 15+ miles in a single outing, for my long run of the week). But although I tend to push myself on distance, I rarely push myself on pace.
I recently signed up for a nearby small-town 10k road race. As it turns out, I forgot the armband and earbuds for my smartphone – no GPS tracking, no audible split times for me! My goal of running a slightly faster-than-usual pace had suddenly become a bit murky so I did the next best thing: I spied out somebody else at the starting line who appeared to be a similar age and build as myself and asked if he was running the 10k and what his goal was for splits. I proceeded to run with him – uncomfortably faster than my usual 15 mile pace.
The end result was that I finished with far better splits than I had ever imagined I could maintain for 6.2 miles. It was NOT an easy jog, and my finish time was not world class – but it was enough to win my age division (it was a small-town road race, after all), and enough to uncover potential I did not know I had.
Sometimes pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone requires tapping into the abilities of others – and using them to push yourself. We all have a competitive spirit, even if we keep it buried away somewhere. When you tap into that, you can use it to push yourself harder and realize more gains than you can realize on your own!