I love running, but I love running races even more. Having completed an average of 40 road races each year since 2013, signing up for and competing in a race feels like second nature. However, for someone just getting into running, the very idea of registering for a race may be understandably intimidating. A beginner may not know what to expect from the race day process or the race itself. However, if you never try, you’ll never know! And like the anecdote goes, we tend to regret the things we did not do more than the things we have done. While any sort of running routine benefits your health and spirit, completing a race—no matter what the distance—gives you a sense of accomplishment and joy that cannot be gained from daily runs alone. Whether you've never raced or are looking for that extra push to sign up for that 5k on Saturday, here are just a few of the reasons to add a road race to your calendar.
1. You get your workout in early on a weekend morning.
The overwhelming majority of road races are on a Saturday or Sunday morning. Without a race, I would probably be sleeping in. With a race, I’ve just completed a quality workout and am ready to take on the rest of the day by mid-morning at the latest! This is a great way to “add” hours to your weekend—days that otherwise tend to go all too quickly. Having raced in the morning frees up tons of bonus time to do more fun weekend activities, not just because I’m up earlier, but because I then don’t have to take any other time out of my day to workout. If your race involves traveling to another city, this can also be an opportunity to see other places that you’d otherwise never explore.
2. You usually come away with some goodies like a T-shirt, post-race food, etc.
While this varies from race to race, most will give you at minimum a cool event t-shirt and some type of goody bag. Races of half marathon length or longer usually give you a finisher’s medal. Both t-shirts and medals can become a means of motivating you. Collect enough t-shirts to make a t-shirt quilt, or try to beat your medal total from the previous season. Other goodies are specific to each race and can become something to look forward to year after year. I still remember my green Shamrock sugar cookie from after last year’s Virginia Beach Shamrock Half. Another example: the Haven 8k in Charlottesville is famous for its post-race breakfast of homemade baked goods and an array of beverages…which brings me to my next point!
3. You can benefit a charitable cause!
Lots of local races support local causes. The Haven 8k helps the homeless to get housing, but so many other races benefit other important causes too. Last year I ran the Tinkerbell Half through Team AFSP and raised more than $1000 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Find a local 5k that gives back to your community; there’s no better way to get your rush of endorphins this weekend. Help yourself and help others! For longer races, you can often gain entry to a sold out race by racing to benefit a charity too.
4. You get a more intense workout that you otherwise would have.
Even if you’re already a weekend workout warrior, a race is an excellent way to push yourself. Most of my regular runs are done at a fairly casual pace. A race shows me what I’m actually capable of.
5. Races are a great test of fitness and a great way to goal set.
Once you’ve got a race or two under your belt, it becomes really fun to try to beat your previous times. There is a magic in going faster than your body has ever gone before over a specific distance. Year to year, track your progress over the same course. Racing conditions can vary year to year with the weather, which adds another element of intrigue to the whole racing experience. I ran a race this year called the Frostbite 15k in a snowstorm; the year before, we all raced in the worst rain I’ve ever experienced. Most races won’t involve a deluge of rain or snow, but when it does happen, you feel very proud of yourself for having braved the elements and experience a unique camaraderie with other runners.
6. You will have fun whether you go with friends or by yourself!
Even if you go to a race alone, you will end up making a bunch of great running friends! This fall, two men who were also out racing the same half marathon ended up collegially pacing me to a top three finish for women. The help from my new friends made that race and my good placing even more special. If you attend enough local races, you will end up seeing some familiar faces. Runners are a wonderfully welcoming community of people. Races also provide an opportunity to workout with your friends. Even if you don’t race side-by-side, you can still brunch together afterwards!
7. You will almost inevitably run a new route.
A change of scenery is good for you. Sometimes I end up running the same old loops on the same days. Besides forcing me out of my comfort zone in terms of how fast I’m running, a race gives me an opportunity to explore new roads and routes.
8. The actual process of race day is easier than you might think.
If possible (and it usually is), register online for the race ahead of time. Especially if you’re new to racing, give yourself a little extra time to get ready on race day morning. Plan on arriving an hour ahead of race start to give yourself adequate time to park, use the restroom, and pick up your registration packet. Your registration packet will most likely contain your bib number, which is the number you pin on the front of your shirt, and any other race goodies. With about 45 min. to start time, go for a short 12-15min. warmup. Stretch, and you’re ready to roll! Have fun and go fast!
Road races are a rewarding, fun, and an invigorating addition to the usual workout. With warmer weather upon us, you likely have lots of options coming up on the local race circuit. One of these would be a great place to start.