racing for fun

Extra credit for stopping for a pyramid photo mid-race.

You register for a race with the promise that you will not miss a run, a strength circuit, a rest day. You are ALL IN. Then something goes off the rails: your IT band won’t stop whining; your house is invaded by inlaws or a flooded basement or the flu (or all three!); your boss decides that your workload isn’t substantial enough.

Your best intentions morph to a-C+-is-still-passing, right? mentality. Which is ok because C+ IS still passing.

Do you still pin on your bib and head to your corral? We vote yes—with the caveat that you go in with a mentality and a goal that focuses on something other than what your finishing time is. One more caveat: We don’t vote yes if it’s a marathon, and you’ve missed big swaths of your training (read: more than two consecutive weeks, a handful of long runs). Going 26.2 miles on a body that isn’t ready for hours on your feet will likely result in injury, burnout or just plain totally bummed out. Switch to half-marathon distance, if that’s available.

When you do pin on that bib, here are six helpful and fun focus points on besides your splits and/or finishing time:

Practice pacing.
Whether you’re in a 5k or a half-marathon, the most effective strategy is to start slowly and speed up through the race. Even though we understand that rationally, most of us have trouble executing that in real life. Use this opportunity to do that: If that means starting with a mile split that is 2 minutes slower than your regular race pace, great. That gives you lots of space to speed up.

Practice passing.
A variation on the pacing theme, run your race at an effort with this goal: to pass as many people as possible in the last mile of the race. You’ll need to slow your roll in the early miles so you can fire it up in the last.

Create a race within a race.
If you feel like your legs have, say, a strong 10k in them—but you’re signed up for 13.1 miles—take the first three miles as a warm-up. Turn up the gas for the next 6.2 miles, then use the rest of the race as a cool down. (Same for a 10k/5k situation.) Rely momentum and energy of your fellow runners to keep your effort high. Even if your mini race is not an official PR that lives on the internet, it’s also not fake news.

Use it as a training run.
If your life looks pretty clear for the next few months, sign up for another race, adjust your training plan, and use this one as a training run. Keep your pace easy throughout, and enjoy the aid stations—and your empty pockets.

Collect something.
On the course, collect high-fives from volunteers and the crowd; sayings for posters you want to make in the future; laughs and smiles from the costume you are wearing; selfies at every aid station. If you’re feeling really virtuous, you could pick up random wrappers and other garbage and dispose of them at the next aid station. (Just be sure not to trip up your fellow runners as you grab discarded Cup O’ Noodle cups.)

Be a cheerleader.
The longer the race, the easier it is to have mental monkeys—you should’ve trained harder, you’re not even a runner—come screeching and taunting. Keep out of your own head by chatting up your fellow runners. Hang with somebody for a few miles—or just a few steps, depending on the vibe he or she is giving off. Chances are, you’ll remember the conversation much longer than the actual run.

Has your race training ever gone off the rails? (Not a rhetorical question.) If so, what strategy did you take to your race?