Trouble getting up and out the door in the morning? Hoping to lose some weight, as we shed layers of clothes for warmer weather? Run (or walk) in a local footrace!
I’m not talking about a race with world-class runners. Make your goal this season an ordinary 5k walk or run with ordinary people—of all shapes and sizes and fitness levels.
Everyone is an athlete. The only difference is that some of us are in training, and some are not.
–George A. Sheehan
Find a Low-Key 5k Run or Walk
There’s a 5k run or walk just about every weekend in my neck of the woods, sometimes during summer evenings after work, and often as part of holiday festivities or local celebrations.
You don’t even have to run. Most footraces feature a contingent of walkers trying to improve their fitness or just out for the fun and camaraderie. Some “races” allow walkers with babies in strollers and dogs on leashes, as long as they start near the back so they won’t block runners trying for a fast time.
Find a “low-key” 5K race (such as one that invites walkers). Look for notices in the hometown newspaper or search online for “running races” near [your city, state]. This site is fairly comprehensive. There should be less pressure at a small, local race. However, if you would prefer to be more anonymous, perhaps select a local race in another town or pick a large race. No one cares how slow or fact you run or walk (except you).
Also, make sure you leave enough time to train for the run. Most shorter-distance training programs last eight weeks.
Competition isn’t what you think it is. The famed cardiologist/running guru George Sheehan wrote, Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit.
The word competition derives from two Latin words that combine to mean “striving together.” After the gun goes off, you and your fellow racers feed off each other’s energy, accomplishing more than any of you could on your own. That’s just how it works.
- Entering Builds Motivation
Why enter a footrace? Why not just run on your own? Setting a concrete goal in and of itself will help. You need to prepare to run. Which entails learning how. You want to make sure you can finish with a flourish.
- Training Builds Confidence
Training to race means conditioning your body (and mind) to handle your intended distance, at a pace you can maintain until the end. Paying attention to training not only helps keep you motivated to exercise, it also helps prevent (and recover from) injury. It can be as simple as getting out several times a week, gradually working up to half again or twice the distance of the racing you’re aiming for. This “overdistance” training gives your body the confidence that it can easily accomplish the task you’ve set for it.
- Celebrate Your Achievement
After you finish walking or running your first footrace (congratulations!), you may find yourself wanting to go faster, not merely finish. Along the way, you may pick up training partners or join a running group doing structured workouts. Also good for motivation. If you want to get faster at running, you’ll eventually need to add some form of speed training into your workouts. Learn about speedwork before you start running (or walking) faster. Make sure you warm up (walk or run slowly) before and cool down after every bout of speed, and certainly before and after every race.
- Enjoy Camaraderie
Even if you start your training program alone, you won’t have trouble finding buddies to help you stay on track. You may find yourself waving to someone going in the other direction during your 6:00 a.m. jaunt, or your after-work trot, or meet someone wearing running shoes in the supermarket checkout line. Strike up a conversation. Tell about your racing goals.
I found a training partner one day shower room of the YMCA. We ran together almost every Saturday for 16 years. The best thing about having a training partner: You depend on each other to show up. Neither of you wants to let the other one down. So you keep showing up, even on days you’d rather not.
Later, I joined a running group. During the spring, summer, and fall, we met on Tuesdays after work to for special running workouts timed to the season and our personal levels of fitness. Our group did contain some elite speedsters, but the rest of us ranged from middle-of-the-packers to plain old plodders.
If you ask around, or do an internet search for “running groups in [your state],” you’ll probably find similar groups in your area. Show up for a workout to see if a group feels like a good fit for you.
- Gain Fitness
You might not ever become very fast, or beat many people. You might even finish last (many races award a nice prize to the last-place finisher), but with regular training you will get faster and stronger. Your mental and physical endurance will increase. Your mood will improve. You’ll handle stress better. Your heartrate and blood pressure will decrease. If you also pay attention to your diet, you may drop a few pounds of flab and add a few pounds of muscle.
- Improve Your Focus and Organization
Most of human life is ambiguous and uncertain. But racing is concrete and linear. The gun goes off, you run your distance, you finish, you get your time. It feels clean and pure.
Racing offers direct feedback on your progress toward an aim. It will help you focus and plan. It will help you organize life and manage your time as it improves your health. You may find yourself engaged with racing in ways you could never have imagined.
With any luck, like me, when you come to the end of your running career, you’ll be able to say, like Doc Sheehan, I have met my hero, and (s)he is me.
See more thoughts on how to get motivated.
*If you don’t like running or its variations (fast hiking, power-walking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing), most areas also offer mountain bike and road-bike racing, lake swims, triathlons, canoe and kayak races in season.