Editor Allison Pattillo outlines why sometimes not running a goal race is the best choice.
You pick an event, register, train, race and repeat. But sometimes, when it gets to race day, life gets in the way, or you become injured, or maybe you just don’t feel like it. Of course, if you’re a professional runner, the story is different. But for the rest of us, the decision not to race is a valuable opportunity to revisit why we race in the first place.
Qualifying for the Boston Marathon was one of my long-term goals. I’ve run Boston before; I was lucky enough to do so on a media entry. And the experience was more than I ever could have imagined, to the point I was inspired to earn my way to the starting line in Hopkinton the traditional way. Last summer, on a stunner of a July day in the mountains of Colorado, I did just that. Not only did I meet my very own Boston-qualifying standard (BQ), but I also exceeded it by more than six minutes!
When it came time to register, I did so at the very first possible minute—no, it wasn’t necessary, but I QUALIFIED FOR BOSTON! Once I found out I was accepted, I pinned the Boston Marathon acceptance email to the bulletin board and returned to life’s regularly scheduled programming.
I took care of my kids, ran, worked, got injured, traveled, went to PT—the same things that all of us do. About a month and a half ago, I realized it didn’t make sense for me to run Boston this year. There was the travel and lodging expense, a stubborn case of Achilles tendonitis, chaotic family schedules—no issues out of the ordinary, but enough stressors to make me realize I was forcing the issue. Emotionally I had a more difficult time letting this marathon go. The energy, the excitement, seeing friends, going to a Red Sox game, eating fresh lobster—it’s Boston, baby! All are valid reasons to hop on the plane, but none were enough to warrant the cost and high likelihood of making my nagging injury worse.
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Yes, I race for the fun of it—but I realized I also like striving to improve and competing against myself. However, those positives cannot come at the expense of my running longevity or my family. I have no intentions of making a habit out of signing up for races and not running them; in fact, I believe this is only the third time it’s happened in more than 20 years of running and 125-plus races. The plus side? I now have another goal on the horizon—I was accepted into the New York City Marathon! The cycle continues.
If you’re debating the logistics and sensibility of tackling a goal race, here are some things to consider when making your decision:
Are you injured or sick?
I’m not talking about a paper cut or the sniffles—you aren’t going to get off that easy! I once finished the last stage of a 6-day stage race with a possible fractured arm—I really wanted that finisher’s shirt! (I think it was a bone bruise, but we’ll never know because I refused medical treatment. Not recommended.) But if you have a pain that alters your gait, are wearing a cast, have the flu or your doctor literally forbids you to run, then perhaps you should consider taking a pass this time around.
Can you still afford it?
Traveling to races is expensive. Race registration isn’t cheap, and then you have to pay for travel, lodging and food on top of it. Sometimes races will let you transfer registration to another event or year, sometimes not. In my case, forfeiting my registration was inexpensive compared to the additional money I would have to pay for hotel and airfare. If you know in advance that you aren’t going to race, let race organizers know in case there is a waiting list. And to reduce costs—note to self!—investigate races closer to home.
What else is going on in your life?
Work trips, weddings, family emergencies—a lot can happen between when you register for a race and the race date. These aren’t necessarily reasons not to race, but they are factors to consider. I see my running and racing life as a constant cost-and-benefit analysis (think consequences, not monetary). Think how much happier you’ll be spending your Saturday afternoon at your mom’s cousin’s wedding if you managed to squeeze in a 10K with friends in the morning. Then again, missing your child’s birthday might be unforgivable (although mine forgave me that one time!).
Is your training on par for racing?
As long as you aren’t injured and are reasonably fit, training—or lack thereof—isn’t necessarily a reason to skip a race. Look at it as a valuable lesson in reassessing goals, running for the fun of it and giving yourself the gift of a supported training run. Plus it may inspire you to strive for another goal or get back on track with your training.
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Do you even feel like racing?
I’m no doctor (as evidenced by my earlier admission) but if this is a question, maybe a race is just what you need!