“I hope you know, this race time doesn’t mean anything!”
These words were spat at the volunteers at the finish line of a trail race by the irate family member of a runner still out on the course. We weren’t sure how to react in the moment, but after she stomped away these angry words become the source of a very insightful conversation.
One of the volunteers working the aid station with me had never been to a race before. As soon as the frustrated woman was out of earshot she asked me “does this race qualify you for anything?”
No. No it did not.
Hearing this, the volunteer followed up with “well, then the race time only means something if you let it.”
Yes! Oh. My. Goodness. YES!
The runner had gone off course during the race + was taking longer than expected to get back to the finish line. There is no doubt, this is frustrating + disappointing for a runner’s support crew. It is also extremely aggravating + infuriating for the runner. They had all made sacrifices to be at the race + had high hopes for the day. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
By no means am I attempting to discredit the roller coaster of emotions that tag along for any training run or race. However, at the end of the day, it’s all just a number. A number…that doesn’t matter, unless you let it.
The non-running volunteer’s perspective of “does the number really matter?” was refreshing + eye opening. She was right…it does not matter. It didn’t qualify the runner for another race, it didn’t disqualify the runner from anything, it didn’t determine if the runner won money…it was simply a number.
Of course, sometimes mere seconds can play a huge role in the future races available to a runner. Whether it’s a Boston Marathon qualifying time or a cutoff time for a Western States qualifying race…the numbers have the ability to determine what ends up on your race schedule in the future.
We cannot always ignore the power of a second, but we can decide how we’ll let those numbers define us. We get to decide whether that number gets to decide who we are + how much effort we put into training + racing + suffering + persevering.
At the end of the day, you put in time + effort, commitment + pain, sacrifice + suffering. Regardless of what a simple race clock says or a silly GPS spits out at you — you are a runner with soul, passion + determination.
Everyone has rough days out on the trails — whether we’re training for a race or simply seeking out the perfect alpine lakes. We all experience the ups + downs that come with missing goals, regardless of their actually attribution to our value or credibility. What’s really important is how you wrap your mind around reality.
We live in a world where it’s so easy to obsess over the numbers popping up on Strava + the times displayed on the GPS watches filling our Insta-stories. This makes it even harder to move past the numbers. They’re everywhere + they’re the only real “variable” we can easily use to compare ourselves to others…or our past selves.
But, as someone who’s beaten herself up over + over because my numbers weren’t fast enough or vertical enough or long enough…please believe me when I say this.
Sometimes the numbers really, truly do not matter.
They don’t define you — even on race day. If you’re number isn’t where you want it to be, that is okay. Do not let that number tell you that you’re not good enough or that you didn’t try hard enough. Instead, take into consideration everything you learned from your experience out there as you chased down that number. Use this newfound knowledge to better prepare yourself to try harder next time.
At the very least…you’ll be setting yourself up to spend even more time out on the trails loving life + learning what you’re truly capable of!
Love this. Thanks for the reminder
Thank you — I think half the time I write to remind myself!
This past May, I raced the Sulphur Springs (Ontario) 50 miler for the third year in a row. 2017 took about 15 hours, 2018 took about 14 hours, and 2019 took 12.17:22. Huge improvements but in my mind, any decent runner should do 50 miles in 12 hours. I made my mind I’d enter a 100 km race only if I finished the 50 miler in under 12 hours. In this case the numbers meant something to me. I did not enter a 100 km race and I’m not sure what my ultra plans are in the future.
Thanks you for this & I couldn’t agree more heartedly!! I just started trail races this year after many years of non-running due to injuries (ok, my version=fast paced hiking & shuffling on the flats & downhills). I entered into a race a few months ago that—once I was already on course—CLEARLY exceeded my abilities. Yes, I *was* the oldest female competitor & by several age divisions… yes, I *did* finish dead last in the race… & YES, I *finished*—I cared not for the time, I cared that I completed a difficult course on which younger competitors dropped out, one that I thought from the first mile was going to kill or potentially maim me, one where I started bonking with a couple miles remaining, & STILL—I finished it, got my finisher’s medal with many strangers congratulating me—all those intangibles mean far more to me than than my finishing time, the costs of the entrance fee, & a week’s worth of soreness after… & technically, my bragging rights are that I came in both first & last in my age group 😉
those are legitimate bragging rights + it’s all the makings of a great story! the most important + valuable thing to learn about racing is that’s it is all in how you handle the unknown obstacles that will determine how you finish the race, especially when it comes to mindset.
congrats on winning your age group! 😉
This is so so great and quite timely. I am my own worst and toughest critic and this read is something I need to re-read before and after all my races. Thanks!
we really are harder on ourselves than anyone else is — it’s all about keeping reality in perspective, which is much easier said than done!
Well said! Love this. I too will keep this to remind me of what’s important. And congrats Christine on your race. You should be proud!
It’s perspectives like this that we lose when we’re out there suffering…but that’s when we need it most! Definitely putting in a little extra effort to keep it in the back of my mind in the weeks leading up to my next race as well!