“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!