I’ll never forget my first race. It was a 5K in Salt Lake City, Utah in April of 2014. This particular event was billed as a family fun run, and sure enough, the starting line was packed with families and excited runners of all ages, all ready to have some fun. I managed to finish my first 5K without stopping to walk, in what I thought was a perfectly respectable 38:24 time. Now while I certainly wasn’t in the top half of the finisher’s board, at least 30% of the pack finished behind me, so I figured I had done all right for my first time out.
Over the following months, I continued to enter races and my pace steadily increased. Eventually, I settled into my usual place of finishing squarely in the middle, with approximately 50% of the runners in front of me and 50% behind. I wasn’t just an average runner, I was the average runner, and I was perfectly content with that.
It wasn’t about being the fastest or the slowest, it was about having fun and finishing, and all of the races had a congenial atmosphere about them. But then I moved to Paris.
From laid back running to serious competition
Much like nearly everything in life, they do things a bit differently here in France, and just like their food and wine, the French take their running seriously. Right from my very first Parisian race, I noticed that there was a distinct air of competition at these events. While obviously not everyone thought they were going to win, it was clear that most people were determined to get to the finish line as fast as possible. This was quite a shock to the system for someone like me who was used to the laid back, you’ll-get-there-when-you-get-there attitude of my previous events. I suddenly found myself at the back of the pack of nearly every race I entered.
During one particularly difficult race, I was the 24th to last runner to cross the finish line out of a field of over 3,600, and they were already dismantling the course barriers as I dragged myself down the final stretch. Not exactly the confidence booster you want as you’re heading towards the finish line.
Why I keep running races
Just to be clear, I’m not saying this to discourage you from entering a race here in Paris. Quite the opposite, because as I’ve mentioned many times in the past, entering a race is one of the best motivators I know of to get up and out running on a regular basis. But it’s always nice to have some warning of what to expect.
Yes, French races may be more competitive than what I was used to in North America, but I’m not about to let that deter me from running them. I love running races! The excitement, the camaraderie, and all the people cheering you on are the reasons why I continue to enter these events. Best of all, that feeling of accomplishment when you cross the finish line is the same no matter where the race is being held.
So what if I’m now at the back of the pack instead of the middle? I’m still finishing, and believe me, there will always be people at the back with you. In all likelihood, I’ll be one of them. Just remember that race days are fun, inclusive events, and you don’t have to set a personal best every time to be taken seriously.
Getting to the finish line
Earlier this month, fellow INSPIRELLE writer Chloe Martin and I entered a local 10K race that was won by someone from Kenya with a time of 29:46. Our record-breaking time? 1:08:16. Since that was a full seven minutes faster than my last 10K race, you’d better believe I was pretty darn proud of that. We managed to get lapped several times by the top racers, but who cares? We finished, and we have the medals to prove it.
The aforementioned race happened to be my last race of the season. I’m going to be taking a break from race days for the next month or two and enjoy some time off. But come September, the season starts up again in earnest, with six races scheduled for that month alone, including the inaugural Disneyland Paris half marathon. I guess it really won’t be much of a break, as I’ll still be out hitting the trails and training throughout the summer.
I hope you’ll join me, and I especially hope to see you out at a race in the fall. If you’re at the back of the pack, be sure to give me a wave!