Finally, It’s time to get back to the road races

Last December, in the midst of covid uncertainty, I booked a place in a January road race. With the
novelty of virtual races long behind me, I had my fingers crossed that this large in-person event
might actually go ahead. Of course, booking anything in advance came with a very big maybe. Who
knows what another covid Christmas might bring for restrictions. The race may be cancelled or
postponed. Either way, it was a deadline, a date in the diary and a nice focus for the winter.

An eye on the future
As a coach what I have noticed most throughout the pandemic is how hard it has been for runners to
remain motivated without anything specific to aim for. There is something special about putting our
energy into training for a big day out. It focusses the mind and helps place running higher up our
priority list. It encourages us put pen to paper on a training plan and visualize our destination. The
anticipation (and slight fear) of the race gets us out the door on days when we might otherwise have
skipped training.

Getting to the start line
Knowing that I’m not the only one in need of a winter running focus, I encouraged the members of
my running community to also sign up. 8 weeks later and we find ourselves in a sea of runners on a
Sunday afternoon. For all of us who wake up with race day nerves, it’s a long wait until a 3pm race
start. I’m guessing many runners heading to the start line have spent the morning second guessing
their preparations and worrying about logistics. But that is all part of that race day experience. I
don’t know any runner who normally chooses to run at 3pm, yet here we all are, giddy to be in a
group, yet a little anxious, wondering if we made the right decision to eat or skip lunch!

Race Day Excitement
I am reminded of the wonderful excitement and buzz of the race day and all that has been missing
for the last two years. I see familiar faces that I only meet at these events. There are club runners in
their singlets warming up and checking their watches. There are queues of people at portaloos
jogging in place to keep warm. There are groups of chatting runners huddled near the bag drop
leaving it until the last possible minute to ditch the extra layers. There are children proudly
displaying their medals from the kids races and there are supporters wrapped up in their winter
woolies awaiting the forecasted rain to arrive. I’ve not seen so many people together since early
2020.

Planning ahead
What seems like such a novelty now was my normal for so long. There was a time when turning up
to a race like this was a regular part of my weekends. For many years, I started my running year with
a whole series of races planned out. I took comfort from having my plan for the year on one page.
But without this annual map of race days, like many other runners, I’ve settled back into my comfort
zone of running casually without any major focus or ambitions for personal bests. But now, as I
follow the crowd to the start line I have two thoughts. Firstly, I’m definitely going to get my 2022
race calendar sorted when I get home. Secondly, I wish I had put a little more time into my own
training over the past few months. But too late to dwell on that one now.

Finding our rhythm

There are 5 minutes to go until we start. At this stage, the butterflies in the tummy are very real
whether you are up the front or down the back. We anxiously await the starter gun and suddenly we
start moving. As we move forward the nerves are replaced with other emotions. From euphoria to
fatigue, there are times that we feel strong and confident, while there are also moments when we
just want it to be all over. We may feel encouraged by a cheering supporter or disheartened by
runners overtaking us. But we continue regardless, following the footsteps that help up maintain a
pace we probably wouldn’t sustain if running alone. Finally, when we see the finish line, we muster
up whatever energy we can find for the sprint finish and promptly forget all these waves of emotion
– until the next time. The post run endorphins kick in and we feel wonderfully satisfied that we did
our best for that given day.

Book a race
Don’t let all the emotions of a race day turn you off. Not only does the date in your diary keep you
on track in the lead up, but the benefits of having completed the race last long past the finish line
and encourage you to move forward with your running. Get a date or two into your running diary.
Check out race listings online or remember the races you used to love to attend in the past. Let’s
support the race organizers and the charity runs too. Talk to your running buddies or clubmates to
find out which races they recommend. You could even arrange to travel somewhere new for an
event. Race days are back on the calendar and I can confirm the atmosphere is as good as ever.

Anxious about signing up
Very few of us will ever set out to win a race, but we all do line up at each start line carrying the
weight of our own expectations as well as the challenges of the last few years. No two runners are
the same and we all have experienced the pandemic differently. So don’t let the fear of not being
the runner you were two years ago stop you signing up to a race. You may not be lining up to win
the race, but each race is a stepping stone to the next one, a boost in motivation and a chance to
make your own running a little more social and fun. As the world reopens, so does the number of
races that are popping up on the calendar. Set yourself a deadline, earmark a day out that that will
help you become a more consistent, stronger and confident runner.

Running your own race
If I didn’t sign up for that race last December I would certainly not have gone out last Sunday
afternoon for a run or pushed myself in the last mile. I would not have experienced the atmosphere
and camaraderie of the road race and shared the experience with so many others all chasing that
one finish line. Thank you AXA Raheny 5 mile for keeping me and so many runners moving through
January and helping us all get excited about our running future again. We have had a taste of the
future and I certainly am ready to get back on the road. I hope to see you out there.

This article was written by Mary Jennings, founder and running coach at ForgetTheGym,  and was first published in The Irish Times on 8th Feb 2022