On a recent Saturday morning I couldn’t find a race I was planning to run, due to faulty directions (or misinterpreted directions – but I’m going with “faulty”), and I gave up and drove home. I was disappointed, not because I missed a chance to run fast and compete (there will always be other races), but because I was looking forward to spending time with a group of fellow runners and seeing a few friends. Now I was faced with a sudden unplanned gap in my weekend schedule.
People run for many reasons: fitness, competition, solitude, socializing, a chance to get away from the daily routine. I was never a jogger; I got into running directly through competition, joining the track team my sophomore year in high school, after many years of soccer, in an attempt to squeeze a varsity letter out of a school I was transferring out of.
I found out I was relatively good at it and I’ve been racing on and off ever since. I like the personal challenge of giving something your all, holding nothing back, and being able to measure your efforts against the clock and the competition.
But as I drove home that morning, I suddenly realized there was a second reason I like races so much, something that has become almost as important as the competition itself: Races are a pre-scheduled social event where I’m almost certain to “run into” at least a few friends.
Many activities are more fluid or hit-and-miss, with different schedules, interests, and priorities making it hard to get everyone on the same page at the same time. Even group runs, formal or informal, can be a chore to organize and vary widely in attendance depending on a variety of factors. And once everyone has arrived ready to run, the group can quickly break into a number of smaller groups based on pace and distance.
But races are scheduled and publicized well in advance. Unless you’re the race director or a volunteer, all you have to do is pay your entry fee, circle the date on the calendar, and show up at the appointed time and place, along with the many other runners who share your interest in that particular distance or course. Races are the original “flash mobs”.
So aside from the excitement of testing my limits on the roads (and occasionally grass or dirt), races give me and many fellow runners a chance for a guaranteed get-together with like-minded people, many of whom we’ve met before. And, being runners, the ones we haven’t met are likely to be great folks who will quickly become new friends.
TRL is rightly known as a well-rounded club, with a full spectrum of opportunities to volunteer, train, socialize, do group runs, and race. But lately, the emphasis on racing has seemed to be fading slightly, with fewer tell-tale red, black, and white shirts visible in the crowd.
When I first joined the club in 2005, the Summer Series was booming, the Tour de Goose was a hotly contested and fun-filled chase to Fairview that attracted runners of all paces, including some of Portland’s fastest, and Lizard singlets were prominent at various major Front Avenue road races.
I used to look forward to the Summer Series as much for the carpooling caravans to some unsuspecting small town, the sweaty post-race swapping of race stories with the team near the finish line, the group photos, and the invasion of the local brew pub for an early lunch, as I did for the races themselves. It didn’t matter to me how fast people ran; it mattered how many people ran.
So my hope for 2012 and beyond is that Red Lizard members will remember how much fun it is to race and that I will see more of you out there at the starting line. (A good time to start would be the Shamrock Run on March 18th.) Whether we finish first, last, or anywhere in between, we can make our presence felt, cheer each other on, and enjoy the company of other members of this great club. Oh, and if necessary, provide directions to the start