I originally published this on Medium a few years ago…
I run in local races for the t-shirts, not to be competitive. This means I accomplished my goal just by registering, and frees my mind up for more important things – like finding life lessons. Here’s what I’ve managed to learn in the course of several years of running.
Don’t be out front at the start — Being in the lead means that you’ll be everyone’s target. They’ll all try to catch and beat you. It’s better to be following until it makes sense to lead.
Put in your best efforts when the going is hard– I generally hold my pace on flat ground, and when I come to an uphill, that’s when I let the dogs out. Anyone can excel when things are easy. It’s excelling when things are tough that make us winners. Few runners will try to keep up on a climb, but many will run you to the ground on the flats.
Follow your own inner voice — In April of 2009 I ran in zero drop shoes for the first time. Being willing to go against the norm, and stand up to strange glances and skeptical expensive-shoe runners has enabled me to decrease my per mile time by over 1 minute.
Avoid negativity— Stay away from heavy breathers, gaspers, and foot slappers, and anyone else complaining too much. Just being in close proximity to someone not enjoying themselves will suck the will out of you.
Never outpace your smile — Find something else to do if you can’t enjoy the experience
Take in the sights — I get bored within a half mile of the start and start to look around. My honey does the same thing. After a race we talk about landscape ideas, nice paint color combinations on houses we see, and birds spotted along the course. Life’s too short to stare at the back of the person in front of you.
Encourage others — It’s common to see spectators on the sidelines clap and shout encouragement to the runners. I often do this from the course for competitors I see struggling. It lifts them up as it lifts me.
It’s not all about you — A few years ago I was in the lead group in a 5 miler. Someone up front stopped running, and bent over, gasping for air. I changed direction and went to him. I found out he had asthma. He assured me he was okay and said he had his inhaler. He thanked me for stopping and I resumed the race. About 20 runners passed him without a glance. My time overall wasn’t impacted in the longer 5 miles of the race and I already had my t-shirt.
Know who your competition is — As I near the end of the race I apply my keen eye to the runners ahead of me. I am looking for others who appear to be in my age group. If I see any, I do all I can to get ahead of them before the end. If I only have younger or older runners in front, my final sprint will be defensive to keep people my age from passing me. I’m racing people who are scored with me. I’m not racing the whole field.