It’s not a race

The title is a nod to Paul at Message in a Bottle for his brilliant description in the opening paragraph of a scene that happens about daily at our house. Usually it happens when the kids are racing to do something and one smells defeat and realizes the only way to save face is by calling off the race. She shouts “It’s not a race”, as in “I don’t know why you care so much about getting there first because I always hurl down the stairs at breakneck speed.”

The whole calling off races thing also happens regularly in my own head, and is why I heard my dear husband say “It’s not a race” every time I warned him to look for me towards the back of the pack in a race I ran last weekend. Because really, it wasn’t a race I had any chance of winning.

You know who won? A 22 year-old Kenyan with a 4:50 pace. You know who came in second place? A 30 year-old Kenyan with the same pace, but a two-second later finish time. Two seconds.

I did not win this race, nor did I break any personal records. I thought I might, but my pace on this 5-mile race was almost identical to when I ran a 4-mile race last June, which is in the 10 minute-and-some-change range. The Kenyans could have doubled around and run the course twice and still would have beat me.

Running is humbling stuff.

I do not feel a part of the whole running scene. I’ve tried. Last spring I joined a running group that meets at a local track and started out the slowest runner and remained that way until it got light enough in the mornings to return to solo running. Once the group hit the streets when the track was iced up, and I found myself running alone in the dark with no idea which street the rest of the gang had turned down until they doubled back around.

As a friend pointed out, someone has to be slowest. I will probably go back to running group in late winter to find motivation and work on speed. As the same friend pointed out, think how good I make the second-slowest runner feel. I am just doing my job as Top Caboose.

Plus, I love to run! I love the surge of warm energy that flows through my body for hours afterwards. I love the freedom I feel when I only need to worry about myself. I love listening to music and skipping through songs without running it past a committee first. I even love the burn in my legs and lungs when I’m chugging uphill because I know I get to run down one next. It is greedy, selfish alone time and I love it so fucking hard I want to stop typing and go put on my pink sneakers.

I could just stop running races. I could just run on my own and go from finishing in the bottom 25% to the top 100%. I’m not doing this for the free soft pretzels or t-shirts, though those are nice perks and the races always benefit good causes. The most compelling reason I sign up for races is they motivate me to keep running.

And even finishing in the bottom 25%, this last race felt comfortable, if not easy. The course was a winding mix of flat and hills through local streets I’d never been down before. I enjoyed the scenery of old houses and smiling neighbors and kids ringing cow bells on front porches and generally feeling alive and part of something bigger. I can honestly say I enjoyed myself.

I’ll take a break from races until next spring at the earliest. I already signed up for a big bridge run next fall, but that has special significance and it’s a chance for me to run with my younger (faster) sister. I’ve thought about trying a 10-mile run in the city, but I honestly don’t have time to train for that with my work and family schedule. Not this year, and again, it’s not a race. I will continue taking my sweet old time because that’s kind of my thing.

I wish I didn’t realize how slow I run compared to most people, but I also believe there’s a lesson about perseverance and acceptance and humility that I haven’t quite learned yet.

I want to share this picture my husband took as I neared the finish line this weekend. The course ended with a lap on the same high school track where the running group meets. Something about hitting the soft, familiar surface with crowds of cheering people and the end so close in sight gave a dizzying high. I saw my husband and two girls in the stands and felt like I was running home.


38 thoughts on “It’s not a race

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  1. i am a very very slow runner. i can’t run in a group or i’d be alone in the dark, too. but i do enter in races periodically. not to win, or even to have a PR, but because they focus my training and make me get out more often… and i like the t-shirts. i finished a half marathon once where they had already closed down the finish line and pulled up the water stations. now i check to see if the events have ‘walkers’ registered, so that i know at least i’ll have some company 🙂 i run cuz it makes me feel better. i’m not part of a group. i’m doing it for me. maybe you, too.


  2. I don’t run… never have. I did used to do long distance swims but I’ve had to give in on them now on health grounds. Last one I did a couple of years back my daughter entered as well – 5,000m. I completely in about 1 hr 50 mins I think. The last 30 or so was agony as I pulled a muscle in the top of my leg/groin area trying to pass a slower swimmer. When I got out my daughter was finished, dried, changed, collected her medal and gone and got me a drink… she was 95th in the country in the final reckoning in something like 1hr 20mins! I retired, gracefully… but not without some resentment 😉


    1. I do resent those who start fast and make it look effortless. They are not always young either, but old like me! And I recognize they train hard and have a gift, so it’s like comparing apples to oranges. I don’t know which is the slower fruit, but I am that in this scenario.


  3. Hi Kristen,

    I’m finally getting back to WordPress after a long school break, and this post awaits me to give me a lift. Thank you for writing this, it is a great reminder not to let external factors deter us from doing what works for us, what is good for us, what helps us on so many levels.

    Here’s another perspective… even if you’re the last one straggling across that finish line, you are five miles (and light years) ahead of the rest of us who did not get off our couch!

    And remember… you will always be faster than Josie!


    1. Oh Josie, you know one of my favorite races will always be the Caron 5K. It was such an easygoing, fun experience. There are all kinds of challenges and they are whatever we make of them. Thanks for the perspective.


  4. I feel like it’s only in the 42nd year of my life that I _finally_ am able to stop worrying about how slow I am and be happy instead about the fact that I am an indestructible hill-chewing tank. Now I just wish people would stop saying “You can do it!” towards the end of a 5K.

    PS. The first time I ran with that morning group and got passed by the guy with one leg, I took it kind of personally. Then I quickly realized that his bionic leg is actually the FAST leg. That guy is semi-literally a MACHINE.


    1. Hey John! You were the one who alerted me to this race and why I kept at running 5 miles each weekend. I’m going to stick with it because now I realize my true calling is as an indestructible hill-chewing tank. I won’t make eye contact anymore with the volunteers near the end of any race, though bless their hearts, they mean well.


  5. Loved this post. You described my relationship with running exactly. I am always grateful that most of the races I enter are Run/Walk events so that there are at least always walkers behind me – well mostly. A little disheartening to be overtaken by walkers and not necessarily those speed walker types either! But that sense of well being and achievement that running gives – there is nothing better for me. And whilst I am always in the last of the bunch I console myself with the thought that I am a winner among all those that did not partake! My time was better that any of theirs!


  6. I loved your post~ I will run behind you, I’m slower and you don’t have to worry about being last 😉 I wish I was a 10 min ish runner…. the sense of achievement when you finish is all that matters and your personal fan club in the stands to cheer you on, is even more fabulous!!


    1. When I started out, my pace was a couple minutes slower. The sense of achievement has been the only constant and that comes with finishing, not time. Thanks for your kind words of wisdom!


  7. Love this, K. I have been lax in my running as of late, and was thinking entering a race would be a good way for me to get back on track. it’s winter in Canada though, so not sure how many 5 and 10K races there are at this time. But I understand what you mean about humility and perseverance. I mean, I know I will never win a race. It’s just not what I am interested in. Just finishing right now would be a great thing. Who knows, maybe after one or two I might start thinking a bit more competitively, but at the moment, being a neophyte in these things, I am trying to keep humility here. It’s only been a few months, so I have to be realistic.

    And as for your time – that’s about the time I run, so we’d be neck and neck in those races! I am trying to work on speed. Which then takes me out of those relaxing runs I enjoy. It’s almost like it’s work then…ha ha. I guess I can’t have it both ways right now. But anyway, this post is perfectly times, because I have been debating whether to run today, and well, I have some time before going to work….alright. Shoes going on 🙂

    Thanks for this…and thanks for the shout out there. Flattered 🙂

    Love and light

    P.S yeah – love that pic too!


    1. You’re off like a flash, Paul. I thought that when you first wrote about running. I thought here is someone who instantly gets it, and not all of us can say that. I imagine that’s true of anything you put your mind to, so I wish you all the best even though I know I don’t need to. Come spring, I am sure there will plenty of races should you choose to sign up. Around here, there’s literally something every weekend.


  8. 10 minutes??!! you RAN 5 miles in 10 minutes?
    That, to me, is a miracle, seriously.
    That seems like the wind in my head….brava!
    I will go do so yoga now, no running…..
    love the pic!


      1. Hahhaaa…
        see, I know so little about running that I didn’t get that…and you know what? 51 minutes is also a miracle!
        It all is, miracles.
        Good for you!


  9. Hey, what’s the difference between a 7 minute mile and a 17 minute mile?

    Not a damn thing.

    A mile is a mile, no matter how long it takes you to cover it.

    And the only one I compete against is the voice in my head that tells me to stop.

    It’s all about perspective. How long would it have taken you three years ago? What? What’s that? Oh, did you say you weren’t even running then? What about two years ago? What? You’d only just done your first 5k? Okay, what about one year ago? What? You were only considering the possibility of a 10k? And you were running a 12 minute mile?

    Look how far you’ve come. Life itself is a race, but our only competition is ourselves. Really really proud of you and your dedication. Sounds like you are winning your race. There’s no need to hurry.



    1. Of course you are right on all of these points. And there is no need to hurry and maybe I will continue to grow as a runner or maybe I will decide to stay as I am and this will be more than enough.

      In other sports or activities, it is easier to fool myself that I am as capable and skilled as others. In running, there’s the whole pace thing and it’s hard to ignore or even comprehend the range. It is a total ego thing. I realize today that I am in great company and that being slower is no reason to feel discouraged. Always appreciate your support and advice, you’re a running goddess. xoxo


  10. You are SO FUNNY! Silly girl. My reasons for running are the same as yours. I’m certainly not in it to win, I’m in it as motivation to continue to stay active. I ran a 5k last Sunday. My time was about a 12:30 mile. So don’t feel so bad about a 10 minute plus change mile. I will be the one behind you! I have a 10k coming up the end of January and a half in February. I know I won’t get any faster but that’s okay 🙂 Keep it up girl!


    1. I feel surrounded in love and acceptance and want to run a race with all my fellow sober runners! Well, not the really fast ones obviously but everyone else. Good luck on your 10k and half! Wow!
      I’ll be cheering you on from afar and hope you’ll write about it.


  11. Fab picture, it’s worth taking your time to ensure you look so good at the finish line. Always an upside!
    I used to be quicker even when I was drinking loads, can’t understand why I can’t be faster…but thinking like tht makes me want to give up altogether, try something I can excel at. High achieving, perfectionist? And then I remember I am trying not to be that person anymore…that it okay to just be at something, I don’t have to be the best or even good, just be.


    1. Yes, that is exactly why I ran slow-ish. Gotta make sure not to mess up the hair 🙂 New shoes slowed me down this summer, so I get the mysteries of pace. This just being thing is great work when I remember to get it. Thanks for the sweet comment.


  12. I love the photo! Your story reminds me of a race I did last year, when I was so pleased with my time and my run, and I then realised that I’d come 650th out of about 750 people!! I was gutted. So now I try not to compare myself to others, cos really it’s my race and not theirs. I follow a good blog called (not that I’m saying either of us are fat!) and there’s a lot of motivating stuff on there about slower runners.


    1. Someone shared one of her posts awhile back and it was love at first sight. She’s hilarious! Unfortunately I never thought to follow her blog, and your comment prompted me to. So thanks!


  13. Running is winning!! You are doing it and feeling good and that’s what counts. You are faster than everyone who’s butt is still on their couch. And the mental and physical benefits remain the same no matter your pace. I get competitive with myself sometimes too, but at the end of the day I always feel good that I just got out there!


  14. At least you run… I can’t manage it! (except for 20 or so minutes on the treadmill). Love the image of you rounding the end of the track feeling like you’re running home. Great stuff xxx


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