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July 08, 2016

The Perfect Race: An Athlete’s Perspective

The Perfect Race: An Athlete’s Perspective

Since beginning my athletic career in 2012 (and believe me, I use the term “athletic career” loosely… if you could see me run you’d understand what I mean), I’ve laced up my shoes for well over 50 races. I’ve had good experiences, not-so-good experiences and experiences so bad that it made me want to swear off racing forever (don’t get me started on the obstacle race that made us park an hour away from the starting line and then, soaking wet and covered in mud at the finish line, made us wait 3 hours for a shuttle back to our cars... In the rain).

But then there’s those rare-as-a-10-carat-canary-diamond race experiences – those days where the sun is shining, you’ve noshed on just the right amount of energy chews and all of the race gods seem to align.

I’m talking, of course, about the perfect race.

Most athletes have had at least one and know exactly what I’m talking about (and if you’re an athlete and haven’t had one…. I don’t know, maybe make a sacrifice to those race gods? Word on the street is they appreciate that kind of stuff).

But as a race director, “perfect race” probably means something completely different to you than it does to me. For you, a “perfect race” is more likely about having the right race management software, having hundreds or thousands of athletes walk (or, in my post-race shape, hobble) away from the event with smile on their faces or basically just ending without anyone breaking a bone or having a heart attack (always a good day in a race director’s book).

But for an athlete, “perfect race” means something totally different. So I wanted to give you a little insider’s perspective on what makes a perfect race for us, the athletes.


Smooth Sailing

On 99.97% of race days, you can bet that Murphy’s Law is in full effect. Your running buddy oversleeps, you forget your breakfast on your kitchen table (or worse, on the top of your car) or you get to bib assignment and the volunteer has zero record of your race registration.

Good times.

But on the perfect race day, everything is smooth sailing. It’s so smooth, it’s basically Barry White. There’s no traffic getting to the race, no last minute event cancellation email that you unfortunately overlook, no sweaty athletes clogging your nostrils with their stench in the corral.

On the perfect race day, everything is easy – you get there with plenty of time to spare, registration is a breeze and they even have snacks!

Word of advice: if you want to give your athletes the perfect race day, make things as easy for them as possible. And have snacks. Like, ALWAYS have snacks.


You’ve SO Got It

There’s a feeling when you’re in a race, usually somewhere around mile 2 or 3, when you realize that you’ve either got it or you don’t.  You know that you’re either going to miserably shuffle across the next however many miles in total misery, contemplating how much your shin hurts or why you actually PAID to subject yourself to this torture OR you’re going to coast to the end of the race, feeling Hulk-level strong, riding that runner’s high to a solid PR.

And on the perfect race day, you’ve SO got it.

And the thing is, whether or not you’ve “got it” has little to do with training. I’ve had races that I’ve trained for for months only to do that miserable shuffle for hours on end. And I’ve had races that I’ve signed up for the night before and had one of the most awesome sauce races of my life.

It’s like race mojo. You can’t control it. But on the perfect race day, you’ve totally got it.


We Are Family

Well, maybe not family - most members of my family consider their favorite sport to be marathon Netflix binges. And their idea of a race is racing to the fridge to reup on snacks in between episodes. But definitely community.

On the perfect race day, you feel a crazy connection with the other athletes around you. There’s something to be said about the power of a group of people coming together to achieve a common goal – in this case, chugging a Gatorade, slathering some anti-chafe cream all over ourselves and racing against the clock to knock some seconds (or milliseconds for us speed-challenged folks) off of our mile time.

That power presents itself in a real way on the perfect race day. You make friends with people as you pass them, you encourage your fellow runners when you see them struggling and no one laughs when you trip over your shoelaces, do a little ballerina twirl and end up a$$ up on the pavement (not that I know that from personal experience or anything. I’m a graceful butterfly. #not).

On the perfect race day, you’re reminded that even though running/racing might be considered an individual sport, you’re never, ever alone.

Not every day – or every race – can be perfect. But the ones that are? They make everything else – all the headaches, the hassles and the blisters – totally worth it.

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