The Unrunner’s Guide to Running Races

I’m excited to start a new series of guest posts about normal people and their experience with real life exercise.

Enjoy this first post by the lovely Erin Pollet! Tip #3 made me laugh out loud.

The Unrunners Guide to Running Races

By Erin Pollet

Recently I ran a 10K for the Hispanic Women’s Network of Texas’(HWNT) scholarship fund. I placed 2nd in my age division and ran a personal best 10:57 minute mile. For those real runners out there, you know this is not very fast, but I’m not a real runner. I run, but since I don’t train faithfully or keep track of how many miles I go per week I consider myself an “unrunner.” It’s easy to become an unrunner, and it’s really fun if you don’t let the real runners intimidate you.

Tip #1 Pick a race.

My running partner Monica and I were planning on running a half marathon on March 4th. We’d been planning to run that race since January, but we just did not train enough to run 13 miles. So we googled “San Antonio running races calendar” or something like that and came up with the HWNT’s Lace Up scholarship race. The charity meant zilch to us as neither one of us is Hispanic or in need of scholarships, but it was on the right weekend, and it was a 10k. Races are NOT cheap, but it does ease the blow that most of them are for a good cause. You can choose one that means something to you personally or, like us, just choose one that is convenient. I do recommend picking a race about 1 month to 6 weeks away. Any farther than that and it really doesn’t loom over you enough for motivation.

Tip #2 Just get out and run.

There are many, many articles about running schedules: speed work, tempo running, interval running, etc. If you want to be a real runner, by all means, pick a schedule and get out there. If you want to be an unrunner, there isn’t really a schedule to follow, just some guidelines. I run for whatever amount of time I have to run. If I don’t feel like running the whole time, I walk, but my body is moving for a certain amount of time.

My personal goal for every race, however, is that I want to run the whole time. So on the weekends I try and run for at least the amount of time it would probably take me to run the upcoming race.  5k is about 30 minutes, 10k is about an hour, etc. During the week I run when I can, or I cross train (a real runner’s word for “doing something else besides running”). Cross training for me is spin class, but any aerobic class or weight training will do.

Tip #3 Have friends with athletic injuries.

The morning of the race, I woke up to find a message on my phone that Monica was backing out. She had hurt her knee at a soccer game the night before and would not be able to run. I was pretty bummed out about having to run this race alone, but honestly I am very lucky that I have the type of friend that is athletic enough to get injured.

Monica was there when I started running. She’s run for at least 20 years, and in my mind could probably run non-stop a la Forrest Gump if she wanted to. She would run with me when I could only run for 30 seconds and then walk for 20 minutes to catch my breath. She would run like that, drop me off at home, and go out and run for 45 minutes to get her actual running in. For all that, I still consider her an unrunner because she runs just to run with no schedules or goals in mind besides “I can drink a beer tonight without feeling like a lard ass.” Everybody needs a friend and running buddy like her.

Tip #4 Use your clothes to gauge how you’re doing.

I’ve never run a race all by myself before, but I know that the first thing I have to do is find the packet pick-up area. This is where you get your number, chip (the little hard plastic piece that keeps your time), and your t-shirt.  Yay, t-shirt! Unfortunately the shirts are those athletic types made with breathable material and run way too small.  I stupidly ordered a large, but I pick up Monica’s too (since she already paid) and she ordered a XL.  I’m soooo keeping her shirt.

According to shirt size, I’m not doing so hot.

Tip #5 Choose your starting position wisely.

Real runners should be near the starting line. Walkers should be in the back. Unless you want to get run over, I suggest picking a point somewhere in the middle. If you are surrounded by men with tiny shorts and shaved legs…move back. If you’re standing next to a white haired lady with a walker…move up.

Tip #6 Make new friends.

Unrunners run races for fun. Running faster than the person next to you is FUN. Real runners are there to beat their own times. Since I don’t really keep track of the time as I’m running the race, all I’ve got is the person in front of me. I hate that person with every fiber of my being. During this race it’s a red- haired girl that looks like a girl I used to work with. That girl quit and left us in a bind, and I hate that girl for what she did. I will not let her doppelganger beat me! I see her up ahead of me at about mile 4, and from that point on my one goal is to catch up with that girl, overtake her, and cross the finish line before she does.

Remember this…hate motivates!

Tip #7 Pace yourself.

The first couple of races I ran, I made the mistake of taking off as fast as I could from the starting line, or I tried to sprint the last half mile to the end. Neither strategy has worked. I’d just wear myself out and then struggle to finish. During this race I keep a steady pace with short bursts of energy as I go up the hills. It pays off as I notice that red-hair girl is starting to walk. I know that she is wearing down, but instead of speeding up and trying to overtake her right away, I hang back and bide my time. As we make it past the 5 mile water station she’s walking, and I pass her by. With a burst of speed she sprints past me again, but I know she’s on her last leg now and can’t hold out that fast. Sure enough, she starts walking again, and I pass her by at my nice, steady pace.

As I see the finish line up ahead, I do speed up a little…just to look good for the crowd. As I cross I look back to see Miss Red-Hair crossing just seconds after I do. I want to thank her for motivating me.  I don’t REALLY hate her, but I’m not sure how she would take it if I said, “Hey, if it weren’t for you I wouldn’t have finished so well. Thanks for sucking a little worse than me.”

Tip #8 Take whatever they offer.

Refreshments! The 2nd best thing at a race after the t-shirts. I’ve done beer runs (free beer!) and pancake runs (free pancakes!), but most of the time you get fruit, cokes, Gatorade, juice, cookies, or free samples of sports bars. Take one of EVERYTHING. You paid for it, and you earned it. Plus, you may not realize this, but you are going to feel like absolute garbage in a few hours if you don’t eat lots of carbs and drink tons of water. The earlier you start eating, the better you’ll feel later. So stuff your face!

Tip #9 Don’t downplay your accomplishment.

Since I was by myself, I shoveled in some sliced oranges, a delicious Texas shaped gingerbread cookie, drank a diet coke and left, but usually I’ll wait around for the results of the race.  I checked my results online the next day. Always look at the results. It’s really gratifying to see that you didn’t come in last, and believe me, unless you walked like a zombie the whole time, you did NOT come in last. Post your results on Facebook. Put that bumper sticker from your packet on your car. You did it! I am always motivated by hearing about other people’s successes, so if you feel like you’re bragging, just think of how many people might get out and start running because of YOUR story.
Tip #10 Choose your next race right away.

Go home and pick a race a month away. It doesn’t have to be a longer race, just something to keep your motivation up. I’m looking at one called the Sunset Wine Tour which is an evening race with free WINE! I just hope there’s a nice t-shirt.

Erin Pollet lives in San Antonio, TX with her husband, 2 kids, a couple of guinea pigs, and a giant poodle. She’s one of “those old people” at San Antonio College where she’s majoring in Biology, and works as a registered polysomnographic technologist, which sounds very impressive when it’s written out in a bio. When she’s not running she enjoys reading big, intimidating books and looking at pictures of dead people online. She is in no way a “normal” person, but can pass for one most of the time.


3 Comments to “The Unrunner’s Guide to Running Races”

  1. I LOVE it! You are officially my favorite unrunner. I think I’ve fallen into the unrunner category lately as well. And I totally use my hate to motivate too!

  2. Once again, Drama Free Fitness, you nailed me to a tee! Running in a 5K next weekend that I am flat out petrified about after getting a glimpse of the course route. Will definitely keep Tip #6 in mind: “hate motivates!”

  3. I love it. I now have a title I can use too! I used to be known as Dave the Runner but I can now be know as Dave the Unrunner! Thanks for the article! It is motivating!

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