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‘Having’ a good time v ‘getting’ a good time

by kirsty
Monday 10th February 2014

Run247 columnist Kirsty Reade discusses some of the many different reasons that determine how hard or how far we run, whether we do it alone or with friends and whether we have fun whilst doing it

OK, hands up, I’ve got an admission which will be like swearing to many runners - I seem to have mislaid my competitive spirit. It was definitely there last year - I cared about PBs, I wanted to do the best I could in every race, I’d try to estimate from behind whether other women were in my age category (complaint: it’s impossible to age you superfit runners from the front, let alone from the rear) and if so try to catch them - but this year it’s gone. And to misquote REM, it’s not the end of the world and I feel fine.

I was never particularly competitive. I’ve troubled a few podiums on the really long stuff and I’m very proud of the few trophies I’ve won. I’m a pretty average runner and I do ok on my day. But I never felt the ‘grr, bring it on, smackdown with my fellow runners’ thing, unless they were particularly annoying/not wearing proper running shoes. Instead I was very competitive with myself. I wanted to do the best I could do, I wanted to push myself, to beat last year’s time, to do x minute miles, to feel like I’d left everything on the course, I was an occasional puker. But I’ve always really hated the ‘being competitive with friends/club mates’ thing - that was never me. One of the reasons I like running ultras and 24 hour races is the feeling that you’re all in it together. There’s a mutual respect that you’re all doing something quite hard and you’re much more likely to have a nice chat and help each other along than to try to crush your opposition. And if you end up finishing in the top three then that’s what you deserved on the day and other runners are likely to be happy for you.

Looking at a cross-section of runners at my running club, we are all runners (and therefore awesome) but we all have very different reasons to run. Some people run to lose weight, others to be sociable, some want to have an eyeballs out duel every week with their closest rivals, others might be training for a specific event or have recently got into running, or they might be specifically targeting a PB at a distance. Some people are horrified by the ‘I just want to finish, I don’t care about a time’ thing and others are equally aghast at the ‘I’m willing to elbow my way to the front at the start and trip up children on the course to shave two seconds off my PB’ attitude. There aren’t any rights and wrongs (well, apart from tripping up children as our club chairman, who injured himself for six months in a parkrun finish line smackdown with a 10 year old, will testify - what a numpty); if you run, you’re a runner. So why do people feel uncomfortable about shying away from being competitive? Why do I feel a bit funny about saying ‘I just want to get round and enjoy it’?

Photos: Running for fun - Kirsty all smiles in good company!

Theory number one: I’m just getting older and slower and I’m making excuses. This is valid. I am getting older and speediness is getting harder to come by but I do believe that age is only a limiting factor in your own head. In ultra terms I’m in my prime and I’ve got plenty of improvement in me yet. So yeah, getting older but in your face age nazis.

Theory number two: I get my kicks from running further, not faster. There is definitely a lot of truth in this. I’m never going to win a 10k but I can run for 24 hours and I get a massive sense of achievement from completing an ultra. I’m definitely made of slow twitch fibres and once I found that I was good at the longer stuff and really enjoyed it I found that the shorter races really didn’t do it for me any more. Would I like to improve my half marathon and marathon PB? Hell yes I would. Do I feel enough motivation to knuckle down and the put the work in? Not right now but maybe I will in the future. Every time I seem to think about targeting a marathon PB I get distracted by a good looking ultra and then I know that my heart’s not in road marathons at the moment.

Theory number three: I’ve lost my mojo. When there’s lots going on in your life, running can definitely suffer. On those days when it’s hard to get yourself off the sofa it’s nigh on impossible to get yourself out of the door in the rain and wind. But running can also become a brilliant escape and I find comfort in having a lovely long run, maybe having a bit of a sit down at the top of a hill and enjoying a little adventure in the countryside. So while I don’t think I ever really lose my running mojo it perhaps becomes more about escaping real life and less about pushing myself. So perhaps running sometimes satisfies a different need, one that isn’t compatible with high performance and PBs.

Theory number four: I’ve discovered that there is a massive feelgood factor to running with others and encouraging them. OK, let’s look at the evidence. I’ve done a few races lately where I’ve run with great people and just had a fantastic experience (with an emphasis on ‘having’ a good time, rather than ‘getting’ a good time). I did Portsmouth Marathon in December with the lovely Eileen, a woman from my running club who is the most cheerful, enthusiastic, kind and caring individual I have ever met. We ran together and on that day she started to struggle towards the end and it was an absolute privilege to help her through those last few miles, to give back a tiny bit of what she gives to other people. I did the Thames Trot just over a week ago and met Anne-Marie, an inspiring woman who came to running late, lost 7.5 stone and now runs ultras. Would I have got more out of the race if I had pushed it and ran alone? No, I wouldn’t have changed that for the world. Meeting Anne-Marie (and the support of friends) made that a great race. I’ve just come home from running the Endurancelife Coastal Trail Series South Devon. The weather was not just bad, it was scary. I ran with my best friend and we resolved to run together, take it easy, enjoy it and stay safe. The result? I loved it. It was a fantastic and memorable experience. If I’d really pushed it in those conditions I would at best have been a bit disappointed with my time, or at worst injured myself. This theory holds the most weight. I’ve discovered the enormous benefits of appreciating all those miles run by other runners and not just focusing on your own running.

Photos: Kirsty and Eileen after the Portsmouth Maratho. Kids - don't trip them

Running is the ultimate in terms of getting out what you put in. We all have different things that we want to get out of it and we all have different levels of time, energy and effort that we’re able to put in. And those factors might be different at different points in our lives. For many people what they want to get out of it is a time, a PB, to run the fastest they can possibly run. But that’s not the only target and we shouldn’t automatically assume that those who aren’t driven by that are somehow not ‘serious’ runners. We should all be aiming for whatever ‘good’ looks like for us at that time, whether that’s completing a mile without stopping, running a sub three hour marathon, ‘enjoying’ a morning of being blown round the South West Coastal Path or running four times a week consistently. I might decide to apply myself and target a marathon PB or I might decide to run one dressed as Peppa Pig. If I’m enjoying my running then everything else will follow from there. Too many people beat themselves up over times and stop enjoying it. Each to their own but I think that there’s a big argument for sometimes stepping back, not putting any pressure on yourself and just enjoying running with others. Especially if you’re the sort of person who trips children up at parkrun. That’s a sign.


About The Author

Kirsty Reade

I’d describe myself as borderline obsessed with running, racing, reading about running, and watching others run so hopefully I’m fairly typical of Run247’s visitors. I tend to do longer races, particularly off-road marathons and ultras, but am pretty much a fan of any distance. I'm passionate about helping runners of all levels to improve through running communities I'm involved in, such as Underground Ultra and Free Range Runners. 


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