I just got back from a truly epic charity event out in San Francisco. It’s called the Canary Challenge, and the purpose is to raise money for the Canary Foundation at Stanford. The Foundation is trying to develop a blood test for early detection of cancer. The idea being that early detection means less extreme intervention and higher cure rates. If you are familiar with the phrase ‘canary in a coal mine’, that’s where their name came from.
Race & Place or Ride with Pride?
Anyway, back to the subject of this post. I do both races and charity events. Some charity events are races (Susan G. Koman Race for the Cure, for example). Most are not. Charity cycling events are often called ‘rides’, while the Canary Challenge is called, well, a ‘challenge’. That’s definitely due to the grueling nature of the course, which ascends 8,455 feet over 103 miles, including two climbs that last longer than 30 minutes (the second comes at mile 78, so you’re just a bit tired at that point!), plus another in between them that’s nearly as long (only you also have headwinds and it was raining a bit).
Anyway number 2, back to the subject of the post again. So what am I talking about today? I believe in the value of racing. I also believe in the value of not racing. What’s that? Hipocracy, you say?
Well, let’s take the racing part first. I have found that I am not pushing myself as much as I can when I run. It’s not to say I’m not tired at the end of a run, but my pacing is never what it is in a race. When I did my first half marathon, I was injured, and my training runs were in the upper half of the 8-9 minute per mile range. When I did the race, I was at 7’50” until mile 10 when the really steep hills hit, and I finished with an average of just over 8′. My injuries were hurting a lot, but I was fine energy-wise and endurance-wise. If I wasn’t in pain, I would have easily been able to keep going for a while. So, for me, getting into a race is a fantastic way to push yourself and learn more about your limits. Was I going for a top 3 finish? Was I trying to pass everyone? No. I was racing for my own goals and treated it as a personal event. But I was being egged on by the 1,000 other runners around me, and definitely had little bouts of being more competitive and passing people when I felt the power to pick someone off. It feels great. I also learned that I’m really good at running up hills relative to most other runners. I never would have known that without doing this race.
I got a lot out of that race, and others I’ve done, mainly around what I’m actually capable of. Setting successive PRs in 5Ks each time I do one feels great, and they’re all times I never imagined whether as an overweight kid/teen, or as a fit 30-something father and husband. Physically and competitively, it feels great.
But as great as racing is, I also see value in events that aren’t races. The Canary Challenge has a kinship across riders that made it amazing. I was exhausted by it, and my left knee is still in bad shape from the long climbs (funny since my right knee was the problem going in, but that’s been fine). But I didn’t care. I loved it. Really loved it. I rode with some friends, though we weren’t together too much. The time we rode together was great, and I made a point to meet up with them and visit for a bit at the aid stations, which brought an even tighter feel of community. I started recognizing jerseys, and chatted some of the familiar ones up as we were grinding up the mountain together, or when stopped at an aid station.
Where did I place? I have no idea – no one was tracking it. How many riders were in my age group? I dunno – a bunch, maybe? Maybe not? What was my final time and average speed? I know both of those, but they don’t matter. What I got out of it was a grueling event that definitely worked my body, but also worked my mind and soul.