I like running just for the sake of running, but there's something really great about standing at a start line, whether it's a big event, or just a local race with a small number of participants- it's fun to be in that atmosphere and test yourself. Sometimes you're testing yourself against your personal best, and other times you're looking for a good placement against other runners. Of course you can do a solitary time trial, but it's not the same. It's not about the medal, or the race shirt- it's just fun & exciting to be a part of a race.
One of the issues that we as runners face though is that you can't always be in top race shape- depending where you are in your training cycle, there are going to be peaks and valleys in your training, and there's not really any way to get around that.
I tend to plan my year's racing schedule to have 2 or 3 main races that I peak for, and then several other races that I do for fun, but don't specifically target training toward. For example, this year has 2 main races that are my goal races. First was the Boston Marathon, and my build up for that began in mid December. I only did 1 race (a snowshoe race) during that build up, and because of where it was in the my training schedule, it worked pretty well. I was about 8 weeks in, so I had built back up to a pretty decent amount of mileage, but wasn't yet feeling the grind of an 18 week training program yet. After the Boston Marathon I took it easy for a couple of weeks, then started a slow build toward my next goal race, which is the Ultra Trail Harricana 65km in Sept. As part of the build up for that race, I also scheduled a couple of other trail races- the Great Adirondack Trail Run, which was last weekend, and Conconheauge 50K in August. I could have trained more specifically and harder for last week's race, but the big picture is September, so rather than risk injury and push too hard after running in Boston, I decided to take it a bit easier with the training and just run that race as well as I could. I'll take the same approach for my upcoming 50K- it's in the middle of a build up toward another race, so I'll just do a mini taper, and run that as best I can on the day.
What got me thinking about this idea of not always being in top race shape is a couple of local races we have coming up- every year on Canada day I run a local 5K, and it's always misery. I don't focus any training at all on 5K racing- for the past few years it's been all about the marathon, and now it's focused toward ultra marathons. The other one is a 1/2 marathon that was just announced. At this point in my training, I'm not doing any long tempo runs, which is what I feel I really need to do in preparation for a good 1/2 marathon, so even though I'm in pretty good shape overall, I'm not sure I'm in fast 1/2 marathon shape, but that's okay. I haven't decided yet if I'm going to run it yet, but if I decide not to, I don't want it to be because I don't think I can run a PB- I want my running and racing to be about fun, not about numbers.
It's not possible for runners to be in peak form all year long. We need time to rest and recover from long training schedules and tough races. It can be tempting to take your peak fitness and try to keep pushing and build on it, but it's important to rest up and stay healthy, and it's a good reminder that we're not always able to run our fastest times. Running doesn't always have to be about racing, and races don't always have to be about setting a new PB- we do what we do because it's fun, and we like doing it!