5 Things I Learned From My First Official Running Competition

One year ago, as a part of my taming monkeys program, I started to run. Last weekend I had my first official competition as a runner.

The Setup

The competition is called Triathlon Challenge [Romanian content] and it took place in a nice resort near the Black Sea, called Mamaia. I signed up a month ago, out of curiosity. As I started to do some research on the running community in Bucharest, at some point I saw an ad for the triathlon competition. I don’t swim very well (yet) and I also don’t own a bike (yet). But I kinda run pretty much every week and I thought I could be part of a relay team, as a runner.

As I read further, I saw there was a section dedicated to bloggers too, and, to be honest, that drawn me in. In hindsight, I can recognize a mental limitation: “Who am I to compete in an official race? Let’s try some bloggers stuff first. You know, some easy stuff.” Alas, as I was going to find out soon, the bloggers race wasn’t smaller or easier. The whole “bloggers” thing was just a label and a different prize structure on top of all the official competitors. In other words, I had to run the same distance, 5 km (I signed up for the sprint category of the triathlon relay: 750 meters swimming, 20 km biking, 5 km running).

As a matter of fact, I ran even more than that. Because the sea (where the swimming was supposed to happen) was rather angry that day, the officials replaced the swimming part with another 2.5km run. So, I did the 2.5 km run too. The biking guy, Gabriel Solomon, who happened to be a very experienced runner, took the timing chip, though, so I wasn’t timed for that part, he was. Nevertheless, I ran that part too and came 30 seconds after him.

The weather sucked. I couldn’t say it better, sorry. It was 11 degrees Celsius, very windy and raining. The wind was also pretty salty which made the air even harder to breathe. I had only one layer of equipment with me, so I was pretty much frozen. Honestly, I ran the first 2.5km because I thought I couldn’t move if I’d just stay put and wait for the biking guy to give me the chip. On top of that, I was just recovering from a cold, couldn’t breathe very good and I still had a sore throat. Delightful.

The other competitors were from all walks of life. Some of them were professional runners, the other were just regular guys, trying to see how much they can push themselves. In total, the competition had around 150 people.

Needless to add that all the competition-like context was absolutely new to me. The television crews, which were popping all over the transit area, the camera guys (some of them professionals, working for sport medias, other amateurs, trying to get some good shots of running guys or girls), the podium, the MC (who, surprisingly enough, proved to be an old colleague of mine from the days I was working as a radio anchor), the bystanders and the police cars, well, everything was kinda overwhelming. People were staring at us. Weird.

Another new thing to me was the “competition kit”: a technical teeshirt, the official teeshirt, a plastic can and 4 energized gel plastic envelopes. It was the first time I was seeing these gel things, and, since I didn’t know how I will react to them, I didn’t use any. The other guys seemed comfortable with them, though. I will try a few during my training, these days.

The Outcome

I didn’t make a very good run. Or so I thought (and, to some extent, I still think). I don’t have the intermediary times yet, so I can’t tell you how much I did for the entire race.

When I got the chip from the biker, I took off rather fast and after the first kilometer I had breathing problems. I had to do some power walking to get my normal breathing back (and lose precious seconds, of course). Overall, I did 3 power walking sessions (no longer than 8-10 seconds each) but I don’t do that usually. I couldn’t find my pace. It was only in the last 2 kilometers that I finally entered my normal running style and balanced my breathe. A big contribution to this erratic running was my sore throat and the fact that I still couldn’t’ breathe right. But oh, well, that happens. We’ll see down the road what I mean by that.

During the last 200 meters I did a sprint and finished in force (I admit it, I wanted to look good on cameras). Right after I finished, while one of the officials was hanging the finisher medal on my neck, I thought I will throw up everything in my belly, kidneys included. I didn’t throw up, though, which, under the circumstance, was quite a victory in itself.

I think I recovered in about 2-3 minutes, after I drank some fruit juice and water. During the race I couldn’t hydrate much (my sore throat, of course, again). As I was mingling with the other finishers, the fatigue and nausea gently withdrew and a very nice feeling took over. My goal for that race was to finish it, and… well, I just finished it. I don’t know if it was adrenaline kicking in, or endorphins, or booth, or just my mind, but truth is I was feeling amazing. One of the best 2-3 minutes in my life.

At some point I got to talk to one of the organizers and I saw him smiling at me a bit surprised. I was soon gonna find out that my relay team got a very good place: 4th in the mixed relay chart (out of 15 teams) and 2nd in the mixed relay bloggers chart (out of 7 teams). It took me a while to realize that I was going to get on the podium. I actually won the 2nd place 🙂

A big contribution to this victory was from Gabriel, who was a very, very good runner (and also a great pal, he ran with me the last 5km too). But I also did my part the best I could.

Now, let’s see what I actually learned from my first official competition as a runner.

1. You’re Always Part Of Something Bigger

As I already told you, the MC was a former colleague from one of the radio stations I was working with almost 18 years ago. But, surprisingly enough, one of the competitors was also a colleague from that radio station – didn’t see him like in 15 years or so. And the guy who handed me the prize for the 2nd place in the bloggers team was also from the same team. In a very interesting swing, life put me again in that spiral path. People who mean something for you will always be in your life, one way or another, only the perspective will change.

Apart from that, one of the best things that happened during this competition was the atmosphere. Bystanders cheering at you, other runners pushing it more and more, the event-like context, everything made me think that I am very lucky. I was pulled from my regular routine and thrown into a beautiful time and space, where beautiful things were happening.

Being part of a relay team, I also felt that I was running not only for me. The girl who was supposed to do the swimming (canceled because of the weather) ran with me the first 500 meters from my race. Being part of a team is amazing. I’m very grateful for all the support I got from my team partners.

2. There Will Never Be A Perfect Time To Do It

It was freezing cold. It was rainy. It was windy. Near the seaside, the wind can be very… windy, if you know what I mean. When I was facing wind I literally felt like I was pushing two times harder. I was also recovering from a cold, my throat was hurting big time and I could barely hydrate myself. I didn’t sleep very well, I was still tired (I drove the evening before and got at the hotel pretty late).

Well, there is never a perfect time to do it. You just gotta do what you gotta do. You have to work with whatever you have. There will never be another moment to do it. Get up, pick your lane and start running. This is what you’re supposed to do, so do it. Whining won’t give you a place on the podium. The race is here and, whether you’re at the peak of your training or barely walking, just do your thing.

Of course it’s hard. If it would be easy, it would be utterly boring.

3. Push It. And Then Push It Some More

As I was approaching the finish line, my runnnig mate, Gabi, was trying to cheer me up. Which, to be honest, was kinda pissing me off big time. My head was hurting, I could barely breathe and he suddenly decided to tell me, in a joyful and supportive voice: “Look, we can see the gate, we’re almost there. Can you push it more?”. I couldn’t speak, so I just mumbled: “Aaa” (which was a way to say “Neah”).

We were 200 meters to the finishing gate and, at that specific moment, I decided to sprint. Nothing changed, my head and throat were still hurting, I was still having trouble breathing, but I said: “What the hell”. “Wow, that’s great”, said Gabi and he started to smile. I increased speed and I was able to do a pretty decent finish. As I told you, I was on the verge of throwing up, but that didn’t happen, eventually.

There is always something inside you that will push you forward, as long as you want to, no matter how hard things will get. There will be a hidden reserve of energy, an unexpected power that will manifest, as long as you really., really, really want to. As long as you’re alive, you can do whatever you want. Yes, you may be in pain. But that’s not a reason to stop. Pain is temporary, victory is forever.

4. Victory Tastes Amazingly Good

Yeap, exactly. I was pretty happy that I finished the race, but when I heard that I actually won something, I was thrilled. I won’t hide this from you. I felt incredibly good. And when I was on the stage, and got my diploma, well, I was levitating. Nobody saw that, because I’m very discrete, but I swear I was levitating.

I don’t know about you, but I love winning competitions. I really do.

5. All Limitations Are In The Mind

I couldn’t say I didn’t know that before the race. But the race reinforced it in an almost violent way. The cold, the wind, the rain and the pressure from the other competitors, all of these would normally keep me really apart. I would have never even remotely tried to run in these conditions. As a matter of fact, I never did it before. But the moment I realized that everything is a result of my own decisions, and not of the circumstances, things changed.

Again, it wasn’t a walk in the park. It was hard. But it really paid off.

In the end, if you do what you want to do, if you stick with your plans, if you go through the pain and blow up all the limitations in your head, well, it always pays off.