I’m not an overly competitive person. Sometimes, during a race, I’ll see someone running a few yards ahead of me, and contemplate passing them. I’ll even accelerate a little. Then, when my legs start to burn and I’m breathing a little fast, I’ll think, “Nah, not worth it.” I’m just missing that killer instinct that the great competitive runners have. Also, the speed. I’m definitely missing the speed.
I’m not particularly concerned with where I finish in the standings most of the time, either, as long as I gave the race my best effort. I like to see improvement in my times, but I don’t care too much for my ranking. I have, however, lucked into a few age-group awards, which were a nice ego boost for me…There’s something about a colorful ribbon that is satisfying in a different way than seeing a new PR on the race results sheet. When people congratulate me on an age-group placing, though, I usually feel obligated to explain why I didn’t really deserve it…or try to convince them that they, too, could win one without necessarily being super fast. So I’ll share them with you, too: my tips for taking home an age group award.
1. Pick a race with a small field. I avoid the mega-races, and it’s not because I won’t place in them; huge throngs of people just freak me out a little. Plus, it’s hard to find parking. I prefer a race with 150 or 200 people, which feels more friendly and personal to me. And it definitely improves the odds.
2. Pick a race that’s called a Fun Run, or even better, a Run/Walk. If it’s a Fun Run, you can hope most people aren’t taking it too seriously…Put your game face on, and you might beat some of the more casual runners. If it’s a Run/Walk, and you run it, you’re pretty much guaranteed to finish ahead of a big part the field, drastically improving your chances of placing!
3. Pick a race where they give age-group awards 6 deep. The race’s website usually mentions this, since people really like taking home awards! (Pretty ribbons…I want more pretty ribbons!) Races sponsored by local running clubs are great for this…And the entry fees are usually pretty affordable, too.
4. If all else fails, be really old. Or really young. In my most recent 5K, there was one runner in the 80+ category. He won first place. There were two in the 75-79. Even the last-place guy could claim a top-2 finish! Also, the 10-14 year-old category tends to be sparsely populated. (Though if you’re reading this blog, good luck getting there again! Better to just stick with your running program, and know that when you hit 70, your competition will thin out considerably.)
This is all for fun, by the way. Except for an elite few who have the God-given talent to be really fast, most of us should be focused on our personal goals, not beating other people. But it’s really hard to get your nonrunner friends excited about the fact you just beat your 5K PR by 10 seconds…Better to just show them a pretty ribbon. Take a picture, post it on Facebook, and wait for the congratulations to start rolling in!