There are lots of races throughout the country, I mean LOTS. Heck in Delaware alone you can average four or five races per week from mid-April through September, if you have the desire and the wallet.
As I stood on the track, just before the beginning of turn three, staring down the back stretch, I wondered to myself just what was it I was doing there. In 41 years of running, of all the races and events and challenges, I was about to do something I’d never done before. And I was more than a little nervous.
See, I was about to partake in one of the most beautiful of all track events, the 4 x 100-meter relay. On a warm summer night, with no stretching, no warm-up jog, the wrong shoes, the wrong pants, the wrong fly zone, I was about to take the baton from Jay. By the way, Jay is fast. I mean, footprints on my back fast. Jay yelled “GO!” and I went. When I finally got the baton from Jay, he was about a full meter ahead of me. Distance runner = no reaction time.
This one event was a part of a bigger event, a no charge summer track and field series of meets held at Appoquinimink High School, geared at youth athletes eighth grade and younger. One of the five nights in the weekly series was cancelled due to the excessive heat but otherwise, it was really cool to see the younger set out racing, competing and, to the main point, having fun! Hopefully, this becomes a regular summer event series.
Also, this past summer, my son and I took part in the Howard Laws cross country series, held every other Tuesday evening at Bellevue State Park. This six-race series features a $5 entry fee per race, no frills series of races (including one team night). It’s a great way for runners of any age to stay motivated and engaged all summer long. We ran in five of the six races.
There are lots of races throughout the country, I mean LOTS. Heck in Delaware alone you can average four or five races per week from mid-April through September, if you have the desire and the wallet. At $25 to $30 per pop (and some are quite a bit more expensive), racing frequently could send you to the poor house rather quickly. But there are still some inexpensive opportunities to run and race somewhat frequently, whether for training purposes or as a focused end-game. A season-long series of races is great ways to do both train and race!
In my younger days, race series were very popular. These inexpensive series of meetings provided regular feedback about one’s current conditioning or race-readiness, usually included the same set of faces for the competitive-minded, and were very predictable in format.
One of my favorite series, held for decades (and still alive and active) is the Shiver by the River winter series held in Reading, Pennsylvania. The format: once-per-month, Sunday 5k or 10k, on the same course, pick your race, even while in the middle of the race! Thought about running the 10k but not feeling great? Stop after the first loop. Wanted to run a fast 5k but got out too slow? Add the second loop. And through the worst of Pennsylvania winters, I don’t recall this race ever being postponed. It’s definitely a “no-whining” zone and the four-race series costs $60.
The trade-offs for some of these types of events (and there are a few) include lower than the average race turnout (the first Laws XC race in June had about 25-30 runners total), low to no frills (like shirts, post-race refreshments, etc…), at times not-well-marked courses, and no immediate race results, if they get posted at all. But c’mon people, it’s $5! Many of these races support small organizations or beneficiaries, so any proceeds are usually well-managed, including supporting the sponsoring group itself.
Many runners I know attempt to compare their race performances from one event to another. Variables such as weather conditions, event size and course terrain can make comparing that 21:00 flat and fast 5k in 58-degree weather to the 23:30 hilly 5k in 84 degrees pretty tough. Race series take away some of those variables, so that judging your fitness and improvement becomes somewhat easier. Even the time of day that you race can have an impact on performance, but race series are usually held at the same time, on the same course, with a sense of predictability.
So, whether it’s the Seven Sisters series in Dewey Beach or the Germantown Academy summer track and field series in southeast Pennsylvania, why not look into finding one of these local or regional event series and giving it a go (or letting your kids give it a go!). And if you find yourself staring down the back stretch of the track, with some sprinter of a 10.5-second 100-meter pedigree bearing down on you, I suggest you go before he yells GO. Trust me.
I hope to see you on the roads, tracks, and trails.
Former standout Lock Haven University runner Andy Shearer is a member of the Middletown Athletic Club, the Greater Philadelphia Track Club and USA Track and Field.