My dad likes to tell a story about when I first started running cross country. I had never played a sport before, so he was worried the competition might be too much for me. As he remembers, the scene went like this . . .
Dad: So Jessie, how do you like running races? What do you think about running against other people?
Me: Well, Dad, my favorite part is when I find a girl who’s just ahead of me and latch onto her shoulder. First, I wait until I can hear her breathing hard. I know she’s getting tired when her footsteps start to slow. So then I—
Dad: Okay, okay! I see you’ll be just fine.
I’m laid back about most things in life, but running brings out my mini Machiavellian. The problem is, I’m not particularly fast—just hard on myself. It’s nearly impossible for me to run a race purely for fun. I can’t stop trying to push the pace even when I’m not in shape to do so. As you can imagine, this regularly creates situations in which I’m burnt out, frustrated and generally a killjoy.
However, when I signed up for Pretty Muddy, a woman’s-only obstacle event last weekend, I was ready (to try!) to run for fun. Kara, our web editor, and I had planned to do the race together and take it easy. Still, in the back of my mind, I questioned whether I’d be able to go slow without anxiety after the gun went off. Sure, it had beach ball obstacles and a foam tunnel, but it was still a race, right?
Wrong. If there is ever a place to break up with your ugly competitive streak, Pretty Muddy is it. When I heard our heat called, I sprinted over to the start line, feeling pre-race jitters begin to kick in. But as “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” blasted over the loud speaker and the announcer led us in a group fist pump, my anxiety dissipated. I looked at Kara and smiled. “This is going to be fun!”
And it was. Together, we ran through the tunnel of bubbles and crawled in sticky mud on our hands and knees. Between shoes getting stuck in murky pits, going headfirst down a giant inflatable slide and taking a few nosedives in the high-knee ropes, we had no idea what our time or place was—but we were having a blast.
Coming around the finishing stretch, I heard my boyfriend (our photographer for the day) call out, “Wait! I don’t have a good angle.” And so we did something that would have made my competitive self break out in hives: We stopped just a few feet from the finish line and waited for a full 10 seconds before leaping across—dirty and happy.
Do you prefer to race for fun or to compete? Let me know here or tweet me @JessieSebor!