Have you ever had the perfect race? What exactly is the perfect race? Is it where you hit a running goal or more specifically a time? Or is there something else that defines what the perfect race is for you?
In our world of ultra running, it’s very hard to quantify what a perfect race actually entails because of the number of variables that exist in our form of racing. If we start lower down the scale (in terms of distance) and look at say 5km, 10km or even marathon running, goals tend to be dictated very much by the time that we run.
The classic is the sub 3 hour marathon attempt. And given that most of us who run ultras probably started on the road, it makes sense that when we’re discussing the perfect race, we often think of it in terms of the time it takes us to complete the course. But aren’t there times when you may have achieved your running time goal but the journey to get there was pretty awful? I know that I’ve experienced this a number of times. I may have hit the time I had set out to achieve alright, but man alive the experience to get there was bad!
When you’re tackling a trail 100km or 100 mile event, the large number of variables that come into play in our form of racing mean the ‘perfect race’ can take on an entirely new and different meaning. There is also the starting position that you’re coming from too. I know that a race I regard as being almost perfect was one of my slowest 100km runs earlier this year. But to me the race was perfect in so many other ways than simply hitting a specific time.
While there’s a lot to be said for ‘suffering‘ in an ultra, and for most, it’s the suffering that makes the journey and finish so memorable. But there’s also a lot to be said for just getting through an ultra feeling great 100% of the time too.
That ultra when you’re not pushing the body to its limits and you’re out just to enjoy it and smell the roses. No pressure, no time commitments (as long as you hit the cut offs) and a time to simply enjoy the moment. In many respects, as I’ve personally become a little older (not so wiser maybe), and with the massive daily pressures of life in general, running is that time to relax and to be in the moment without putting the body under stress.
Sure there’s a time and a place for racing and putting pedal to the metal so to speak. I too love nothing more than getting the heart rate up and feeling alive at times, but some of the best memories of ultras I have is where that feeling of greatness has stayed with me all day. Not matter if it’s four hours or 16.
The perfect journey
While we’re talking very much about the perfect race, really what we’re talking about here is the icing on the cake. Again, over the years I’ve come to enjoy training probably more than I do races. That’s where the real work is done. If you have a near-perfect journey leading into a race, it often makes the race pretty near perfect too.
It’s the toil and tribulations we encounter along the journey that can make the perfect race. The perfect journey is about not missing a session, consistency of training and of that feeling that you’ve really done everything you can to make sure you have the perfect race.
Running within yourself
The reason why many of us probably fail to run the perfect race is due to the fact that we don’t run within ourselves. More often than not we get carried away with those around us. We focus on others and their running, failing to see that we’re not running our own races. While many would argue this lies much in the domain of the pointy end, it happens in the mid to back of pack too, particularly in larger races. I’m guilty of it just as much as someone contending for a top spot. I spot someone whom I think I should be running with or even be ahead of run and before you know it, you’re running their race.
It’s also why ‘big circus’ style events are not everyone’s cup of tea. Don’t get me wrong, each to their own and there’s a lot of good they bring to the running community. But there’s something about those low-key, low maintenance events where it’s you against the course. I tend to find that my best races, those that elicit the greatest feelings in me and a sense of satisfaction are the ones where I tend to be alone in small fields. If you’re running the Flinders Tour this weekend, I’ll see you there 🙂
That probably says a lot about me personally, however, that sense of running along and listening to my own breathing, while focused on my running form and how I move tend to force me to run within myself, which in turn makes the whole process so much more enjoyable.
The perfect race means a lot of different things to different people, but what I hope to do here is offer a different perspective to the usual time goals we set ourselves and judge our races by.
What does your perfect race consist of?
2 thoughts on “The perfect race?”
Similarly to what you describe, Dan, I think my “perfect race” comes in many flavours.
Was it the 2015 Numinbah to Polly’s 18km? Shorter and sharper than my typically favourite flavour, but used as a vehicle to target a much harder effort than that to which I am accustomed. Set a target of sub-2hrs and came in at 1:59:56. Yup, that was the perfect race.
Was it the 2015 Gold Coast Kokoda Challenge, in which I joined a team 3 days before the event, only having met one other team member? Despite our combined unfamiliarity, we came home as a complete team under 20hrs. Yup, that was the perfect race.
Was it this year’s Buffalo Stampede? I’ve lusted after that race since I first laid eyes on it. Finally having the chance to have a crack at it this year, I opted for the Grand Slam. Had no idea what to target, pace-wise because who does that kind of thing? But set what I thought were challenging, but achievable targets for my mid-pack abilities and met them all. Yup, that was the perfect race.
It might almost be easier to pick the ones that weren’t “the perfect race”.
For me it is a feeling.
Which is such a lame, non committal, hippy type of answer, it is embarrassing. But it is true, for me at least.
With so many different factors at play, this seems to be the one thing I can measure from race to race.