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Reflecting on age group awards

At first I did a happy dance. Then I double checked the results. Then I looked them up on my phone’s web browser, just to be sure. See, I don’t normally win an age group award at a race, so this is rare territory. But there it was, confirmed a bit later when my name was called as second place in women age 40-44. I jumped from my chair to claim my prize.

And it got me thinking about age group awards.

I know people who entered their first 5K or sprint triathlon and had a podium finish in their age group and they were hooked.

I have close friends who routinely win their races and are mainstays on the podium.

I have friends who say, “they have age group awards?” because they are in it to finish and the competition stays pretty much within themselves.

Circle back to my performance at the Polar Bear 5K. I run this race for two main reasons: 1. The route goes right past my house. 2. They have a pancake breakfast after the race. I’ll pretty much do anything for pancakes and a 5K is nothing in that grand scheme. You can read my entire race report, but suffice it to say that in the second week of my marathon training block, this 5K was thrown in purely for fun. Still I ran hard. I challenged myself. In the end I was really proud of my time, which picked up 2016 where I left off 2015. That, to me, was a good sign. That was worth celebrating.

The same day as my pancake loving Polar Bear 5K was another popular race in the region. I looked up my age group in that race. Had I run the same time in that race, I would have finished sixth in my age group. There would have been no podium spot for me.

So, wait. Was my age group award even valid? I can hear parts of past conversations with other runners and triathletes who would call certain age group finishes “tainted” if the award came via roll down or if, say, the awards went three deep and there were only three people in your age group. Does your age group award even really count then? That’s when the sassy voice in my head kicks in and offers this piece of sage advice, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.” You don’t get an age group award on the couch. You don’t get doing a training run. You have to take the leap of faith and have the courage to enter a race. You have to show up. You have to finish. That doesn’t happen by default.

What if I had done the other race and finished sixth? You know what: I still would have done ┬ámy happy dance. Because I can’t control who shows up to a race or how fast they run. I can control how I run, the effort I put in, the mindset I bring. I had decided to try to let it rip. I have more confidence in myself to take more (perceived) risks at the start of the race because in the end, it doesn’t matter if I have a podium finish or run a season-best or set a personal record. What matters, what has always mattered, is that I had the courage and the good fortune to be able to show up at the starting line.

The friends I have who chase age group placings and performance goals? I love them. I love their goals. I cheer loudly for them. The friends I have who are in it to finish? I love them. I love their goals. I cheer loudly for them. My goals? Well, they seem to change with the season, the race and my motivation. And that’s OK. Others have their way. I have mine. And all are valid.