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Posted: November 6, 2011  : Add to Mixx! Subscribe to stories like this Share

Leah Larocque's Column
Leah Larocque is a graduate of Queen's University (2011) in Kingston, Ontario where she ran track and cross-country. She was Ottawa's "Road Racer Of The Year" in 2010. She has a personal best time of 17:32.9 which she set while winning the Ottawa Race Weekend 5K in 2011.
In 2010 she was the first local finisher in Emilie's Run leading the OAC Racing Team to a first place in the team competition.
Leah is currently an Intern with Premium Client Services for the Ottawa Senators Hockey Club. She is continuing to run and will be writing a regular column for the Runner's Web. (Column Index)

Athletics: Rethinking Racing

My 2011 racing season is coming to an end. This year was unique in a number of ways. The first was that it was my ultimate year as a collegiate athlete and I left varsity athletics. In general I am really happy about how I raced during university and it was a time when I actually became a distance runner. My long runs grew from 30 minutes and gasping for breath to be able to comfortably run on Sundays to about 80 minutes. However, it is a long, and dedicated process that took a lot of people to help me get there; coaches, parents, friends, bosses (letting me leave early), professors (late deadline?-me? never!).

This season was also different because it was interrupted with a six week trip to Europe. I ran a really great race the week before leaving, then walked around Europe- but didn't run all that much. When I got back I was able to get my fitness back fairly easy and with the awesome summer weather it was easy to get back into the swing of things. This fall however was a wee bit harder I didn't have a "team" per say and no race to really peak for. However, I jumped in some road races with the best training I could manage and never quite got to that personal best time that I had been coveting. I was getting frustrated and a bit down on myself that I wasn't running well enough to my standards.

Then I took a moment and asked myself the million dollar question: "Why?" Why was I putting myself through all this training and all this stress to run a certain time? Wasn't I supposed to be doing this for fun? Wasn't I finished with the super competitive atmosphere?

The answer of course is yes I was- but it was hard to let go. It was hard not to get swept up again in the intensity and the nitty-gritty details of times and performances. I am at a different stage in my running right now- post collegiate- and I am having a hard time excepting that. Regardless of what stage I am in, I always want to run. I always want to keep hitting that pavement. But, it is crucial that I always keep perspective and a firm grasp of reality of what the purpose of it truly is.

I think it is also important to remember that a lot of the road races are for some really great prices. The Run for the Cure and many other races raise awareness and critical money that goes a long way in fighting some important battles.

So today at work, I started to think about the whole aspect of having fun while we race. I guess it has been on my mind, but then I also started to think about costumes and Halloween, as the spooky holiday was on Monday. When I was in Europe I was told that apparently it is very common for runners to wear costumes during races- so I decided to Google some out of the ordinary races. Those races that don't require twenty minutes of warm up and strides as well as six weeks of training prior.

No matter where you live there's a full calendar of local road races every year. In this sport, there's always something around the corner. While most races are fairly standard distances and affairs, but there are some races that have lots of character whether it's because of the whereabouts, the meteorological conditions, participant's garb or otherwise. I was really surprised by some of the things that popped up. I knew about the City Chase and some marathons that are relay style and require jumping in mud and going through obstacle courses. Not really my idea of fun, but to each its own! Then I started to get into some rally cool races that involved wearing a costume or having a theme as a team. I think this is a fantastic way to incorporate the whole community and make running really fun. This way, you don't have to be an elite athlete to run, or even a runner necessarily- you can join in by walking (or in some races cases- crab walking!).

The Crystal City Cave Run in Crystal Springs MO is held in a particularly unique location -- an abandoned sand mine. The mine has been converted into over 6 million square feet of warehouse space with 30-40 foot ceilings. The race takes you into the tunnel and past underground lakes and over sand dunes. The Filthy 5k makes sure participants get down and dirty by running participants through a course of mud and water that includes areas where runners have to crawl. Many "extreme" races have popped up in recent years with obstacles and dirt, but the Filthy 5k focuses on the latter, making the runners run through a course of mud and water that involves crawling. But, it also had other fun side events like an awesome mustache contest with categories like "Most Creative", "Creepiest", and "Most Pathetic."

If mud isn't your thing, then let's eat and run! You'd be surprise how many races require some sort of food element in it. In the States you can do the Krispy Kreme Run where at every segment you had to eat a Krispy Kreme every segment of the race. Another race had a hot dog eating competition at different segments of the race. I really hope this one was not a marathon!

The Ice Marathon takes place in the most desolate and remote spot on earth -- Antarctica. The Ice Marathon is the southernmost race in the world, and takes place just a few hundred miles from the South Pole. The race is cold, as you can imagine, with average temperatures of --20C. And if a marathon isn't sufficient for you, the race organizers also offer a 100k race on a different date!

But the Man vs. Horse Marathon is one of the most interesting races in the world that my Google search found. According to one website, the race started in 1980 as the result of a bar bet where one man posited that over a significant distance a human being would be the equivalent of any horse. Another man overheard the conversation and decided to settle the debate. Since then every year, a 22 mile course over rough terrain had men race horses! Horses obviously won except incredibly in 2004 a man named Huw Lobb won the race in 2:05:19! The race has grown so much that it now caps the entry to 50 horses and 500 runners!

I couldn't believe some of the things that were popping up. Where they for real? Honestly- what a concept some of them were. And to think that I thought cross country was daring enough. Would I actually compete in any of these? Not sure. At school we had "unofficial" beer mile, which we really weren't supposed to talk about. I never partook in that- I don't think I'd be able to live and tell the tale.

But my Google search really drove home the point that racing can be creative. You don't have to be nervous, you don't have to train. You just have to love to run. You have to have a passion for a cause and adventure. I salute all those runners. You are better than me! So, as my season caps off this weekend, I am encouraged in knowing that simple 5 kilometers doesn't have to be the end for me! I can do more- I can run in sand mines, wind-chill, or who knows, in 5 years- there may even be a race on the moon!

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