Though the pleasures and rewards of running are many and varied, I have to admit that my greatest pleasure used to be beating this one particular girl. She's always at the same races as me and I used to beat her all the time. Lately however she is pulling away from me, actually her performances are constant; I am falling back. I have my excuses lined up: she's four years younger than I am, she didn't have two years of trying to conceive and then a pregnancy and then a C-section, she trains harder, more consistently and more intelligently than I do. Regardless, there are huge implications if I can no longer beat her: it means that my fastest times are behind me which means that I can no longer achieve my fundamental goal as a runner. Because, you see, that girl is me... four years ago. In 2006/2007, I set personal bests in every distance from 5 km to the marathon. Those performances were deeply satisfying to me because ultimately I run to see how fast I can drive my body to go and it was a thrill to be along for the ride as my body went faster than ever before.
Fast forward four years. My training times are slower. My races are slower. I am still riding the post-pardum excuse but after this spring season I no longer think that excuse will be valid. I might have to face the fact that at 35, I may never be as fast as I was. As an aside, I don't think it is because I am 35, I think under the right circumstances runners can continue to improve well into their forties and even fifties if they have started running later in life. In my case though, I have 20 years of pounding on my legs and my current personal bests were achieved with arduous training and laser-like focus. I don't forsee having the time nor perhaps the drive to train even harder than I did in 2006/07 to reap the benefit of new personal bests.
Which leaves me wondering, if my biggest motivator for training and racing is no longer viable, why run? I can think of tons of reasons from the vain: stay thin(ish), to the more profound: running is my identity and my community, to the obvious: I just really, really love it. But I have to admit, without being able to beat myself, it feels like something is missing. One souvenir I really wanted to take home with me after this year in Italy was a personal best run on Italian soil (well I am definitely going to run a personal best over 12.3 kilometers next week-end :) - but I wanted a PB in one of the standard distances).
My goal race, a half marathon on a very fast course, is in seven weeks. This will probably be my best chance to beat my current personal best before I return to work. In a sense this race will define my running from now on. Will I still be striving to run faster than I ever have before or will I be seeking other, more subtle rewards?