On the first of June, 1,619 women and men signed up to participate in the 46th annual Imogene Pass Run, coming up in two weeks.

More than once in the past, the overall winner has been a resident of Montrose, and this year twelve women and seventeen men from here have signed up.

Another thirteen people from Ouray and ten from Ridgway are entered, and the other 1,500-plus are coming from across the USA and some from all over the world.

If you were to be able to ask each person who he or she is racing against, you would surely hear more than a thousand different answers.

Similarly, if you ask a friend who entered the recent Ute Museum 5K, or last weekend’s Mt. Sneffels Half-Marathon, or the 2018 Grin and Barrett Black Canyon Charity Ride, you would hear a wide range of answers.

Many participants in such events mention that they are racing primarily against themselves, in that they know they will more often make time for their health to ride, run, or jog if they are entered into an upcoming event than if they are not.

Along with that element, the camaraderie of vigorous physical activity among friends and strangers in the mountains is frequently cited. Yet another powerful motivator is the prospect for friendly competition and for challenging oneself.

Additionally, many such events wisely give age group awards divided by gender and further subdivided by five year or ten year increments. Therefore, a female who is fifty years old can essentially be racing against the other women in her age group, rather than be racing against the males in the twenty to twenty-five year old age group.

At the Mt. Sneffels Half-Marathon last weekend, some Montrose runners won podium finishes (meaning first, second, or third place) in their individual age divisions, among a rather large field of over 450 finishers. Some of those finishers were professional Olympic-level athletes from the USA and from other continents. The chance to be at the same starting line and run with international champions understandably adds excitement for the many amateur athletes, from teenagers to retirees.

There exists a common tendency for someone to decide that they are just hoping to finish ahead of a certain group, for instance, “all of the women”, or “all of the runners older than my age group.” Such an approach exists mainly among those who are young, inexperienced, and overconfident. That sets up a person for extreme disappointment in their first race, unfortunately.

No matter how fast a runner that person is, if a race has upwards of eighty or a hundred participants, they are probably going to endure a rude awakening. For instance, of the 459 finishers in last weekend’s half-marathon, the first female finished fifth overall. Therefore the only four men who were faster than all of the women were men who are world-class professional athletes.

In that same event, a man who is seventy years old finished ahead of fully 85percent of all runners of any age, including those in their teens and twenties. Who are you racing against? The answer to that question may require self-examination if one’s goal is to beat “all the women” or “all the older people.” These days, most races have at least as many female participants as male participants. It is high time for that equaling of the gender participation numbers.

What are you racing against? This “what”, rather than “who” can lead to meaningful discussion within one’s own head.

Some people are racing against the part of themselves that is tempted to spend that week’s training time on the couch watching reruns of favorite ball games on cable TV, or music videos on YouTube, ice cream in hand. Admit it, some days we each have a voice like that in our heads, whether or not we indulge it unduly.

Another common motivator puts us racing against the potentiality of the cardiovascular disease and sedentary lifestyle that shortened the life of a parent, an aunt, or an uncle. The knowledge of a genetic tendency toward developing the classic “beer belly” is what motivates more than a few ex-athletes to sign up for a local 5K with their kids, in hopes of being a good example and keeping their kids, too, from their ancestors’ form of unhealthy weight gain.

I hear some say that they are racing against the necessity of a windowless workplace. Training for even a short race gets them out into the sun and wind and rain and mountains, re-igniting memories of a childhood when they ran around playing outdoors for many hours a day.

And some of us are motivated to run regularly because we know that the morning run is the supreme highlight of the day for the family dog on his or her leash.

John T. Unger is a Diplomate of the American Chiropractic Board of Sports Physicians, with over twenty-five years of practice in Montrose. He loves making it up to a snowfield on foot when the temperatures in the valleys are in the mid-90 degrees. Ideas for future columns are welcomed at sportsdocunger.com.

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