Why a race can get your heart thumping like nothing else The power of competition
An old friend and I had arranged to meet up for our yearly ritual of running together in a nine km fun run.
The annual event is a glorious gallop across the Sydney Harbour Bridge and one of the rare times the famous landmark is blocked off to cars. Runners fill the road in a lycra tide and the only sound is puffing, sneakers hitting bitumen and occasional hoots of joy. It’s exhilarating.
This particular year I had to travel interstate just for this event and was super-psyched.
Naturally, my friend was late. Texts were being exchanged. The clock was ticking. I waited alone at the big mouth of Luna Park, our meeting place, anxious that we were going to miss the starter’s gun.
There’s all this prep you do before a run – usually you have to get up early, cover yourself in sunscreen IN THE DARK, and you pare all your stuff back to the essentials.
I had my racing bib pinned to my singlet, my timing chip threaded through my shoelaces, a running app primed on my phone, a hat to keep the hair out of my eyes and no other possessions besides a bus ticket zipped into my tights. It’s a great feeling, having very little, carrying very little – you can almost imagine being a cavelady and trotting around the forest all hairy and handbag-free.
Top 5 cavelady accessories
1. Sunglasses (the light is bright even when you’re a queen of The Stone Age.)
2. Pearls. The white of the pearls will offset the gloss of your armpit/leg hair.
3. A wooden club or mallet. Apparently handy for nabbing a mate if for some reason your Tinder app isn’t working.
4. Fire. Fire is paleolithic bling.
5. Wart remover.
One of my favorite things about a fun run is watching all the other runners pour out from public transport, eyes bright and clutching nothing but a key and a phone. There’s a nutty sort of camaraderie that takes over and makes performing star jumps while queueing for a port-a-loo perfectly acceptable.
Eventually my friend arrived with little time to spare and we rushed to the start line but my heart started pounding in such a way that I thought I was having either a panic attack or worse, a heart attack.
(I had a panic attack once when I was about to interview a footballer on live TV. It was terrifying. You know that expression “there was a roaring in my ears”? That roaring sounds a lot like jumping off a huge waterfall while the voice of God shouts “YOU’RE GOING TO DIE, YOU’RE GOING TO DIE!” My heart was beating so loudly I was pretty sure my lapel mic was picking up the thumpity-thump. It took a live-TV lifetime for my senses to return. Luckily my co-hosts were totally pro and the interview proceeded with no one noticing.)
At the starting line I waited for the feeling to go away. It didn’t. I took deep breaths. I coolly tried to analyse and neutralise potential threats. There were none. My pulse raced. I visualized waterfalls, baby piglets in woolen bonnets, my mother and other vessels of kindness. It was a full two minutes before I realized my heart was pounding with excitement. I was psyched! This is what feeling excited is like!
It’s the reason that we go on fun runs, we enter races, we join in the madness that is competitive sport. Sure, it sometimes costs money, there are hassles involved, then of course there’s the actual having to run bit as well, but at some point along the way you get to mainline the madness of the crowd. It’s the beautiful flip-side of football hooliganism. The energy of the gathering enters your bloodstream, powers your legs and inspires your heart.
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