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Run for life: Why race?

Come on, why hassle with applying, paying, then showing up for organized races? You can run it any time with a stopwatch and a set course. The roads are public, the schedules flexible — day or night — and no reservations required.

Well, because it’s worth it.

Racing is the cornerstone that supports all the achievement, satisfaction, freedom and excitement of the sport. And, thanks to COVID-19, you can still be at the starting line for this year’s 41st Shelter Island Races. November beckons! Here are the incentives.


No one achieves maximum performance without competition.

In a race, you are up against the clock, the course and the weather; the other runners are only an interesting backdrop. Winning doesn’t mean you have to beat anyone. It does mean you will achieve far more than you think possible.

Running is a sport where luck is minimal, and effort always rewarded. An individual can only put out that maximum effort by racing against everyone. Racing is a graduation ceremony that will make this sport an integral part of your life.


I have never experienced a runner’s high. I understand it exists. I have experienced pain in training and especially in racing. On a morning jog on Brander Parkway, a friend who was walking a dog asked me, “what’s the best thing about running?”

My instant answer: “Stopping.”

Running is connected to other sports such as banging your head against a wall and dropping a bowling ball on your foot, which also provide their greatest satisfaction in stopping. Pain is part of the sport, but it is feeling it disappear at the finish line.

Then, comes the camaraderie of shared success. Everybody feels a winner at the end of the race. In 1954 Roger Bannister’s breaking the 4-minute mile was world news on front page across the entire world. Look up Roger Bannister on the web for the excitement of those 4 minutes. It may turn you into a runner.


The calories you burn while training and racing give you a guilt-free license to eat and drink pretty much what you want. And you can do so with good expectations to maintain a steady weight throughout your life (not to mention a low blood pressure and resting pulse). Running does not guarantee a long life, but certainly a more enjoyable one. It is an advantage not in dollars and cents. But when you look around your slothful peers, you’ll know the benefit.


The ability to run 3 miles, 6 miles, or even marathon distances is a major goal for many people. Goals do not produce results. Goals have a price tag attached, and you only achieve them by paying that price. Runners use their ability to give back to help others. How? Our world-class races here on Shelter Island have helped fund our community since their start. Nearly all races have a mission from saving turtles to medical research.


Golf, despite its infatuation with rules, offers an interesting standard of comparing your score against your age. Few golfers shoot a score under their age over a lifetime. Sid Beckwith, a neighbor on Tarkettle Road, accomplished this feat over 1,500 times in his long lifetime.

There’s no such flexibility in running, and senior runners don’t get a head start or a shorter course. Running does rank performance by group based on gender and age. There can be serious individual competition within these groups. But the competitors are invisible since there’s no way to identify who’s in your peer group. When folks know each other (or can make a good guess), then the sense of competition is no different from what Roger Bannister experienced. (Well, except the fainting part.)

I’ll tell you about my one-on-one racing experience in my concluding column.