“The Big Easy” is an appropriate nickname for both the city of New Orleans and the “race” I recently ran at the Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon in this lovely town. The key focus of my little trip to NOLA was to have as much fun as possible with two of my dearest running besties, Kara and Sarah, and to cheer Sarah to a phatty new marathon PR. Mission accomplished on both accounts! (Sarah, you are officially my marathon running hero! Way to go, you big bad-ass!)
I did some serious hemming and hawing as to whether or not I should sign up for this race. Them fancy Rock n’ Roll half marathons ain’t cheap, y’all! But when it was all said and done, I succumbed to FOMO, some good-natured peer pressure from Kara, and the fact I am also chasing down a big, hairy marathon PR and therefore needed to get a long run in on this trip and died a little inside as I coughed up the $125 for registration. Despite my frugal grumblings, this turned out to be among the best $125 I have ever spent. Since the good ole BAA Boston Marathon training program called for “16 to 18 easy miles” on this particular day, Kara and I opted to “fun run” the race. Talk about good decisions. As it turns out, fun running is a totes amazeballs way to experience the 13.1 distance, and everyone needs to try it a least once. That’s why I have put together this handy little post for you. Think of it as your own personal guide to the not necessarily fast, but most definitely fabulous art of fun running. You can thank me later. Let’s start the party, shall we?
Preparing for Your Fun Run
First things first. Let’s talk preparation. Your fun running success hinges on being in the proper state of mind to relax, have fun, and just enjoy running for the sake of moving your body. This means letting go of the usual stressful, high-pressure, adrenaline pumping pre-race thoughts of things like time goals and pacing strategies, qualifying for this standard, running faster than that person, and so on. Trust me friends, this is easier said than done. For best results, I recommend completely throwing your typical pre-race prep routine out the window. By doing a bunch of bizarre stuff that you would never in a million years do before any sort of race you were taking even remotely seriously, you can effectively trick your brain into turning off that tunnel vision, eyes-on-the-prize, super-ODC-about-everything pre-race mode that we all know so well. I found the following activities particularly helpful for keeping me calm, cool, and not at all worked up about my upcoming “race”…
- Walking-intensive Sight-seeing.
- Enjoying Local Cuisine with Reckless Abandon.
- Expo Shenanigans. (OK, so I would probably do this one at any race I signed up for, even if I was looking to PR my face off.) After all, you spent like a bazillion dollars of your hard-earned money on signing up for and traveling to this race so you might as well get your money’s worth by taking advantage of every silly photo-op, ridiculous interactive activity, and every single shred of free swag available at the expo!
- Making Inspiring and Supportive Signs for Your Friends who are Running the Race Competitively.
- Day Drinking. (This one is especially clutch. Just remember that day drinking, and the drinking of alcoholic beverages at all other times of day as well, are illegal for persons under the age of 21. Please always day drink responsibly.)
You may want to further convince yourself that your fun run is really no big deal by choosing or creating for yourself a perfectly ridiculous outfit. Something that emphasizes fabulousness, but not so much speed. Something that makes it absolutely impossible for you to take yourself seriously when you are wearing it. I personally opted for and highly recommend a really glittery-ass tutu, although elaborate decorative head-wear and/or wildly patterned tights also seem to work well.
Get Your “Fun Face” on for The Big Day
Race day is here and it’s time to really get into the Fun Zone! Arrive at the race site early enough to allow time for a silly pre-race photo shoot. I am fairly certain it is a scientific fact that taking ridiculous photos (especially synchronized jumping photos) instantly increases the amount of fun you are having exponentially. And for the record, I have historically found the pre-race photo shoot to be a highly effective get-pumped-up strategy for “A” races as well as fun runs. Additionally, you may want to include some sort of dance party/ sing-a-long and/or twerking in your warm-up routine. I also really enjoy chatting up other random runners as a pre-race ritual in fun run and competitive race settings a like.
Also, don’t forget to bring some way of documenting all the fun you are about to be having! After all, you are moments away for the most fun running experience of your life and all of social media and posterity needs to know about it! Kara and I used a small, inexpensive, water-proof point-and-shoot camera to capture every minute detail of our fun run extravaganza. One could easily use a smart phone as well. Just remember that your iPhone’s warranty does not cover water damage, and sweating your iPhone to death while fun running definitely counts as water damage.
Once the Gun Goes Off…
- Stop and have your picture made with all the funny signs, thematically dressed spectators, bands, and inflatables. This part will be particularly easy if you are fun running a Rock n’ Roll Series race, since they provide some form of on-course entertainment every couple of miles and, at least in my limited experience, seem to be well spectated by particularly friendly people who are also highly creative sign-makers. We made several thousand photo stops along the course that day in NOLA. Here are a few of my favorites…
- High Five All the Little Kids:
- Take All the Outside Aid. A major highlight for us. Just remember as you are chasing your next big PR or age group win that this technically against rules. But all is fair in love and fun running, and if you’re doing it right there will be no age group placement, podium finish, or qualifying standard in question for you today, so soak up every morsel of beer, donuts, king cake, and jello shots you can while you have the chance.
*Obligatory Disclaimer: Taking jello shots from strangers (especially in New Orleans) is generally a bad idea. Don’t try this at home, kids! #YOLO
- Thank All the Volunteers: Again, this is something we should try our best to do at any and all races. Volunteers who wake up obscenely early to direct traffic for your safety, make sure you know where you are going on the course, and cheerfully hand you water, Gatorade, and Gu for nothing more than a free t-shirt and a pat on the back are truly the dream-weavers who make events like the one that you are fun running right now a reality. Naturally, they deserve all of your gratitude, but sometimes we runners find it difficult to express our thanks because we are just trying not to bonk, barf or otherwise fall apart on the way to our next great race result. This should never be the case when it comes to fun running. All fun running should be done 100% within one’s comfort zone to allow for showering each and every race volunteer on the course with the profuse thank-yous that they deserve.
Use Proper Fun Running Etiquette
- Be Careful with Sudden Stopping/ Veering Off the Course. I am a little ashamed to admit that I had to learn this one the hard way. True to my severe ADHD form, I caught myself careening recklessly off the course to be photographed with this awesome sign or that hilariously dressed spectator, bringing runners behind me to screeching halts to avoid crashing into me and creating massive pile-ups in my wake on several occasions. Not cool. My most sincere apologies to anyone who was unfortunate enough to get caught up in my path of destruction. Remember that one runner’s fun run odyssey may be many other runners’ big, awesome goal race. A good fun runner should always go above and beyond to be encouraging, supportive, and above all, courteous to their fellow runners. This means taking care not to cut others off and giving fair warning when veering off the course, and re-entering race traffic flow as well. No one wants to be THAT fun runner who is making the run less fun for everyone else!
- Never Ever Stop Your Watch! As a matter of fact, your fun run would probably be an awesome place NOT to wear your watch, but if you are a to-the-death Garmin-or-it-didn’t -happen runner as I am, well friends, you best keep that watch running no matter how long you are standing still in your quest for the prefect selfie of you and the guy the jester hat handing out the jello shots. The race clock won’t stop for your various photo ops, snack breaks, and mid-race dance parties, so neither does your watch. Remind yourself again that your fun running experience is not about time or average pace. It’s about becoming re-acquainted with the notion that you love running because it’s fun and celebrating the people whom you love running with. Then after the race, march yourself to the nearest computer or mobile device and proudly claim your much-slower-than-usual half marathon time on Athlinks. I’m fairly certain that my fun running half marathon time is the slowest 13.1 result attached to my name thus far, but is it also one my very favorite race memories, and a tremendous PR in fun. And that is why everyone should try fun running at least once!
I hope this little guide to successful fun running has served as a reminder to you that there is value in not taking every single run/ race super-seriously, and that a little shift in focus and taking a break to smell the roses (or in our case, the king cake) does the mind and body good!
Much love to all the awesome, hilarious people, old and new friends alike, who made our weekend in NOLA memorable, and cheers to many more fun runs to come!
Have YOU ever run a race just for fun? Is it something you would consider doing? Tell your thoughts, for better or for worse, in the comments!