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my last race

My last race

Many athletes cross the finish line of their first race and, before the soreness has even set in, are ready to sign up for their next race. The thrill of racing – the atmosphere, the support, the burning lungs as you gut it out in those final 400 meters – can be addicting. But for some athletes, there comes a time when the racing shoes need to be retired, whether it’s a physical or emotional decision. Here, three athletes reflect on their final finish lines – and what happened for them next.

“An injury took me off the race course – and reunited me with my original fitness love.”

“I ran my first 5K when I was 20. I had moved to the middle of nowhere and started running as a hobby. I worked my way up to a half-marathon, and five years later I was running ultramarathons. I enjoyed the challenge of the race and the energy and adrenaline that came with competing. But in 2014, I herniated and tore a disc in my back.

“After my surgery and recovery, I wasn’t able to return to my previous mileage or train for a race. At first, I still did races because I had some serious FOMO. (That’s fear of missing out.) I still wanted to enjoy those fun weekends with my friends. But I knew I was running well below my potential, and no matter what mind games I played, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was wasting my time and disrespecting what used to be a point of pride for me. I also knew that if I tried to push it and run more often, I’d risk injury. The logical thing to do was to stop racing. It took a while for me to accept that.

“Since my last race, I’ve decided to get back to a sport I feel passionate about: kung fu! I’ve been back at it for a few months now and it’s been pretty amazing. I had a black belt in tae kwon do before I started running, and I can honestly say that I don’t miss training and working toward a racing or running goal because I’m fulfilling that aspect with martial arts. Instead of caring about mile splits, now I worry about things like my wrist position with my broadsword and not poking my eye out with my spear! I still run occasionally, if I feel like it, but not more than three or four miles – and I’m at peace with that.” —Kara K., Falls Church, VA

“I run because I want to – not because I feel like I have to.”

“I started running and racing back in 2007. I had never been a runner, but I had just started a sedentary job and knew I had to do something to circumvent weight gain. I signed up for a 5K, and I lost weight over the years. I also got faster and was always trying to better my times. At my peak in 2014, I raced seven times, mostly 5Ks, and won my age group four of those times. I loved the sense of accomplishment I got from racing – of having achieved something that very few people can physically do, and all before most people get out of bed on the weekends. As a non-runner for most of my life, I loved looking around at the tail end of the lead pack, which is where I typically was, and seeing such incredibly fit and inspiring athletes, and realizing that I had become one myself.

“Two years ago, I skipped quite a few of my regular races, including ones I had already signed up and paid for. When the season ended, I felt relieved. I didn’t have to decide if I really wanted to drag myself out of bed and work out so intensely that I’d puke – which did happen a time or two – early in the morning. It was freeing. I told myself I’d see how I felt the following year before signing up for any races, and by the time spring rolled around, I realized my feelings hadn’t changed. I didn’t want to do it anymore.

“Now, being able to run on my own terms – when and where and for however long and hard – is so liberating. I started to resent my training schedule, of having to run almost every day and in a very specific way. I would come down hard on myself for missing a run, which is unhealthy. Sometimes I do miss the structure of a training plan and of being able to cross off milestones, but mostly I feel relief that I’m not bound to one. My relationship with running as a whole is better and healthier now. I run because I choose to, because I want to stay strong and healthy. Not because I have to.” —Colleen Martin, Fawn Grove, PA

“I learned to embrace Running 2.0 – and it’s a great place to be.”

“I’ve been racing for 20 years – first as a triathlete, then later just as a runner. I ran at first as a means to an end with triathlon, but slowly, running rose to the top. I loved challenging myself in races; sometimes against other competitors, but mostly against the clock. I loved training hard for an event and then seeing what I could do come race day.

“I didn’t make a hard decision to stop racing. For me, it’s more a matter of aging slowly and losing some enthusiasm. I think I pushed myself for so many years that eventually I simply lost the desire to push that hard. It’s not that I don’t still enjoy running – even doing some speedwork sometimes – it’s just that I don’t want to prioritize it among the many other facets of my life.

“I do think I enjoy running more now. If there’s a week where I don’t want to run long or don’t feel up to doing speedwork, I just skip it. I don’t follow any particular schedule, and I spend more time on trails. There’s no pressure whatsoever, and that’s a lovely feeling. My friends and I call this Running 2.0 – and it’s a great place to be!” —Amanda Loudin, Ellicott City, MD

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Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.

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