The Race Experience: A Walker’s Perspective

When I started walking every day, I didn’t do it with any special goals in mind. I just wanted to take off those summer break pounds and get some exercise. But it wasn’t long before I started thinking about signing up for a 5k. My friend Kate used to talk about walking the Race for the Cure every spring with a friend, and that got me thinking.

I’d seen people post their race day pictures on social media, but it had never really occurred to me that walking a race was even an option. I always thought that those things were for runners—that special, elite group of human beings to which I would never, ever belong. And I was afraid to walk a race for fear of being the only person walking—and the last person to finish, long after the last runner had crossed the finish line. So I left it at that: just a crazy thought.

But then 2020 hit. We all ended up stuck at home, and walking became cool. So did virtual races. You could sign up for a race online, and the company would send you things like a bib and a medal—maybe even a fun shirt. And suddenly virtual races became my new obsession. I had so much fun picking out new races at and completing the races. I even put a medal holder on my birthday wish list and hung it in my office. 

A couple of my walking friends and I were many, many virtual races in, then, when the world started opening back up and in-person races resumed.  Together, Kate and Melissa and I decided that it was time: that we’d pick one and walk it. We chose Gourdy’s Pumpkin Run in the fall of 2021 and eagerly prepared for race day. 

That packet pickup excitement…

I’ll never forget the excitement of our very first packet pickup. We went downtown together—along with a whole bunch of other people—to pick up our tech hoodie and bib. We did a little bit of shopping at the merch tent, took a ton of pictures, and spent all kinds of time trying to figure out what to wear for our chilly early-November morning race. 

I’d already been nervously excited about the race, but the air around that packet pickup was just buzzing with excitement.  People were there in groups, laughing together and wandering around what would be the starting line in just a matter of hours.  And I went home even more excited for the big day.

There were so many things about the Pumpkin Run that made it perfect for my first race. Not only was the swag pretty awesome—and the atmosphere was easygoing and fun—but it also had a late Saturday morning start—which made it less intimidating for me. I still hate those 8 am start times because I am not a morning person. So the 10 am start for my first race was perfect.

Even though I didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn for my race, I still got everything ready the night before—because I didn’t want anything to go wrong on the morning of the race.  I thought through clothing options, narrowing down my choices as I tried things on.  I even had my bib attached and ready to go before I went to bed.  And instead of watching TV late into the night, I turned in on time, so I could try to get a good night’s sleep—though I’ve since learned that I’m always too excited to sleep on the night before a race.

We definitely weren’t alone in the back of the pack!

The next morning, my friends and I met up to carpool to the race.  And when we arrived at the starting line, I was amazed by the sea of people milling around—chatting and stretching and standing in line for the coffee truck or the porta potties (or both).  I just couldn’t believe that so many other people had the same crazy idea: to get up early on a chilly weekend morning to walk (or run) three miles through the city.  But there we all were.  And the energy of that crowd of thousands of people in matching hoodies just made me even more excited to get started.

That first race day was the greatest thing ever. It was a chilly morning, but it was also sunny, so we weren’t totally miserable.  In fact, it was a beautiful day for a walk through the city. We didn’t worry too much about trying for a fast time. We just enjoyed the walk with friends. We took in the scenery.  We chatted and told stories and laughed a lot.  We even paused to take a quick selfie at one of the city’s quirky landmarks.  And we were nowhere near the only walkers or the last finishers. There were so. many. people walking! 

No race is compete without a medal picture!

It felt like no time at all had passed before we crossed the finish line and got our medals. It was so exciting to put those finisher medals around our necks! Then we wandered around the finisher area. We enjoyed the party. We got our free cider. We took more selfies. And then we made our way back to the car. And then, of course, we stopped at Dunkin for a coffee and donut to celebrate on the way home (and that’s how our race day Dunkin tradition began).

That first race day was such a memorable one for me. It showed me that I wasn’t alone. We weren’t they only walkers who dared to show up on the same starting line with real, serious runners. It made me feel good about getting up on a Saturday morning and tackling a 3.1-mile walk. I had so much fun with my friends. And I got a cool shirt and a medal, too!  And since that day, I haven’t turned back. My Facebook and Google feeds (along with my inbox) are always showing me different race options. I have a race wish list. And while I don’t do nearly as many as I’d like, I always look forward to the next one. 

For the rest of my friends at the party in the back, you know the fun and excitement of race day. I’d love to hear about your first race, too! Which one did you choose? What was your favorite part of the event?

If you haven’t tried a race yet because it feels a little too intimidating, please don’t let that stop you. Maybe try a virtual race with a friend before signing up for the real thing. Don’t worry about being fast—or even about pushing yourself to get your fastest time. Just go and enjoy the day. Take it as your chance to celebrate all of the miles you’ve put in to get you there. Have fun with some friends—or make some new ones! Just be warned that once you start, you’ll want to sign up for alllllll of the races. 


Kristin has been hitting the trail (or the treadmill) for a walk almost every day for the past several years, and she recently completed her first half marathon. She loves sunny fall days, cushy walking shoes, and coconut caramel iced coffee from Dunkin.

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