- I think you need to practice racing. I've raced a lot since I started running, roughly 15 times a year on average. The side benefit of that is I'm very comfortable with the race atmosphere and I don't get very excited with pre-race jitters. Race events for me are a normal routine, and this isn't to say I don't look forward to them, I do, it's just I don't worry about them. I tend to get a great nights sleep the day before a race. And when I do very much care about the outcome of a particular event I am still able to get into a competitive mindset, just without the stomach flutters and nervous shakes.
- It guarantees a quality workout. Even when I'm not running a race hard I have a goal in mind. Maybe I'm doing a 10K race at my marathon pace which is only 35 or 40 seconds per km slower than my 10K pace. Maybe I'm planning on a negative split where I run the last half of the race much harder than the first. Even if I'm not there to compete I do always manage to run hard guaranteeing me a challenging workout, one I may not be motivated for on a regular training day.
- It breaks up the routine. Occasionally I find that training itself can be a bit monotonous. You do your hills on Tuesday, tempo on Thursday, long run Saturday and easy runs in between. The routine can become .... routine. Sticking a race in there gives you something to look forward to, breaks up the routine and ensures your motivation doesn't wane. I usually schedule an easy start to my week after a race to give myself a short break so that is a nice change as well.
- It lets you practice race strategy. How I eat the night and morning before a race, how fast to go out from the start line, what shoes to wear (and clothing) and learning to race the short side of corners on a route are all things you get to practice while racing at easier events all before your ultimate goal race. By the time my marathon has rolled around or whatever event I care about I'm dialled in for what I plan on doing.
Gunner Shaw wasn't a race I had any hope of placing well in, I'm not a particularly strong trail runner, nor do I care to be. I enjoy trail races a lot particularly because they take me out of my comfort zone and are damn scenic. Let's be honest, it's a blast to get wet and muddy while pleasing your inner 12 year old. For me, inserting days like this into my training plan does a lot for stoking my passion for running, I'd encourage you to do the same.