Run to Race or Run to Run – Which Do You Do?

Road Race t-shirt from Spring 1985

Do runners run to race or do they just run to run and race as something extra, but not necessary?

This is a question that has been asked forever in the running community and the answer depends on who you are talking to.

Many runners who run lots of races, wouldn’t consider me a “real” runner because I don’t run races very often. They would consider me at best a jogger – which is cool too, because it is just another label for someone who runs and I really don’t care all that much about labels.

Personally, I consider anyone who runs, is a runner. Putting people into a separate categories based on their speed is demeaning and unnecessary, we are all runners, just some run faster and some run slower.

When did I race last?

It has been years between my races, not a just a few weeks. The last race I ran in was 2006 in a local 5K at the school I used to work and before that??? Holy crap it was probably 1986, down in Connecticut.

Before doing the research for this post, I really didn’t realize I had run in so few races over that 25 year period – one race. I can’t say that I would be called much of a competitive runner.

Why haven’t I raced more?

To be honest, I have thought about entering several races during this time, even going so far as to pay the entry fees for a few, but just never got around to actually running in the races for a variety of reasons.

However, if I am in race training mode my approach to running is very different. I plan my runs, review the data thoroughly, figure out what I need to do next to keep improving and follow my training plan pretty closely to meet my race goals. There is not a lot spontaneity, or suddenly deciding to change the day’s run, after all I am preparing for a race and need to be ready.  I have a plan and know that I have to do this to be ready.

I also know from my past experience that racing is very addicting – to try to run faster, run farther, until you are injured and can’t, then you start the cycle over, once you are well again. The feelings of competition with those who are in the race with you and you against that damn clock is a very addictive feeling and you want to keep doing it over and over.

That is why I really think that I haven’t raced all that much – the addictive nature of running races and how it affects my life.

Am I Competitive?

The truth is that I am very competitive, maybe overly competitive and what I experienced while racing for two years in Connecticut in the mid 80’s, with a modicum of success here and there was pretty exhilarating at times – see my The Glory Years post. However, looking back with 20/20 hindsight, it did interfere with other parts of my life, with a growing family and a great career something had to give – it was running.

Whenever I would get back into race training mode, I was always hyper-aware of how running could negatively affect other parts of my life too much and would shut running down when it started to become too much of a distraction. I had decided that running was never going to bring home enough to support my family (I am not and was not good enough), so I wasn’t prepared to let running dominate my life. Other things were and are much more important.

A lot of runners have told me “If I couldn’t race I wouldn’t run”. To them I have said and will say good for you and I hope you enjoy racing and that you make your goals. I will still run even though I didn’t race.

Why run if you don’t race?

Simple – I enjoy running!

Running to me is much more than competing or training to compete against other people or the clock. It has become a part of who I am, not just something that I do.

I had learned to enjoy the things that running gives me in return for lacing up a pair of shoes and moving at a certain pace through my workout, whether it is on a treadmill or my preferred place outside on a trail. I enjoy the freedom to go as fast or as slow and as far as I want on each particular run, with no expectations or restrictions.

Some days are faster, some days are longer, some day are slower, while other days are both faster and longer. I found that being able to choose a workout based on how you feel, without feeling guilty about meeting an artificial race preparation plan is much more enjoyable than beating yourself up to meet the plan.

During those 25 years my running was about just running and I was mostly satisfied and happy with running to run. However, in the back of my mind, I still thought about racing again.

The future

Since I returned last month to running after a long lay-off due to a non-running injury and the subsequent surgery, I have been able to run to run again. Running is different for me now than it was, I was not able to do it for along time and I appreciate how much I missed running being a part of my life.  I also retired and that brings about other changes in perspective.

Now that I am retired I have extra time to run and enjoy it much more without the pressure of limited time or having to get up at some ungodly hour to get a run in. Who knows my reasons for running may shift a little more to the run to race than it is now, if I got in with the wrong, errr right crowd.

However, since joining the online running community on Twitter, Facebook and Google+, racing to run has piqued my curiosity again and I am going to look at it a little more closely. After all I do have some extra time on my hands and if I am running, my wife (who is also a lifelong runner, but not a racer) tends to understand my “other” passion.

Who knows, if my knee holds up over the Winter, maybe next Spring I will dip my toes into the local racing scene as an old fart, who probably remembers too many of his “glory days”.

No matter whether I run to race or run to run, it feels great to be running again.

Questions for you;

  • Do you run to race or do you just run to run and racing is the cherry on top, not necessary, but nice to do?
  • Has your racing/race training ever interfered negatively with other parts of your life to a point where you have had to make difficult choices?