Running Vs Racing

Last week I was getting dinner with a couple of my friends.  We were chatting a lot about running and training.  We somehow got into the discussion of running a race versus racing a race to youthful potential.  The main distance we chatted about was the beast, IE: marathon. We got into different views of finishing a marathon versus racing a marathon for a time. 

First and foremost, finishing a marathon is a big deal.  It’s huge a accomplishment.  Honestly finishing any race distance is an accomplishment. That’s another post though. There are many people I follow on twitter that run and finish a marathon every month…some even more marathons per month.  That is great and honestly I applaud them. It’s not something I see myself doing but great for them!

As most people know by now I’m injured with a minor stress fracture.  In some ways it’s a relief to not have a race looming over my head. It would subconsciously force me to want to recover faster from my injury.  While I wouldn’t mean too, I would rush recovery.

When I was injured in July, I felt I regained my fitness at the most awkward time.  I started feeling completely injury free exactly 2 months before my marathon.  I began slowly upping my mileage but in all honesty, it would have felt like a really rushed build up.  I would have never had the build up to truly feel like I was “racing” my marathon.

Yes I would have gone as hard as I could when race time dawned but I wouldn’t be reaching the potential of the training cycle.  There was not enough time (for me personally) that would have allowed me to feel like I was getting enough solid training in.  Then it would have taken a month for me to fully recover.  I was still debating if that was worth it to me.

It led me to my thought of running to finish a race versus racing a goal time.

Both have their benefits.

For instance: You can run multiple races to “run races”.  You don’t have to taper or fully commit to every race you sign up for. In fact if you race frequently, it’s impossible to peak at multiple races. I’ve done this with several half marathons. I’ve “winged” them and finished with a respectable time but not a time that is my best. In the last year I’ve finished half marathons between the times of 1:23-1:29.

I could finish more marathons yearly if I was following the same concept of treating some as training runs. 

You can do races as training runs with friends.  (I’ve done that several times).  You can do many more with less of a recovery time. For me, it is too much time to dedicate to keep a base that leaves me “marathon ready” and even more time to recover from a marathon.

Fully committing to racing and training for a single race takes more time.  For someone who has only run one marathon (such as myself) this takes more than a month to feel confident.  I’m a firm believer that in order to race well, you must be confident about your training.  If you are not confident your race is not going to go well.

Case and point:

When I’m running and training well I tend to do a lot of races.  I like to do races like a 5k, 10k or even several half marathons for speedwork.  I know if I chose 1-2 of those races to focus on, I could PR.  I end up PRing once or twice if I’m lucky per year.  Those are the races I’ve chosen to target and truly “race”.

The rest are races I’m running.  I don’t think it’s setting me up for failure because I know I am not able to hit a sub 19 minute 5k if I run a 5k every weekend.  I don’t look at the race as a failure if I don’t PR.  I look at the race as a solid training speed effort.  It might not work for some people but it works for me.

I tend to recover from those races rather quickly since they aren’t at my peak fitness and ability. Another benefit of training through and not tapering is that you will recover faster because these races are not at maximum effort. All of those rambling aside, I guess I’m getting at everyone enjoys running for different reasons. Some peoples goal is to run a full marathon in every state, while some people are looking to PR in a single race each year. The beauty of running is it’s what you make of it and everyone has different goals and motives.

I guess in summary there are benefits of both. There are benefits to running and training through multiple races annually. There are benefits for training for a specific race each year. It really just depends what your goals are.

Question for you: What is your biggest fitness goal?


  1. Both approaches have their benefits. For shorter distances, since you don’t usually have a huge recovery time that impacts your training, those can be very beneficial workouts that improve your fitness. Marathon is probably not one of those races, though, because it’s in that no-man’s land between lactate threshold and aerobic base building. 5k or 10k with everything you’ve got for the day? That will give you a nice fitness bump for your season’s target race, and might be more fun than a treadmill tempo at 5 am.

  2. As much as I like to PR from time to time, I really just run races. I think swimming for so many years and racing every single weekend mentally burnt me out of the racing concept. I run because it’s fun and I enjoy doing races. I usually won’t run them “easy” but I also don’t typically put all of my attention on one goal race or I completely psych myself out. I do see the benefits of both sides though- it just depends on your own personal end goal, as you said.

  3. Last fall I was cleared to run 10 days before state after not running for 7 weeks. I decided to not run in the state meet. Some people couldn’t understand why I didn’t, they said they knew I could finish 2.5 miles. Yes, I knew I could finish but after being all state every other year I ran xc.(disclaimer: class b North Dakota)I didn’t want to just finish. I like to do well.

  4. I think races as workouts can be great, and works well but I can’t (or choose not to) do it as much as I used to. Although I know I still race more than most, but much less than I used to. As for marathons, while I don’t see myself being the person that runs them every other weekend I know that me doing 2-3 a year is more than a lot of people. Last year and this year I found that taking one easier and not going for broke on it allows me to gain the experience of another marathon with quicker recovery. Not all out racing Cleveland last year or Boston this year is allowing me to have faster and stronger fall goals.

    I think using races as workouts has worked well for you, I mean look at your PR’s. Solid times across the board. High mileage + races as speed has been your ‘niche’ so to speak, and obviously a good one at that.

  5. I’ve definitely done a 180 since starting to read blogs. I used to stick to short distances because I was so scared of injury and obsessed with PRing every race. I thought half marathons were intimidating and marathons were for elite superwomen! In hindsight I wish I’d kept that mentality, because I don’t think I’d be in such a mess now if I had.

    Blogs normalized running multiple marathons in a very short space of time, and often people seemed to PR anyway. That was (and is) dangerous for me because I now hate the fact that I can’t do what these other women with jobs and more responsibilities than I’ll ever have make look easy. At the same time I have to face the fact that I’ll likely never PR again because of what the excessive running and trying to compete with these people has done to me. That’s demoralizing on so many levels, not least because I don’t want to be someone who just ticks off yet another mediocre marathon and then moves on to their next plodding-pace effort. It sucks seeing much slower people ‘beat’ me on a regular basis, and my brain just won’t accept that it’s because they run less mileage – I only see the dozen or so women who run stupid amounts of long races and never seem to suffer any consequences or lose any of their speed. I mean, I’ve gone from running a 1:30 marathon to a 1:41 marathon, a 40 minute 10K to a 50 minute 10K and a 20 minute 5K to a 23 minute 5K…if that’s not deterioration I don’t know what is and God only knows what will happen if I try to run a marathon in October (I’m already entered and there’s no way to defer) 🙁

    I think your methods have always worked very well. Your injuries tend to be freak accidents or quirks of style and technique rather than flaws in training.

  6. I used to “race” every race – try for a PR every time I heard a starting gun, regardless of my training, my fitness, or how miserable the effort made me feel. But 2014 was the year that changed that. I had a few injury scares (thankfully nothing turned out to be severe) and was just feeling generally burnt out. I am almost 35, and I want to be able to love running for many years, so while I’m not giving up by any means, I know I have to start being a little easier on myself.

    In March, for the first time ever, I ran a half-marathon just to run it. I didn’t even wear a watch! I ran easy and just enjoyed the view. I finished almost 20 minutes slower than my PR, but it felt amazing to finish a half-marathon and be able to walk the next day. I still felt a huge sense of accomplishment for finishing the race, and wasn’t disappointed in myself at all. I did the same thing in June at another half-marathon and had a similar sense of accomplishment (although I pushed myself a tiny bit harder in that one). Shorter distances are another story because I don’t know that I’d just be able to “run” a 5K easy, so until I feel ready to race a 5K for time, I’m not signing up for any.

    This summer and fall I have just focused on easy, enjoyable running. I don’t do speedwork, I don’t worry about my paces or my splits, and I often stop to take walking breaks. It’s a totally different strategy for me and honestly, I feel better than I’ve felt in a long time. And, oddly enough, I did enter a one-mile race in August (I figured running fast for 6+ minutes wouldn’t kill me) and beat last year’s time by over 3 seconds. So, maybe there is something to this relaxed style!

    1. It sounds like you have found your balance and that is truly amazing and inspirational. Thank you for sharing. I completely agree, 5ks are so short, I feel like they are meant to run hard.

  7. I personally like to run a lot of races, but race only a few. I’ll probably have a goal half marathon in the year and a goal 10k but leave it there. Otherwise you burn out. I love races though because, like you said, you can use them as training runs and it’s nice to run with other people and get motivated to push yourself a bit more than you would on your own. And it’s always nice to have a catered training run if they provide fuel and water 😉
    But I’m not sure I’d ever properly race a marathon. I’ve only done one so I’m no expert at all but I loved it. I didn’t race it in the way I might race a half and I just loved the epic feeling of covering that distance. Sure I’d love to get a quicker time but never at the expense of not enjoying it. I never want to feel that painful racing feeling for that long a time. I probably couldn’t do it!

  8. I think it’d be hard to run every race as a race. It seems like it would get somewhat draining on your body to constantly be pushing itself, unless you actually don’t run THAT many races on a regular basis. I always think pushing your body too much, too often is not a good thing. I think running races more for enjoyment or just to keep your body used to the running for race days seems like a better plan. But then again, what do I know about running?!

  9. I’m at the beginning of my running career and really am just running to run. I think next year I’ll focus on trying to beat prior years’ times. Right now I just want to finish!

  10. I have a half marathon this sunday and I’m looking at it as a speed effort toward my marathon in november and don’t plan to race it. For one thing, “racing” something means I’m putting out a full effort from which I may need some significant time to recover, and right now my goal is to train for a marathon and not get injured, so racing the half doesn’t make sense to me. I’m also not tapering beforehand and will mostly jump right back into training after so I want to recover quickly. I can relate to what you’re saying about recovery time with a fast training run versus a true race.

    1. Which half marathon? Good luck my friend. I agree with you, I think the marathon is such a beast to train for. I feel like it’s so hard to stay injury free and that’s the hardest battle.

  11. My biggest goal right now is American River 50 miler next April, but I also have my first ultramarathon coming up in December – a 50k. It’s kind of a “checkpoint” goal. I am running two half marathons (one trail, one not) during the training cycle as well. The trail half I intend to use as a training run but the road half I am going for a PR! Lots going on over here…

  12. I definitely run a lot of races without racing them. I actually raced for the first time in a while last weekend because I had never done the distance and wanted to go all out (mile) smart the day before a 20 mile training run? who knows but it was fun to give it my all. Also totally not trained for a mile race but that is a different story 🙂
    I incorporate lots of races into training – like a half this sunday for motivation and fun. But it is totally different training for a specific goal vs training just to cover the distance, I think.
    My biggest goal – I am running 3 marathons this fall – make it out alive. That is all.

  13. I have had bot mind sets. Race to just fiNish and race for a time. I kNow that I was more motivated when I raced for a time, but would be very dissapointed in myslef if I didn’t make it. And I had just fiNished a half and was disappointed! That’s crazy! My goal now is to lose weight and get stronger to feel better about myself. 12lbs down so far and feel amazing!

  14. I’m doing just that this weekend – I’m running a half marathon but not tapering much for it – little reduction in mileage but doing easy runs- because my bigger goal is a full in 6 weeks – I am not going all out – it’s just a slightly faster long run for me. I will still probably PB because I’m actually training properly for a race this time lol

  15. Great post. I had one “A” race this season, and the goal from day one was to train for the specific race–i.e. fully taper and peak at that race. Sure, I did a bunch beforehand, but I saw those as fitness check points to see how training was progressing.

  16. My whole goal this year was to try to learn how to race. I always find that I have trouble running outside of my comfort zone during races, and although there’s nothing wrong with that, I was finishing my races feeling disappointed and wondering if I could have done better. After a year of trying to do more 5ks and 10ks to get more “racing” experience, I’ve realized I still have a long way to go. I’d rather do one or two big goal races, and treat the rest as tempo runs if I could pick. Hmm… my biggest fitness goal, I guess, would be to get through an entire year without getting injured and getting to the start line of a goal race without having any aches and pains to worry about.

  17. I’m still new to running and racing, but I’m trying to race less so I can meet my larger race goals. We’ll see if it worked come marathon day in a month. But I noticed that when I tried to use races as training runs, I kind of neither kept it slow enough nor pushed it, falling somewhere in between in a place that left me both more tired than I probably should’ve been and disappointed in my performance (even when I inadvertently PRd in “training runs”.

    Maybe it’s because I’m an older new runner, but I don’t know how people constantly run marathons, even if just doing them to finish. Kudos to them, but I think I’d just start leaving body parts on the race course!

    1. That’s interesting Judith and thank you for sharing. I’ve always found that races as training runs have been so productive for me personally. That being said, everyone is different. I think the same thing about people who can run multiple marathons a year. Awesome for them, but not something I could see myself doing.

  18. This is slightly different than your question, but what about running and racing vs. running and not racing. I love to run and since HS XC had not raced in 15 years. I did recently and hated it. I hated people being around me. Hated all the cutesy costumes. Disliked how commercial it was. Maybe I’m longing for the trails again. Am I normal to just want to train, but not race? I question myself sometimes. Guess I’m still on the search for my balance.

    1. Erika, this is why I only do small local races most of the time…the atmosphere on local races and particularly local trail races is FANTASTIC. My Husband enjoys them more also as a spectator as the people are friendly and lovely. I also like that they always have tonnes of cheap cake at the end (although its my son eating the cake more than me). One race you even got champagne given to you at the was a tough course though. I would never do the big races – I always stick to the very small ones as the atmosphere is what I love about running and competing.

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