To Race or Not to Race

To Race or Not to Race

Lisa Jhung
Writer and Author of Running That Doesn't Suck: How To Love Running (Even If You Think You Hate It)
February 1, 2024

There’s a common misconception that all runners race, or that someone has to race to be considered a runner. People who don’t run tend to ask anyone who does run if they run marathons or what they’re training for.

And then there’s the whole subset of people who think all races, of all lengths, are called “marathons.”

The thing is, you don’t have to ever enter a running race of any length to be considered a runner. Maybe competition isn’t your thing. Or maybe you just don’t like the idea of spending money on race entries, running among crowds, or being timed.

Though completing a race can give you a sense of accomplishment (and, it should!), completing races (or a lack of races completed) doesn’t define you. What makes you a runner is running, or run-walking, at whatever pace or frequency works for you, start and finish line or not.

There is a lot to be said for running for the sole purpose of running without having a race in sight. You may be running for mental sanity, for alone time, or for time to connect with friends/running buddies. You may be running because it physically feels good, even when it feels bad. (Runners, you know what I mean.)  You may run because your dog needs the exercise, which gives you the added bonus of getting some great exercise while you indulge your pooch.

And you may be running to improve your health—an outcome that certainly isn’t dependent on running a race.

All that said, races can be great motivators. Having a race on the horizon can create excitement around your running and get you out the door when you might not feel like going. Training for a race can add structure to your running week—maybe one day a week you’re doing speedwork of some sort (see “How to Get Faster” blog post here), and one day a week you’re increasing the distance of your long run.

Races can also be really fun. Signing up for a race with a friend or a group of friends, then enjoying race day like it’s a mini-party or moving parade, can be way more fun than you ever imagined running could be. And you don’t have to get caught up in your finishing time or placement, though for some, that may be part of the fun. Wherever you finish in a race, you can use your time or finishing place as added motivation and aim to improve upon that time or placement in the future…again, only if you want it to.

If you’re not sure if you like the idea of racing or not, know that there are races of all kinds out there. Here’s a little guide to help you figure out if racing sounds fun, and to help you find the right kind for you:

You want an un-timed party atmosphere:

Try races known as “Fun Runs,” like Bubble Runs or Color Runs, or other run series that blows bubbles or sprays paint at you while you run. Distances of races like this are usually 5K, and aren’t timed.

You want a timed party atmosphere:

Big races, like the Bolder Boulder 10K, Atlanta’s Peachtree Road Race (10K), and San Francisco’s Bay to Breakers 10K all have thousands of participants. Some are racing for time and placement, others are running in goofy costumes, and others are walking or walk-running and enjoying the festival-like atmosphere along the way.

You want a vacation out of it.

Races exist all over the world. Combining a vacation with a running race (often called “destination races”) can be a really great way to experience a place, and a great motivator for running. Races of all distances take place in places like Hawaii, Orlando (runDisney events), and New York City often have lodging deals associated with them.

You want to climb over stuff.

Obstacle races—like Spartan Races and Tough Mudder races—have you running in between obstacles and can give you a great sense of accomplishment. Some are timed, and some are not. Some have you crawling through mud pits and dangling over freezing water, and some send you through electric currents (for real) and up greased walls.

You want a natural experience.

Not all trail running races are ultra-marathon distance. Trail races exist from 5K distances and up, just like road running races. Trail races send you through natural areas that you might not otherwise explore on your own, with the added safety of aid stations, other runners, and medical staff on-hand.

If racing of any sort sounds fun, go for it.

And if it doesn’t, don’t.

Remember, regardless of if you race or not, you’re a runner!

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