Racing vs. Running

I read a post the other day by Hollie over at FueledByLOLZ the other day that really got me thinking about how y’all must perceive my insanity when you read some of my posts. Hollie is a very fast funner who sometimes wins races (I know, how rude!) and trains and races the way conventional wisdom says you’re supposed to, which means planning your training so that you peak on race day and you can run your best time. She also has an off season where she runs very little to give her body time to recover. She mentions in her post that if you follow a lot of blogs and social media, it becomes really easy to believe that you’re in the minority if you train like that, since a lot of bloggers (myself included) run a ton of races, and it seems like we never take a break.

So, that made me wonder what you all feel like when you read my blog and see how many races I do. I’m horrified to think that some of you feel bad if you don’t recover as quickly as you think I do (“think” being the operative word) or can’t race multiple times in a year (at any distance) without getting injured. To make myself you all feel better, I thought I’d take a little bit of time to talk about different approaches to running and racing and why I’m able to run a lot of marathons.

The conventional approach to running and racing basically says that you follow a training plan (say 12-16 weeks for a marathon) that is designed to help you peak on race day so you run your fastest possible time. The training plan would generally include some speedwork, including intervals and tempo runs, some easy runs, and the all-important long run. Then, you take plenty of time off – lots of experts recommend one day per mile raced – and slowly ease back into another training plan. For a normal person, this would equate to about 2 marathons a year or maybe 3 half marathons. This system allows your body plenty of time to recover from the hard efforts of training and racing and theoretically prevents injury, although plenty of people get injured during training.


Currently, there are a growing number of people moving away from this conventional model – lots of bloggers, the Marathon Maniacs, and plenty of other clubs are emphasizing running a lot of races in a short amount of time. It can be easy to get caught up in the hype and charge a bazillion dollars on your credit card buying races and flights because you’ve got a serious case of FOMO…not that I would know anything about that.

You might think that I am one of the people who has moved away from the conventional model, and in a way, obviously, you’d be right. At the end of this year, I will have run 15 marathons, 1 ultra marathon, 2 half marathons, a 10k, and probably a 5k or two in 2013, so clearly, that is more than 2. However, I don’t race the vast majority of those. By “race,” I mean to give an event my full effort. In fact, if you break it down, I will have raced 3 marathons (Wisconsin, Vermont City, and Kiawah), 2 half marathons (Divas and Governor’s Cup) and one 10k (Colonial Cup - which I didn’t even really intend to race).  That means that I used the other 13 marathons as fun training runs in which people gave me a medal at the end, because really, why run 20 miles in your neighborhood when you can do it in a new city and be rewarded when you’re done?


So, what’s the difference between running a marathon and racing one? Well, obviously speed is a part of it. As you might have noticed from the race reports that I posted above, there are not a whole lot of pictures, not a whole lot of conversation, and sadly, no beer stops. Also, they aren’t very fun. For me, racing is a very mental game, and it is exhausting. I focus really, really hard when I’m shooting for a particular goal time, and in addition to running at a pace that is faster than I truly find comfortable, my brain also works in a different way. I’m definitely more tired and require more recovery after a race than after a marathon that I simply complete.

I’ll be the first to tell you that I got really lucky when it comes to how I recover from any run, whether it’s a race or not. I almost never get sore, even after giving a race a really hard effort. God didn’t gift me in the area of speed, but I like to think he did me a favor by making sure that at least I don’t get sore very often. Working with my coach, Justin Gillette, we treat most of my marathons as training runs. Many times I have a goal for them (just not a 100% effort goal), but sometimes they really just are for fun. That means that my recovery time is virtually zero and I can pick my training back up the following week with little interruption. If I race a marathon or a half marathon, my training is appropriately scaled back for at least a week afterwards, and sometimes more depending on how I feel.


That being said, I know that this is not normal at all. I have friends who are far more talented runners than me who get sore after almost every run, even if it’s just an easy 5 miles. I used to have some soreness after even easy marathons, but now I have basically none. The fact of the matter is that just like a 10 mile run will make you sore if you have never run that far before, a marathon will do that if you are not used to running that distance or if you run it really hard. My body is just as used to running an easy marathon as your body might be to running an easy 5.  It took a long time to get to that point, of course.

What I’m trying to say is that there is no right or wrong way to set your race schedule because it all depends on what your goals are and what you’re hoping to achieve. Don’t compare yourself to other people. The vast majority of people who run many races each year are not giving each event their full effort or anything even close. If you’re looking to qualify for Boston and peak on a specific day, you probably shouldn’t run 16 marathons in a year (by the way, in case you think I’m impressed with myself for that number, which I’m not, my friend J.C. has run 50 so far this year. Yeah. Wrap your mind around that.). I am not trying to qualify for Boston. I’m trying to get a bit faster while still doing what I love the most, which is seeing new places, running with my friends, stopping for beer during marathons, and getting that sense of accomplishment when I cross the finish line and have a medal put around my neck. It’s that simple.


So please don’t feel bad if you don’t run as much as I do or don’t recover the same way. The best thing about running is that it’s an individual sport that can be completely customized to meet each person’s goals and preferences. Just like I couldn’t stand the idea of only running a couple marathons a year and racing them both (and probably being miserable the whole time), there are a lot of people out there who can’t fathom the idea of not giving a race their 100% best effort. I totally understand both sides of the argument. So figure out what you love about running and get your ass off the couch. After all, isn’t that what really matters in the first place?

LEAVE A COMMENT: What’s your preferred racing style? Do you like to do a lot of races at an easy effort or do you train for one or two each year in order to peak at those events? Or are you like me and try and find a mix of both?

40 thoughts on “Racing vs. Running

  1. Patty

    Well said!! I agree 100%. It all depends on what you want to achieve.

  2. One of the reasons that I really enjoy reading your blog is that you race a lot (obviously) but you race and run smartly. Your goal is to finish 50 marathons and you are well on your way there. I see so many people who make that umbrella goal of multiple marathons in a year and whine and complain when they don’t do well or PR every single one.

    1. trex

      I think that’s a really good point. It’s important for people to understand the effects that running a lot of marathons/races can have on your body and how it can affect your goals. It would be silly of me to say I want to run 20 marathons in a year and expect to PR or do well in all of them, but some people do!

  3. james

    Well said. I too seem to recover quickly and as long as I am injury free, don’t get too sore.

    1. trex

      Aren’t we lucky?!

  4. Hollee

    I figured I was just old!! Ha ha!! If you think about all those ultra runners, they run a ton of training miles and some of them on hearty terrain. I just ran a 20 mile race that I didn’t train for and was a little sore after bit ran a hard 6 today and I feel much worse now.

    I find it amazing that people run as much as they do. I love it even more that you genuinely love just being out there and having fun with it. You inspire me to not be afraid to do more without too much fear of injury. I picked up cycling recently and I really enjoy running in the morning and meeting up with my husband and friends for a “bike & beer” every Tuesday. I once ran 12 and biked 20 and was not at all sore. I’m 44 and having the time of my life – EXERCIZING!!!

    I thank you for putting this out there because at times it does seem quite insane!! :)

    1. trex

      That is great, Hollee! Bike and Beer sounds super fun, although I’m enough of a disaster with clip in pedals sober. I think it’s important to use the cues your body is giving you to make sure you don’t get injured, but I think people can generally do more than they think they can if they just go about it in a more relaxed way.

  5. Ashley S.

    So I tried a conventional 16-week training plan for Yukon Do It Marathon at the end of Dec….and I lasted exactly 5 weeks before I got plantar fasciitis. I’ve since become the elliptical’s BFF because I can at least do that for cardio. I crank up the incline thought so that I’ll feel better about myself. This is the first time I tried a conventional training plan (usually my decisions are spur of the moment) and I’m thinking it will be my last. Thanks for listening to my rant.

    1. trex

      I hear you, girl! So many people get injured on those plans. Not to say that there isn’t validity in them, I just don’t think the one-size-fits-all approach works as often as we’d hope. And hey, as long as you’re cranking up the incline/resistance on that elliptical, I won’t judge you. PF sucks!

  6. Jen G

    I’ve found that a conventional training plan–with personalized adjustments– works great for me when I’m wanting a PR. However, on Thanksgiving I ran my 5th 1/2 marathon, but it was the first one I ran with no expectation for a PR. I had had a fantastic, 9 minute PR 4 weeks earlier, and knew I wasn’t recovered enough to “race”. I still had a great endurance run, with a nice reward at the end. It’s the best of both worlds.

    1. trex

      Absolutely, Jen! That’s pretty much what I’m doing now. Working with my coach makes it easy for me to get tougher workouts in without having to stick to just a plan I find online that may or may not work for me and my body. I love racing sometimes and just running for fun sometimes!

  7. Sue colgan-borror

    Whenever I run a marathon , I replay a wonderful youtube video called “The Day After The Marathon”.. A British production, you know its gonna be a tad bit funny!! Yup, after watching numerous people limp along, trying to catch a bus, trying to put on their pants and looking up at a flight of stairs like its Everest… These words come up.. “The only part of your body thats thanking you today….is your heart”. Fast, slow, racing, running, enjoying the great outdoors doing what we love… Yup.. All of our hearts are thanking us!!!

    1. trex

      Ohhh I love that video!

  8. Love this. Definitely a good reminder for me, which I need every now and then. 2013 was my first year running races, so I’m still learning how to race v. run them for fun. The perfectionist in me wants to get faster with each race, but the logical side recognizes that the races I just go out for fun are the ones I enjoy the most. Since running is something I love/do for fun, that’s how I want most of my races to be. Something to keep working on in 2014, especially as I have 3 fulls planned :)

    1. trex

      I can definitely appreciate that! When I first started, I wanted to go out and PR every race and I actually expected to! It’s realistic to expect steady improvement when you first start racing, but the fact of the matter is that some days you’re just not going to feel great! Running for fun, especially on days like that, is awesome :) Which fulls are you doing?

  9. I want to say something insightful and witty, but honestly I’m watching Nene and Ron Swanson over and over again via animated gif. And again. And again.

    1. trex

      I’m a master of GIFs.

  10. This year I decided to try the run a lot of races approach and I love it. I am not going back to my old way. Placing or winning a race is not realistic for me currently, but I have noticed significant gains in my results by focusing on several races. It helps keep me off of my ass and hitting the pavement.

    1. trex

      I’m in the same boat, Kyle! I honestly don’t know if I have the discipline to stick to a training plan without fun races along the way. I’ve been training for Kiawah since October and I’d get so sad if I hadn’t done Dublin and Route 66 plus the half marathon along the way!

  11. Jocelyn

    Love it! I have a half marathon at the end of the month. Due to a new job and being able to train like I wanted I’m just going to enjoy the moment and just finish. I’m okay with not PRing this one. You have so much fun at your races I’m going to do the same! There are so many to run!

    1. trex

      Fantastic, Jocelyn! I hope you have a great time. Harness your inner T-Rex :)

  12. So true! I don’t like “racing” either. My goal is to have fun and feel good afterwards. Some days I run faster and am more focused, but I do better to just let those day happen spontaneously than to try and create them.

    1. trex

      That’s exactly what I try and do, Wendy! If I feel good, go for it. If not, just have fun. Are you doing the Three Countries Marathon in Germany/Switzerland/Austria on Oct 5th?

  13. Well said!
    I have never not raced a race, partly because I hate to put money on the line and not at least try for a PR. I also love racing for some reason, and it gives me something to train for, so I race as much as I feel that I can get away with, without getting injured or hurting my performance. Over the past year, I have raced 6 half marathons, one 15 miler, 1 marathon, and 8 shorter races. My training varies widely, depending on how much energy I have, and how much time I have. Also, I’ve been known to develop restless leg if I take too many days off in a row, and that is so awfully uncomfortable, I will make time for a run just to make sure it doesn’t happen. The idea of taking a day off for every mile raced is preposterous to me, but I understand that some people need it.

    1. trex

      I can totally appreciate that! Races ARE expensive, and I definitely understand wanting to give it your best shot while you’re out there! I have a lot of friends that feel that way. Clearly, whatever you’re doing is working! :)

  14. I used to only sign up for races if I was going to race them but now that I work at a running store I get to do a bunch of races for free! They are all on Sunday, which coincide with my long runs. So lately I get friends to sing up, I run to the races, run the race with them, and then run a round about way home to hit my long run miles. It makes my long runs a boat load more fun than just running by myself! I haven’t attempted to race any of the short ones yet because I am training for my first marathon now. Once that comes and goes in March I plan on running all the Pacers races, choosing to get speedy for some, and then just relaxing with my running!

    1. trex

      That is the perfect way to get long runs done! I love mixing races in with them. It makes it so much more fun!

  15. Wait – is this all just one giant humble-brag?!? :D Just kidding – totally get what you are saying.

    I am also very fortunate that I have very quick recovery and extremely forgiving joints. I really had no idea until last year when I joined the online/public running community and started talking to others. ‘So how long you been running?’ Um, about 25 years. ‘What sorts of injuries have you had?’ Um, none.

    But this year as I started thinking about really pushing my pace while also doing whatever distances I felt like … I started getting concerned about injury, and realized I needed to prioritize my goals.

    My #1 goal is to be able to get up tomorrow and run my daily 6-10 miles.

    Everything else is secondary – pacing, racing, whatever.

    But I have definitely found I love going out and racing with others (not *against* them, but *with* them) – so that is a priority. And one of my winter goals is to do a ‘run with purpose’ (tempo, speedwork, form, whatever) once a week – last winter I did a long ‘streak’ that accomplished nothing. So I would like to come out of this winter stronger.

    Another winter goal is to be in ‘hey wanna run a half-marathon tomorrow?’ shape at all times, with the expectation of decent results – and I am pretty much there, running one in early November for a 2-minute PR at an easy pace that allowed me to get up the next day and run just like a normal weekend run (heck, I did 14.5mi yesterday just for fun).

    Don’t worry about how you are perceived – you explain yourself all the time, and I think you ALWAYS put things in proper context and so on.

    The problem is that people need to realize that ‘what works for me, works for me’. In other words, just because T-Rex, or Mike, or anyone else can do something doesn’t mean that someone else can also do it. None of us are the same.

    1. trex

      I love “wanna run a half-marathon tomorrow” shape! There is no better feeling in the world than knowing that one of your running buddies can call you up and ask you to run and you don’t have to ask “how far?” first because you know you can handle it!

      It can be hard to prioritize your goals at first. And honestly, I think it’s ok if your priorities shift over time too, as long as you’re taking care of your body. That’s the part people have a tendency to forget about sometimes! And thanks for validating the fact that I’m not doing a winter streak. That makes me feel better about my life!

      I do always worry about making sure I put things in the proper context and making sure people understand where I’m coming from. I was hoping it wasn’t so obvious :)

  16. i enjoy your race reports because you’re so detailed and i can really get the sense of the course and atmosphere. i am always adding races to my bucket list and some are strictly based on your race report. i love reading everyone’s race reports because it helps me decide what will be fun for me. i give my 100% when i race and while (at the time) i hate it… i feel the greatest sense of accomplishment when i’m finished especially if i can PR. my goal is always to PR. honestly, i don’t think i could run an event that i paid for and not race it… lol!

    1. trex

      Thanks so much, Nikki! Not sure if you saw on my Facebook page, but I’m trying to collect a list of races that people have signed up for or want to sign up for because of my reports. Which ones are on your bucket list?

      I totally understand what you mean. I think for a lot of people, the PR is the fun part! For me, it can be, but sometimes it’s not.

  17. Well said. I love that you explain your racing/ running philosophy clearly; it’s very easy to get caught up reading blogs that are all about doing lots and lots of races. What works for one person with one particular physiology isn’t necessarily going to work for a completely different person! I do quite a few races, but they’re a huge mix of distances, and some are for fun while others are specifically to hit particular time goals.

    1. trex

      Thanks, Grace! It is really easy to think everyone is doing all these races. Some people are and some aren’t! I just don’t want anyone to get hurt or lose their love of running while trying to emulate someone else.

  18. in_fullswing

    Yay for your post! I’ve been told by a friend that I’m not a runner because I “don’t take it seriously to win.” Okkkk, crazy people! Can’t I just run with my dog a couple miles and stop 17 times for her pee breaks, call it a run and drink a beer? GOSH.

    1. trex

      Well geeze, I’m definitely not a runner then! #yourfriendsucks

  19. Since I’m only one marathon into my journey, I’m not sure what my style is yet. Right now I am training to PR a half in Feb and next (I think) will be running a 50k in June. I like getting goals, so I think I’m more of a 2-3 per year kind of girl, but would have ZERO problem running for fun and beer!
    I’m also in the “I don’t get sore” freak of nature club. I mean, I felt like I had ran after my full, but I was also going up and down stairs without problem (albeit slower than normal).
    It’s always a good reminder not to compare ourselves to others – especially since running numerous races is becoming trendy <– I HATE to use that word, though!

    PS – It was your fun approach to running that convinced me to sign up for a full. I realized that I could just do it and it would be okay.

    1. trex

      Running a lot of races is becoming trendy. I’d like to think of myself as a trendsetter, but not if a bunch of people get hurt. Hooray for the no-soreness-freaks of nature club!

      And I’m seriously so glad that you decided to do a full. It really was ok after all, right? Told you :)

  20. Eric

    I typically “race” my races, although there have been some that I would just “run”: 5k’s that I’d do almost immediately after a long run, and a 10-mile race the day after I did a 15 mile training run. Funny story about that one: I decided to sign up because a “fast” co-worker who hadn’t been running much recently wanted me to help her make sure she’d finish. She wound up taking off faster than I wanted to go at the start, so I let her run with her other friends, and wound up catching up with someone in my running club who wanted a pacer in the 9-10 minute/mile range. I caught up with her around mile 4, we chatted about races, and finished with a 9:24/mile pace — so that was a win!

    Last week, I raced a half marathon on Thanksgiving, then did another on Sunday. I had an 8-minute PR on Thanksgiving, and planned to take the second one “easy”. Problem is, I don’t slow down very well :) So I ran the second one only three minutes slower than the first. Took Monday off, ran Tuesday, and felt a little sore — but was more sore on Wednesday. Trying to take it easy now, because I have a 20-mile run tomorrow, and my full marathon three weeks from Sunday.

    1. trex

      I love when I’m doing a race with someone and they take off a lot faster and I catch them later on :) So satisfying! Which marathon are you doing? Jacksonville Bank, or did I make that up?

      1. Eric

        I didn’t try to catch up to her, because I felt bad about not finding the other runner from my club beforehand ;) I was glad I caught up with her!

        It is the Jax Bank, you weren’t making it up! Should be a good course for a first full marathon, I’m hoping the weather cooperates! Right now it looks like it shouldn’t be too cold, or too hot…

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