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.

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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 (WisconsinVermont 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?

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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.

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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.

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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?

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