The Art of Not Racing: Consider the Fun Run

This blog is supposed to be a space where readers can find a sense of encouragement. Workout! Eat healthily! Love your body! Screw stress! It’s all part of the love yourself ethos that I want — and actively try — to create.

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When I decided that I wanted to post something on the benefits of not racing, I figured the subject matter might be too negative. Let me first be clear; I am not putting down racing at all. In fact, last year, I participated in four half marathons and loved each one more than the next. The courses. The amenities. The camaraderie. The early morning rituals. There really is something special about races.

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Then a few weeks ago, a friend asked me whether I wanted to run a race of half marathon distance in Central Park. My almost instinctive apprehensions were squashed by the fact that this half marathon, unlike most 13.1-mile races that take place in Central Park, only involved one Harlem Hill ascent. The last leg of the race would be a third lap around the lower loop to make up for the distance. Easy, right?

Over the last few months, I’ve had good days and bad. But despite my unmistakeable desire to sign up, I knew that the race my friend had proposed simply wasn’t in the cards. Yet I still find myself rationalizing and asking, “What if?

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I guess what I really want to put out there is that racing doesn’t qualify you as a runner. I can think of countless reasons to motivate myself on a daily basis to get outside and run; and when it comes down to it, that reason doesn’t have to involve training or the dread of a DNF.

My own decision to stop racing – at least, for now – didn’t come easily. Last year, I accomplished more than I ever thought I could by running a half marathon during practically every season (Queens in summer, Manhattan in winter, More/Fitness in spring, and Philadelphia in fall).

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It was an incredibly fun year. Some races were with family, some with friends, some by my lonesome and still others in snow. I listened to full albums. I made awesome playlists. I even ran one half marathon without music at all — and surprised myself while doing it.

I think the part that made last year so enjoyable was the fact that I didn’t plan any of the races I wound up signing up for (save for the first one in Queens). One of the most memorable races of 2012 was the one I signed up for on a whim, just because I knew I was in proper shape for it. The More/Fitness Half consists of two loops in Central Park in April, just as the weather begins to warm. I dry-heaved at the finish line, but I also bagged myself a shiny PR. Philly wasn’t so bad either. My cousin and I signed up for that one only hours after her birthday dinner (so you can imagine how sober and clear-headed we were).

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I forbade myself from races just after the Philly race. That’s when the aches and pains began. Apparently, even a responsible runner – doing yoga and strength training to round off my routine – isn’t immune to the treachery of long distance.

Those of you who have followed my adventures thus far know that, after the Philadelphia Rock ‘n’ Roll Half in September, I made a serious decision to scale back my routine. That shin thing I was dealing with – it’s mostly healed now. At times, I’ll feel it. Most of the time I don’t. But to get to this point, I’ve capped off my daily runs at, for the most part, 5 miles max. At 6, I feel it — whatever “it” is. In short, there’s no way I could run a half tomorrow in what I consider to be safe circumstances — or a speedy one at that.

So, that’s where I am today. Happily slow. Satisfied with short. Fine with gray suits.

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Every time I head out for a run, I wonder when I’ll sign up for another race. I wish I had an answer; I feel as though I should, but I know that I just don’t.

One of the most difficult realizations I’ve come to has hit me a few times in recent months. Oftentimes, on an early morning run, I recognized fatigue that I’d have never experienced at this time last year.

“Really, body? 3 miles?” is a typical conversation I’ll have with myself as I stop to stretch my achy calves.

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This may not sound encouraging. I know I am certainly not encouraged. But I think that during moments like these, it’s important to remember our running roots.

I didn’t start running for the sole purpose of racing. I never dreamed of speed or distance or awesome t-shirts and bibs (they are, after all, trophies of our accomplishments – but not requirements of the game).

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For now, I’ve learned to embrace (well, re-embrace) the fun run — the art of not racing. I’m not sure how long it’ll last. I don’t know how long it has to. I just know that when I’m ready — whenever that may be — I’ll sign up, I’ll gear up, I’ll wake up, and I’ll toe that start line (um, from a faraway distance — maybe gate 7?) once again.

  • How many races do you run in a year?
  • What’s the longest period of time you’ve taken off between races?
  • Are you a runner who just runs for the sake of running? (Ignore the three uses of the word “run.”) Let me know, because I’d love to hear from you!
  • Did you start running to race in the first place?
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17 thoughts on “The Art of Not Racing: Consider the Fun Run

  1. I usually only run 2-3 races a year, which I guess is sort of a lot, but not really compared to some of my running friends! Due to an injury last year, I had the joy of deferring my entry to the Richmond marathon… and went anyways, just to cheer! It was the first time I’d watched my friends race without running with them and it was surprisingly really really fun. Good point — racing doesn’t make you a runner.

    • 2-3 seems like a fair amount. I think my problem is that, when I sign up for a race, it’s usually 10 milers or more. I need to start thinking and embracing shorter ones, I think.

  2. Racing has always been tricky for me. I ran casually for about 3 years before I got the courage to sign up for my first 5k. I was always so ashamed of being slow! I still have to deal with those fears all the time, but racing is such a blast that it (usually) outweighs the anxiety. I have my first half marathon on Sunday and I’m pumped! Honestly, I’ll be proud of myself whatever my finish time is (It’s looking like something around 2:15) but now I actually have to practice what I’m telling myself and not get caught up on time goals! Eek!

    • I was a casual runner for so long too! Nearly 5 years before any races – and because I’m slow at that. SO MUCH LUCK on your first half. You’re going to rock it.

  3. What a great post, Stacy! So true – racing does not make you a runner. Running makes you a runner. I’m taking a racing break (aside from a few 5Ks) right now because most of my weekends are consumed with Yoga Teacher Training. I’m running at least three times a week, but just for fun and because it makes me (and my doggie running partner) feel good. I am just happier when I’m running. BUT – I do have my eyes on another half late this year…we’ll see :).

    I hope your shin injury gets better soon. Rest is surely the best thing for it.

    • Thank you! I totally agree – and yes, I will always have my eyes on a race. It’s just whether or not I sign up for it 🙂 That said, I wish I had a dog to partner up with and run!

  4. I really love that even though everything under the sun is blocked at work.. that your blog isn’t!! what a great entry today 🙂
    I totally agree that it doesn’t have to be about a race. I mean, if thats the only way you are motivated, cool, have at it, but running isn’t all about THAT. I was running for almost a year before I even considered it. I love the rush, but it is great to just run for me, too.
    I love reading because I think it would be awesome to have a city to run in like you do. I live in a town where sometimes it seems the options are slim as to where I can run. 🙂 have a great weekend!

  5. I first started running because I wanted to complete a 5K race. Having a deadline and a specific goal is the only thing that kept me from quitting when running was SO hard at first. Now (3 years later) I still like to schedule races to keep myself motivated. Usually 2-3 bigger races per year, and a few smaller ones in between. But some of them are fun runs, with friends or family.

  6. I have three half marathons on the calendar this spring after two this fall/winter, but I’m taking a month off after that before I start marathon training. I’ll still run, but it’ll be all about when/where I want to with no plans for a month. I haven’t felt any burnout yet but I really want to avoid the possibility of that happening!

  7. I went through a period like this after high school cross country. I hated the little races and would dread the meets each week. When I went to college I didn’t do any racing and played lacrosse. Now, I found myself bored and needed something to motivate me so I continuously register for races to always have something to train for.

  8. Last year was my first year getting back into running since high school and I ran one 12k and completed my first triathlon. This year I have 5 races planned, two local 10k, a 12k and 2 half marathons. I hope it will give me something to work towards besides weight loss. We’ll see!

  9. Love reading your stories and glad to hear the “run for fun” is working it’s way back into your life 🙂 I don’t run marathons, or even half marathons… I’ve done a few 5kms, but really just love running for the little “escape from the world” it can provide… It’s a great time to gather your thoughts, or work through emmotional troubles and just enjoy the feeling of being alive 🙂 Glitter and all, keep smiling…

    • Thanks! Love when I find others who can relate — though I must say, last year’s raceathon was kind of fun. I am nevertheless enjoying this thing called freedom.

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