Racing or running?

Running summary for w/c 13th February
Miles: 13.2
Cross training: Kettlebell, strength training, swimming

First things first: confession time. I did not run at all last weekend. I missed my parkrun and my long run by spending Saturday at a day school (learning about New Unionism), Saturday night catching up with friends in the pub, and Sunday nursing a hangover. I’ve been very disciplined with my training this year and so I decided that missing one weekend’s training wasn’t quite the end of the world.

Sitting in the pub and swapping stories though, I inevitably spent some of the weekend thinking and talking about running, or more specifically how I explain a hobby like running to non-runners.

Over the last 6 months or so as I have begun running more regularly more and more of my conversations include the following exchange (or something along these lines at least):

Me: “Sorry, I can’t, I’ve got to go running.”
Friend: “Can’t you just give it a miss?”
Me: “Nope. I’m training for a race.”
Friend: “A race? Are you that good?”
Me: “Oh no, I’m pretty average. I mostly just try to stay our of last place.”
Friend: “So why are you bothering?”

To be fair to my friends it’s a pretty reasonable question to ask. After all, why would I race if I knew I wasn’t going to win? Most people understand that self-improvment, beating personal records, and taking on new challenges can be just as valuable acheivements as winning a race, but if I’m not trying to get a place on the podium should I really be referring to big event type runs as races?

Recently parkrun changed the name of one of its voluteer roles from ‘race director’ to ‘run director’ in the hope of emphasising their ethos of making parkrun as inclusive as possible. The organisers decided that they did not want to promote the volunteer-run, free, 5K events as competitive – after all parkrun is supposed to be about “you against the clock”, not you against the other runners.

So how healthy is the attitude of racing amongst middle-of-the-field runners like me? I think that if I trained for a ‘run’, then the measure of success would be simply crossing the finish line and completing the run. I presonally like the feeling of competition though, picking off other runners over the course of the run, or chasing after particular competitors. I like training for a ‘race’, knowing that there is always room for improvement. I don’t want to just run the distance – I want to run it well.

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