Why do you race?

Do you train to race? Or, do you race to train? These are very different approaches to training and racing and there is no right or wrong answer. At the outset, the motivations for each seem similar, but I believe, there is an inherent difference.

Training to race

I have been a competitive athlete for 35 years (gasp, that is a really long time). My early life revolved around achieving time standards for various swim meets such as junior nationals, senior nationals and the Olympic Trials. My coaches bred the team to race and all of our training was centered on accomplishing whatever goals we set out for ourselves. Certainly, we swam until our arms were ready to fall off, but the ultimate prize was time improvements at the swim meets.

It is tough to break habits, and as I morphed into a triathlete and now a runner, my training is still centered on achieving racing goals. Don’t get me wrong, I love to train. But, ultimately, I love racing more. My training is systematic and well thought out months in advance with an eye on whatever races are on the horizon. I am extremely competitive and I like to throw down on the race course. Even after so many years, I am disappointed when goals are not met and I go back to the training to do better the next time.

Racing to train

This past weekend I ran the Liberty 4 miler in Denver. At the finish line, I spoke with a competitor. This was our conversation.

Runner guy: I have not missed a day of running since November of 2009!

JZ: Really? I am not impressed. In fact, I think that is stupid.

Runner guy: Well, I have run 3 half marathons and 2 marathons this year and even I PR’ed the marathon.

JZ: Maybe you would have gone even faster had you taken a day off. I really do not understand this whole business of streaking.

Runner guy: I have it all worked out. Have you heard about the 1 day hard 3 day easy plan? That’s what I do. And, it is hard to take a day off now. I have to plan something really special.

I later apologized to Runner guy for my unabashed candor (sometimes words just come out of my mouth and I have no control. I think it is hereditary, my mother does the same thing.). Clearly, though, this person races to train. After I thought about our brief exchange, I realized that his motivation, while not congruent with my own, is really ok. Training is his passion and racing is secondary.

Over the years, I have encountered athletes who race to train. Their training strategy is very different from those who train to race. The workouts tend to be more haphazard without clear goals. Often, the workouts are more social or tend to be race-like. Easy rides turn into long rides. Days off turn into a smash-fest with the group. While some race goals may be met, often they are not because the training was not tailored to the racing.

The reasons are for training and racing are different for everyone. If it is done with enthusiasm and enjoyment, that is what truly matters.

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6 Responses

  1. bdcinla@aol.com says:

    I streaked 365 days of running when I was younger. I never ran as fast as I did that year again. I remember taking the 366th day off and wondered how my life would have been different had I not taken that day off. I know people that have gone 11 years without missing a day!!! I think that if you streak properly, you can avoid injury because your mindset is always "don't do too much today that wont allow me to run the next day."

  2. Terry Miller says:

    Saw a "Frazz" comic a while back that discussed that very issue. Conclusion: We race and train to buy gear!

  3. Tina Z says:

    I would love to train to race 100% of the time. But the rest of my life gets in the way, and sometimes I have to settle for racing to train.

  4. SixTwoThree says:

    Well, now that you've explained it, I definitely train to race. And when I had to skip a race due to a knee injury, I was delighted to talk with your mom in the stands at Oceanside. I guess I like the unabashed candor 😉

  5. Bob Mitera says:

    Yup… it's that time of year when people think that "more is better" and group rides = throw the power/HR plans into the wind. I've been "dropped" on training rides/runs more than there are days in a year. Yet, on race day seem to do ok.

  6. Joanna Zeiger says:

    SixTwoThree, my mom is the best tri supporter out there! Glad you had a nice conversation.

    Bob, I've been dropped many a time too!