Friday, April 20, 2018

Training vs. Racing

Recently, I remembered a question Oiselle had posed to Twitter a while back: “Do you prefer training or racing?” (Turns out I misremembered it. It was actually whether you’d rather run, race, or recover. But no matter, my inaccurate memory got me thinking.) I responded racing, but what made me consider it recently was that I’m not sure that’s true. I think I prefer training. I realized this because the training for Pittsburgh is wrapping up and I’m kind of bummed about it.

I love racing, but I also love the rhythm of training. (Which is a good thing, considering racing is only a few hours and training is a few hours every day for months.) It may seem like a monotonous routine of getting up early, scarfing down oatmeal, running, stretching, and amassing a heck of a lot of stinky laundry. But I actually love it. (Well, except for the laundry.)
Would I rather be training...

Even on the most exhausting days, I rarely wish I could run less. I always wish I had the time or energy to do more (or a body that could handle it). So when the taper comes, and with it the reduced mileage and shorter workouts, I get sad that it will be months before I’m back in that rhythm again. The race is exciting of course, but before (and after, as I recover) I’ll miss the reflective time I spend pounding the pavement, the satisfaction of a tough workout completed, the fulfilling soreness of a high-mileage week.

And of course, with less time spent running, there’s more time to agonize: am I ready? Did I do enough while I could? (Which is something I grapple with Every. Single. Season.)

On Sunday I redid the workout from a few weeks ago and, disappointingly, it went basically the same, only slightly worse. I was upset for a multitude of reasons: that I had another shot and I failed, that I sat out the 10K for no reason, but of course mostly that I didn’t get the confidence boost I needed. I expected the workout to lift a weight off my shoulders, to give me evidence that I could really do this. And truthfully maybe the weight wouldn’t have been totally lifted, but only shifted slightly, eased a bit. Instead, the weight of doubt grew a little heavier. I wasn’t sure I could carry it around for another three weeks until the race.

This week @thepacinglife posted a quote: “If the problem you’re facing can be solved with action, you don’t have a problem.” If my problem if that I want to run an Olympic Trials Qualifying time, then I know exactly what action I need to take and in three weeks I have the opportunity to take it. (Emphasizing that because we should be grateful when we have these opportunities.) The issue for me seems to be that it’s three weeks before I can take that action. I have to wait to see if I will. Like many eager, type A runners, I’d rather still be doing something that feels like I’m progressing/working towards it, still putting that metaphorical hay in that barn.

Instead all I can do these next weeks is wonder about it. I’m working on my mental game, reminding myself of all the other evidence I have from the rest of my training and racing this season. And really that is the action that I need to take now: to let my body rest while my brain wraps around the task ahead.

Still, I’d rather be working on my physical than mental game. I’d rather be training than wondering.

... or racing?
[Photo Credit: RunWashington]

But when someone asks why I run, why I put so much effort into training, I always say it’s to race. My motivation comes from trying to see what I’m capable of. I won’t know until race day and the excitement of the challenge is in the not knowing. And in putting all that hard work—physical and mental—on the line and finding out.

I guess what it really comes down to is, like many runners, I love training and I love racing.

I just hate tapering.

Which do you prefer: training or racing?

Dream big,


  1. Great post. I prefer racing so much that I incorporate it into my training way more than most people - this season almost weekly. I know I won’t (and can’t) race my best at each one, but it really is what keeps me motivated and grinding day in and day out. The training is just so hard! I’ve actually relieved to reach the 2 week taper this go around. Good luck at Pittsburgh!!

    1. Awesome, that sounds like a fun way to do it!

  2. For me, racing supplies much-needed goals and accountability. But I never feel more alive and purposeful than I do when I'm in marathon training. And unlike so many people, I love tapering! I enjoy the feeling of being fit and ready and having muscles that get stronger as they recover from the grind.

    1. Oh man, I'm going to use that mentality of my muscles getting stronger as they recover (instead of antsy!) Thanks :)