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To Race or Not to Race?

According to Strava’s annual Year in Sport Report, almost half of American Gen Z and Millennial Strava athletes will sign up for an event to get them out of a training rut. An upcoming race can certainly put the pressure on to get you out the door, but what else might motivate you to race? Or not race? And how do you set up a good racing schedule?

Reasons to race

When considering whether or not to add a race to your schedule, consider your motivation for doing so. Knowing how and why you are motivated can increase your dedication to your training and improve your chances of meeting your goals. These reasons could include:

  • Improving your endurance to be able to run longer than you have before

  • Providing structure to your training and introducing seasons to your running year

  • Supporting charities through fundraising

  • Being an active member of a local community race

  • Setting out to explore how fast you can run a particular distance

  • Trying to run a qualifying time that gains you entrance to a particular marathon or ultramarathon

  • Aiming to win either age group or overall prizes at races

Whatever your reason, it’s important that it resonates with you and motivates you when an extra 30 minutes of sleep seems particularly appealing…

Reasons not to race

On the other hand, there are definitely seasons of life when racing is not the answer. You might be burnt out mentally or physically from a busy racing year, or returning to a base building phase so you’re ready when you start racing again. Sometimes the rest of life - work, family, friends, other obligations - swings into a particularly stressful time and your mind and body don’t need the added pressure of intense training. Increasingly, climate may play a role in deciding whether or not to race. Living in Austin, Texas, it’s certainly not appealing to run a marathon in the summer when overnight lows sometimes only dip to the 80’s. 

Setting up a racing schedule

A woman runs a relay race
Running at Austin's Zilker Relays in 2023

If you played sports in high school or college, you had a clearly defined season, with set competitions. So do professional sports. But what about the average adult working a typical job and running for fun? We get to have fun and determine our own racing schedules! Here are some ideas to get you started…

  • Create your own season! You might choose 3 or 4 races over the course of half a year that increase in distance (e.g., 5k, 10k, 10 miler, half marathon) or see how you can improve at the same distance (e.g., a 5k once a month). Many communities have challenges set up, like Austin’s Distance Challenge, that bring community and competition to the season.

  • Set a goal race. This might be a new to you distance or a distance you’ve raced before and hope to set a personal best in. 

  • Many runners also include “tune up” races of a shorter distance before their goal race. This might be a 10k a month or so prior to a half, or a half before a full marathon. 

  • Some races require you to qualify for them, the most well-known being the Boston Marathon. To get in, you have to run a marathon under a certain time to qualify. 

  • Incorporate racing into a vacation (or plan a vacation around a race!). This is one of my favorite ways to race. I love exploring a new place on foot and the vacation piece can take some of the pressure off the race (if you tend towards race anxiety like I do!).

Whatever your season, it’s important to plan your races well, particularly if doing a bit of a season, so that you have enough time for tapering and recovering after each race. Even more important, have fun!

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