Being A Runner Doesn’t Mean That You Have To Race

A huge part of being a runner is having people ask what race you are training for. However, you can still be a runner without racing.

Photo provided by Christine Yu
Photo provided by Christine Yu

The 10 of us sat around the table on the back porch, the first night of our long weekend getaway. The fall foliage was just starting to reveal its colors across the hills and the crisp Vermont air swirled around us—the kind of breeze that makes you tuck your chin into your collar and wrap your arms around yourself just a little tighter.

We laughed and talked about families, work, kids and—of course—running, racing and the half marathon we were running together at the end of the weekend.

“What’s next for everyone? What’s your big goal?”

One by one, my friends chimed in on the goals they strived for—faster times and paces, target races and distances on the horizon, their upcoming race calendar for 2017. They talked about how big goals can motivate you, push you to your upper limits and teach you to believe in yourself.

As it inched closer to my turn, I felt a lump in my throat. I’m often intimidated in the company of these talented running friends. But this time, it wasn’t because I was afraid I couldn’t keep pace with them. It was because I didn’t have a big race, time goal or distance to conquer. I don’t dream big in the same way as my friends. Does that make me less of a runner?

In a world of PR-chasers and avid racers, it can feel like being a runner is synonymous with running races and the desire to break time barriers. I often feel like the only one who doesn’t have a half marathon or even a fun 5K lined up for the weekend and sometimes, I shrink from calling myself a runner. After all, it’s assumed that if you’re a runner you must be training for something. And the question “What are you training for?” is often the first question I’m asked if I run into a friend in the park, if I tell someone my weekend includes a long run or if I post about running on social media or my blog. Why else would I be out there?

That was the awkward situation I found myself in earlier this spring. After a year of injury, I felt like I was starting over from scratch so I embarked on a deliberate plan to rebuild my running base. After a month or two, when I started to get bored with the same easy five or six mile runs, I wanted my workouts to have more purpose.

For 10 weeks, I followed a training plan religiously. That meant hill repeats, tempo miles and long runs—even though I didn’t have a race in mind. From the outside it looked like I was training to achieve a specific goal. And I was. It just wasn’t a race. I was training to run strong, healthy and, hopefully, for many years to come.

Frankly, I don’t love racing. The added expense, logistical challenge of coordinating with my family, the stress and the crowds — it doesn’t always feel worth it to me when really, all I want to do it go out and run.

What I do love is the practice of running. And yes, running is a practice. You get up and out the door, day after day. You show up and do the work on good days and bad days. You build your physical and mental muscles.

Even when I decided to run a half marathon with my friends that weekend October, I relished the process of training. The actual outcome of the race wasn’t important and I carried few expectations with me into race day. And when you let go of specific outcomes, the transformation and growth that many of us turn to running to find just happens naturally.

As a process-oriented runner in a result-oriented world, it can feel like my way of running is valued less because I’m not checking off all the typical milestones of success. But I’m learning that it doesn’t matter. Or maybe I’m just becoming more comfortable in my own skin and owning the reasons why I do run.

Choosing to not run races doesn’t make you less of a runner just like choosing to run more races doesn’t make you more of a runner. What makes us runners is that fact that we lace up our shoes and show up—and maybe it’s one day a week or maybe it’s seven days a week. But in the end, what matters is that we love to run.