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Training Without Competing?

Posted by on Jun 23, 2013 | 3 Comments

I the running universe, it’s not uncommon to encounter runners that have zero interest in running races. They have no need to compete. The “training” runs fulfill whatever it is they need fulfilling, whether it be fitness, stress relief, the intrinsic joy of the physical movement, socialization… whatever.

For those that DO run races, training usually focuses on improvement when competing. They may still train for the reasons listed above, but there’s a competitive edge to their training routine. For some, the goal is to win the race. For most, the goal is self-improvement or other, more modest competitive goals.

This duality of the running world never really stuck me as odd. Some people are into racing; some are not. Different strokes.

This same duality plays out in most physical activities… and creates considerable debate. Specifically, those that DO compete usually have a difficult time understanding the motives of those that don’t compete.

When Shelly and I started getting involved in jiu jitsu training, we encountered the same duality. Some people competed. Some didn’t. For whatever reason, the “training for the sake of training” no-interest-in-competing stance struck me as strange. I had a much more difficult time accepting “sport” jiu jitsu than “competition” jiu jitsu.

Why is my perception of competition different? Is it the nature of the sport? In the combative sports, you’re pitted against one opponent. You either win or lose.

I used to wrestle back in high school. I was mediocre at best. My overall record was around 500 or so… I won about as often as I lost. I would usually beat the shitty kids and get my ass kicked by the studs. Regardless, there was always one winner and one loser. You don’t see too many wrestlers gleefully posting an “I participated in a wrestling tournament but didn’t win” picture on Facebook.

Running is different. There’s one winner and a whole slew of losers. For 99% of a typical field, losing is perfectly acceptable because we’re not competing against the eventual winner. I’ve probably run 40-50 races over the years and have never won. I’m 0-50. It’s a pretty piss-poor record, huh?

The point- it’s easier to understand the noncompetitors in running because there’s little hope of winning. Even the best of the best have a limited shelf life. Losing a race isn’t nearly as ego-damaging as losing a one-on-one sport.

Many of my readers have experience in sports other than running. I’m curious to hear other thoughts… how do you perceive the nature of competition between running and your other sports? How is it similar? Different?

Have fun with this one! 😉


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  1. Bare Lee
    June 25, 2013

    I was going to run some races this year for the first time since ninth grade. Then races became targets for loonies/terrorists, and my wife has prohibited me from participating.

    This is just as well. I had talked myself into the idea of racing after interacting with the many excellent racing folks at BRS. But it’s really not my bag, and ‘training’ with the expectation of improving a certain amount in a certain amount of time led to a few minor overuse injuries last fall.

    Since my wife’s decree a few months ago, I’m back to running by feel, exerting myself a bit on the days I feel especially good, holding back on the so-so days, and enjoying every minute of it, with no real rhyme or reason as to which days are long runs, tempo runs, hills, intervals, hard surfaces, easy surfaces, and so on.

    Still, the idea of racing remains somewhat intriguing, and I may give it a try under the following conditions:

    1. my wife lets me;
    2. it’s a small race so I’m not in the middle of a huge mass of runners;
    3. it’s a distance I routinely run anyway, requiring just a little extra effort but without too much fatigue or strain.

    Basically, I’ve gone back to the approach I’ve always had in my strength training: just run/lift, listen to your body, and let the improvements come on their own. That seems to suit me best.

    • Bare Lee
      June 25, 2013

      Opps, sorry, I didn’t really respond to your question. Oh well. Glad to see you’re still posting Jason.

  2. Franklin Chen
    June 23, 2013

    There’s chess (which I consider a sport: in the final minutes of a long 4-hour tournament game, I am often more out of breath and sweaty than during the final kick in a 5K race, and I lose weight during a game from all the energy use). At the average amateur chess tournament, most people have no chance at winning. Some even know they’ll lose most of their games, but they keep showing up, for the love of the game (I respect that; there would be no tournaments if only those who could win showed up). Among those who have little chance of winning, there are still those who are very competitive anyway, trying to beat the guy they lost to last month, or an old friend they have a rivalry with. And there are those who aren’t competitive at all.