Race to Win...Or Not?

Racing Zumbro 100 for my own goals, photo courtesy of Todd Rowe

Racing Zumbro 100 for my own goals, photo courtesy of Todd Rowe

Today, I’m going to tackle a mean-spirited myth.

Every so often in one of the online ultrarunning groups I belong to, a certain discussion pops up that goes something like this:

“If you’re not racing to win, you’re not racing.”

“It’s a race! If you want to run for fun, go train.”

Should you worry about this? Is racing for anything less than winning wrong?


This is what I call a bully thought because that’s what it sounds like in your head. And it’s not worth letting it bully you for several reasons.

First, you’re not violating any rules if you have a different race goal. “Racing” is defined as a “engaging in a contest of speed.” Notice this says nothing about goals or winning. I have yet to see a race where the race director has set a rule about your goals (and exactly how would this be enforced anyway?). 

Second, it’s not selfish to approach a race with a different goal. You’re not taking an entry away from someone with a more “worthy” goal. You entered or lotteried in, fair and square.

Third, it's too simplistic to cover all the grey areas, like:

- What if this is your first time at the distance? Is a goal of “finishing” wrong?

- What if you race to win but always flame out and never finish. Is that ideal?

Third, who says there's one “right” goal? When we're all standing at the starting line, there are probably as many specific goals and definitions of success as there are runners. If there is, for argument’s sake, one “right” goal, who's version gets to be right?

Last, limiting participation to only those racing to win isn't even healthy for the sport. Unless you think this should be a spectator sport (not exactly the best candidate) run only by elites and those racing to win, the more people that try this sport and fall in love with it, the better. Races and the sport itself can’t survive if no one's allowed to participate.

The most ironic part of this is that racing to win every time because you think you “have to” is a good recipe for burnout and…not winning.

So let's recap…

There are no goal police. 

You get to choose your own goal, whatever that may be. 

You don’t have to justify, explain, or get anyone’s approval. If you want to have a fun time running the race with friends or use this as a long run for a bigger race, that’s 100% your business, no one else's.

Other people can have a different opinion but it’s just that - their opinion. It doesn’t have to be yours.

So don’t let stuff like this stop or intimidate you - showing up and running to achieve your goal IS a win.

Susan Donnelly’s signature

P.S. - If you want help getting rid of the negative thoughts that hold you back and suck the joy out of racing - for good - I’ve got an opening for a 1:1 client. If you’re interested, email me here to set up a free 30-minute mini-session to try it out.

Don’t let these thoughts hold you back from your best year ever!