Are you a runner or a racer?  Is there a difference?  If so, then am I a runner or a racer?  Does entering races make you a racer?  Does it matter?  These are some of the questions I’ve been fielding lately, and the answers I came up with left me surprised. 

Let’s start by looking at some definitions, which I love to do.

Running as a noun is simply the act of a person or animal that runs.  As an adjective it means to proceed rapidly at the gait of a gallop.  The definition of run is to move the legs more rapidly than a walk in a way that, for an instant in each step, both feet are off the ground.  So basically running is just moving your legs fast enough that you are no longer just walking.

Racing is defined as a contest of speed, a competition to achieve superiority, and to run, move, or go swiftly.  The last part is the one that really caught my attention.  Part of the definition for racing was to run, which could lead one to believe they are one and the same, but I think that last part has to be left out in this discussion.  The important part of the definition is the part about achieving superiority.

My initial stance was that there is a difference between runners and racers.  A lot of runners never enter a race, and the vast majority of those who do enter races are there to run more than they are to race.  In any given race you may find that maybe 20% of the participants are there to try and win it (I may even be overshooting with that completely self-derived statistic).  A lot of the people at a race are there to simply finish, which makes them runners but not really racers, and those who are there to win the race are racers while still getting to be runners.  So runners might not be racers, but racers are always runners.  What about those who are there to race, but the goal is to beat their own personal best?  Are they runners or racers?  It’s about this point that things start to get really convoluted.

Maybe this whole argument needs to get put on the same shelf as the argument about whether or not running slow or fast determines whether or not you are a “real” runner?  I won’t put it there just yet because I don’t think it’s quite as ridiculous an argument.  Placing yourself in one of these categories can help dictate what type of training program you are going to need, and that is very important.  As a running coach my first question to a client typically centers on their desire to finish or finish fast.  In essence I’m asking if they want to run or if they want to race, but who are they racing?

When I was younger and competed as a runner I raced every week.  I lined up, and I raced a field of other runners to see who was fastest.  Now I go to a race, and my goal is centered on crossing the line in a certain time.  Back when I raced, I had a motto,
and I taught it to the younger runners on my teams.  The idea was always “It doesn’t matter what your time is if you cross the line first”.  To be honest I rarely ever cared what my times in races were.  I asked about my time as a curiosity, but it didn’t actually matter.  If I won the race then I went fast enough, and if I lost then I obviously did not.

Fast forward to today, and I run races, but I have no thoughts of crossing the line first.  I often laugh when I see just how many people finish in front of me.  I’m a former racer who now just runs, but is that true?  I have goals this year of running my fastest times ever: post-surgery.  So I’m a racer, right?  I’m racing myself, and I’m racing the clock so I’m a racer.

I’m hoping that by now you’ve caught onto what I’m going for, and that is that it’s sort of a blurry line.  The truth is that some out there are runners, and that’s all they want to be.  They will never enter a race, but they might run every day.  There are also
those who will enter a race, but they are there for fun, to enjoy some atmosphere, and maybe get a new shirt.  There will be some at that same race who will line up, and they will chase themselves as they try to beat a time on the clock.  There will be a select few who line up right on the starting line, and they will take off in such a flash that the majority of the field won’t even know they were there because they are there to race and potentially win the whole thing.

So does it matter which category you fall into?  I say not at all.  I personally am trying to get back to being a racer after spending a year or so just being happy with finishing.  I want to race.  I want to race and beat myself.  Maybe if I’m lucky and sign up for the right race on the right day I just might race and beat the rest of the field again someday, but if I don’t it won’t change the fact that I’m a runner:  a runner who also likes the idea of racing.

Runner or racer? It doesn’t matter as long as when you’re finished you can say you had fun.



5 responses »

  1. Algis says:

    Nice read Jimmy as always! Not long ago a friend of mine told me that someone had asked him about what his half-marathon and full marathon average times were. Although he kind of remembered the times he clocked, he really didn’t care because he was just there to run and enjoy the scenery, the comraderie, and just for the sake of having a good time. He told me that to him it really didn’t matter if he ran fast to beat a personal record (racing), or if he ran slow (running) just for the sake of enjoying the run. He simply told me, “When you run fast you GET a good time, but when you run slow you HAVE a good time”.

    I like that motto a lot!

  2. misszippy1 says:

    I’m with you here…we all love the same sport (running) whether we race or not. That should unite us, not divide us.

  3. Mom says:

    good job my son:)

  4. Matt Hester says:

    Fantastic Article Jim! I think it hits home, I run against myself and never against other folks (execpt the 5 min/mile we saw in Disney) 🙂 @Algis, great motto: When you run fast you GET a good time, but when you run slow you HAVE a good time!

  5. I think genetics and “talent” may play a bigger role in who is out there to race and who is out there to just run. With racers, the agenda is to win…I don’t know how much competitors enjoy a great race if they loss. Within a group of runners, I enjoy how the running can be pure; that mentality where what’s most important is that we keep running.

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