The Difference Between Running and Racing

Coaching cross country and track has taught me many things in the past few years and I am constantly surprised by new questions and comments I hear every day in practice or at meets.  Because I have been a runner for my entire life, I take for granted what people already know about the sport and probably overlook some important details that could be very valuable, especially to new runners.

One of the things I never thought about until last week was the difference between running and racing.  One of my new athletes ran nearly 3 minutes faster from their first race on a Wednesday to their second race on that Saturday (remember high school racing schedules?).  I asked her how she dropped so much time in just one week and she simply said, “I realized there was a difference between running and racing.”

It seems like a simple concept but for an athlete who is new to long distance running, where “speed” is not how fast you can sprint 100 yards, I see where this may get tricky.

As a coach, I feel that I failed to communicate with my new runners that these races are a time to compete, a time to put together all the pieces of the miles and workouts they have been doing the past few months.   So how can I explain to runners the difference between when they go out for a tempo run or do a workout and when they put on their spikes and jerseys?


  1. Tapering:  We taper and rest for races to feel as strong and fresh as possible, so the hard work we have been doing the past few months can payoff without feeling tired, heavy, or burnted out.  Workouts are when we want to learn to push through pain and fatigue and do not need to be rested.
  2. Adrenaline: There is something to be said for the nerves that carry you through the race on race day.  You can easily hit splits during a race, consecutively, that seemed like a struggle during workouts.
  3. Crowd Support: Going off adrenaline, crowds at races always add to the excitement of race day.  No matter where the crowds are cheering, I can’t say too many runners would complain about hearing words of encouragement.  Crowds can also help carry runners to a fantastic finish.
  4. Preparation: Race day is where you put together every single ounce of sweat you put into the season.  Every long run, every tempo run, the corework–>it all has a purpose and that is to feel as strong and as fast as possible on race day.
  5. Strategy: Racing requires more strategy than workouts.  Typically in workouts you are trying to achieve a certain goal (certain splits, fast finishes, etc) and can afford to take some risks in pushing the pace.  Race day is when you want everything to go as smoothly as possible and, to be frank, beat other runners.  With experience, you learn to pace better, to run in a pack, to learn how to sit and kick, and learn when to take the lead.
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    Comfort Zone: Racing requires getting out of your comfort zone….waaaaay out of your comfort zone.  Workouts are designed to not only get you stronger but to mentally and physically prepare you for the pain you will experience during a race.  You need to learn how to shut off those little voices in your heard and push through the **temporary** pain!

  7. Teammates/Support: After high school, not too many of us can enjoy the luxuries of training with and running for a team.  It is such a unique experience and I hope I can provide an experience for my athletes that was just as good as my own.  Teammates are so supportive during a race because they know what your exact goals are and the fear of disappointing them was always a strong motivator for me.  As we get older, we find different support systems for our goals that our just as important, including club members, spouses, and our children.

I love all the new things I learn from my athletes and coaching continues to teach me new things about a sport I thought I knew so much about.

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