Running for fitness vs Running to race

Every time I take a little step back from running (as I did mid February) it forces me to recognize (again) that running is a central piece of my life, for better or worse.

And suddenly I feel like a ‘normal’ person… waking up and starting my day without a run, having more time to sleep in, maybe squeezing in a spin class or 30 minute strength session – but with zero stress about if/how/when my run will happen.  It’s kind of nice!

And I’m reminded, again, that to run for the sake of fitness and good health, 30 minutes is really all you need.  However, I love running with the end goal of new race records- not overall health.  Is that okay? Is that something I should be doing year after year?

I recognize that “runners” can be a little bit crazy in pursuit of our goals.

Here’s an overview of the difference between running for fitness vs racing:

Running for fitness:

  • 30 minutes 3 days per week is sufficient for heart health, bone health and cardiovascular improvement
  • Injury is rare as the body is not overtaxed and as plenty of time for proper recovery
  • Moderate exercise balances hormones
  • Metabolism is balanced
  • Healthy weight is easier to maintain
  • Hunger is regulated
  • Sleep is improved
  • Immunity is improved

Running to race or really push the limits:

  • Often requires at least an hour per day, with one or two days off or cross training
  • Injury is more common as the body is frequently overtaxed
  • Hormones are more likely to be out of balance, particularly estrogen which can be suppressed
  • Metabolism is more likely to be out of balance and confused if diet is not a careful consideration
  • Healthy weight can be harder to maintain (too much weight loss for some, weight gain for others)
  • Hunger can be hard to regulate, especially for endurance athletes
  • Sleep can be improved but can also be lacking as sleep needs continue to increase
  • Immunity is hampered

With my rational brain, I can see that less running and more cross training has more benefits for my health.  With my emotional brain, I want to push my limits for a few years and see what I’m capable of!

Is one better than the other? When I’m injured I start to think I’m crazy for ever pushing so hard! But when I’m in the middle of it there is nothing more fun and satisfying!

The aches and pains pop up for a reason – to ensure we are taking care of our bodies and not crossing the line into poor health when what we’re doing should be good for our bodies.

Bottom line: If you’re not pushing yourself and running as much as the “crazy” runners, be confident in what you’re doing- it is (in many cases) better for you! You should never feel “less than” for not running crazy amounts of miles.

If you are an endurance athlete, continue to pay careful attention to all of your bodies signs so you can do so in a safe and healthy way.  If you ever get to a point when it’s no longer giving you the same amount of joy, back off and know that your body will get just as many benefits (and likely more) from doing a little bit less!

Do you consider yourself running for run or running to race?

Is it hard for you to remember that less can be more? Do you ever feel like you’re never doing enough?
I find social media often tries to tell me I’m not doing enough.  I’m content with my training and am able to (mostly) ignore those messages, but they’re intense!



18 thoughts on “Running for fitness vs Running to race

  1. Yes to this entire post! During times when I’m not training for a race, I really enjoy running when and how far I choose. I love to run, so most days I choose a run, but the distance and pace are according to how I feel that day. I love this type of running, yet I always seem to be registering for races and can’t seem to run them just for fun.

  2. I think I’m in the middle. I am not committed to train hard enough to push my limits, but I do include some harder workouts. Social media definitely makes it hard to not think you’re not doing enough.

  3. This!! You’ve posted exactly what’s been on my mind lately. My problem is that I get such a high of personal recorded and achievements from racing that I think I’m addicted lol BUT—I do feel physically and mentally better when I’m running less (gasp) and simply enjoying life. But then again, nothing can quite replace that finish line. 😉
    Jess recently posted..Training Improvements Don’t Always Appear Instantly…My Profile

  4. i wish i had time to run for either! right now, i only have time to run once a week when william is with his dad. i’m still trying to figure out a workout routine (three years later haha) where i CAN workout while william is home 🙂
    Linz @ Itz Linz recently posted..Check out my happy baby!My Profile

  5. I am currently injured and cross training a lot, no running, but I am thinking that when I return I am going to approach it a lot more like you. I was running 6x a week and logging 45-50mpw and doing well (and improving), until I started getting hurt all the time! I was following Hansons if that helps. It doesn’t leave much room for cross training but I was doing yoga each week and PT exercises.

    I’m thinking about cutting back a bit and doing more strength training and cross training (arc trainer, elliptical) for overall health. My times may not be as great but you never know, they may improve with more strength and working different muscles. I figure I plan to run for years and years, so there’s time for me to give ALL the various training plans and types a try and not be married to the idea of more miles always being better.
    Amy Lauren recently posted..Coping with Injury: February 20-26My Profile

  6. I love this post. I absolutely LOVE to run. I do run to be able to race and reach goals. I’m kinda beyond setting PRs given that I have been recently diagnosed with arthritis in my knees (not even 45 years old yet!!!), so I’m really having to adjust things. But I will run, even with a bit of pain if I have to, because I love it. Thankfully I love to bike as well, and maybe some PRs are yet to come with that.

  7. I got really sick about a month ago and everything – running, weights, everything – just came to a screeching halt. It took me a while to fully recover and during that time I lost all motivation to exercise at all. However, it also gave me time to have a little clarity and evaluate what and why I’d been doing what I had been doing. Ironically, during my break I’ve lost a little weight and my stress level has decreased slightly. I let myself unfollow a bunch of ppl on IG that actually made me feel insecure and negative about myself and my abilities as a runner and even as a mom. It was actually really refreshing to let go of any societal notions of what makes some a “good runner” or a FIT MOM or any bull like that. I’m just learning to listen to my body right now and be kind. I’m sure I’ll know when the time is right to lace up my shoes again.

  8. I love both at different points in the year – I love to train hard and race, but I can only do that a few times per year. The rest of the year, I love to run for fitness and for the sake of running. Like you, I try to avoid what’s on social media because I’m squarely in the moderate mileage category and social media is all about the high mileage, but that’s what I enjoy and thrive on!

  9. When I’m with my running friends, it feels completely normal to be striving for higher mileage and faster paces. When I’m with non running friends, I start to question if I’m really doing the best thing for my body. After not running a race for over a year, I can honestly say I would be fine going back to not “training” for anything. But right now, I feel like I have goals that I need to reach before I can get to that point.
    angela @ happy fit mama recently posted..Working on My Mental ToughnessMy Profile

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  12. Hey Laura! I’m back from Cuba and I’ve missed you!!!
    I don’t think I need to tell you what camp I’m in but, I can tell you that I was out of commission for the last week with vertigo and a sinus infection and it was horrible…and then it was fine and I felt (as you wrote) like some sort of normal person on vacation…not getting up early to run or bike and just relaxing, eating and enjoying my days 🙂 It was nice while it lasted but now I’m chomping at the bit to get back in the game! < – – which is another good reason to rest!
    Allie recently posted..5 Favorites From CubaMy Profile

  13. Great post! I do think it’s important to realize that running to race requires a lot more (which isn’t a bad thing). It’s important not to look at the weight loss side and more focus on the benefits of eating more side.
    Hollie recently posted..February Training LogMy Profile

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