The pros and cons of a summer without a “goal race”

Image description: Headshot of Tracy, a woman of colour with short blond hair under a blue running cap, wearing white earbuds and a neon yellow t-shirt, Newport Harbor in the background, grey cloudy day.
Image description: Headshot of Tracy, a woman of colour with short blond hair under a blue running cap, wearing white earbuds and a neon yellow t-shirt, Newport Harbor in the background, grey cloudy day.
For the first time in years I don’t have a goal race or event in view.  Ever since Anita and I had our not-fun half marathon in late May I’ve taken a time out from training for. Instead, I’ve opted to enjoy running without a specific goal in mind.

This goes totally against what I had learned from my coach, Linda, through the half marathon training. When I started working with Linda she emphasized the importance of having each run have a purpose. I liked that. Instead of just running, her training plans made me feel as if I was training.  There were intervals and tempo runs and long slow runs. Each assignment had a pace goal and a time goal. Something to work towards.

But after the half marathon I wanted to dial it down. Way down. In fact, sometimes, like when I was in Edinburgh, I didn’t even use my Garmin. I just ran for a while and then came back and had a shower. Since I had no goal race, not training for anything in particular, I didn’t have to try to be faster or go further or anything. That’s a big “pro” of not having anything specific in view.

In a word, it made me feel free and easy about my runs.

But it’s also a “con.” Goals motivate. Maybe sometimes the motivation feels a bit “stick” like, but it’s a motivation nonetheless. When we were training for the half, knowing that I would be running a half in six, five, four, three, two, one week got me to do things I didn’t even think I could, like run a kilometer in under six minutes (just one, mind you).

I’ve now been running for two full months with no goal and it’s getting a bit tired. It’s fit well with my hectic travel schedule, since goal-less running is a good fit when on the road. But I think I’m ready to focus on something again.

Violetta and Rebecca have both talked to me about fall half marathons. I know Rebecca is stoked to do the Potamac Half in late October. It was hard to turn down the allure of an event that bills itself as “the easiest half marathon in America,” but I don’t think I can make it. I’m also not sure I want to train for a half.

Instead, I think I’m going to go for either the MEC 10K on October 21 or the Halloween Haunting on October 28.

Either way, it’ll give me something to work toward. I had my fastest 10K time ever in the 2014 Halloween Haunting, just after my 50th birthday, the lead up to which I’d engaged in the most intensive training period of my life prepping for the two Olympic distance triathlons that season.

So that’s the new plan.

Obviously, whether you do better with a goal depends on what you run for. I know people for whom actual events just don’t even figure into their running equation. They run not for times or training but to clear their head, gain a sense of well-being, feel energized and healthy, or even to get their creative juices flowing for a writing project or some other creative undertaking.

What about you? Do you think you do better with or without a goal event?

14 thoughts on “The pros and cons of a summer without a “goal race”

  1. I agree with you about specific race goals being both a pro and a con. I’ll be blogging about the one-day PWA bike rally ride, and the big pro of having it as a goal was that it got me back on the bike in a big way. If I hadn’t had that hanging over my head, I would have have ridden as much or as hard. But it also felt like pressure, and most of my rides had an extra edge which I didn’t like so much.

    Now that it’s over, I’m back to riding, but I still feel the need for some goals. I have a big(ish) group ride planned for Labor Day weekend, and I want to be in better shape for it so I can enjoy it, not just manage it. And adding specific hill and speed intervals is a part of that.

    So the bottom line is: I chafe a little at structure and goals, but in fact also enjoy and benefit from them.

    1. “So the bottom line is: I chafe a little at structure and goals, but in fact also enjoy and benefit from them.” I hear you. That’s kind of what I was getting at with the “stick-like” motivation that goals sometimes feel like. But it works to get me out the door. And though I didn’t mention this, usually once I’m out the door I’m good, happy to be there, doing whatever it is I’m doing. Maybe you’ll blog about your next goal and the structure it adds to your training. 🙂

  2. Thanks for this blog topic. I’m giving myself a break this summer by not having any fun runs too. I’m not training the way I normally do but my short summer is much more fulfilling. I’m a trainer and I know the benefits of training to goals so it is interesting to experience the alternative of doing what I feel like.

    1. I feel validated to hear from a trainer who is also taking a time-out from training goals! Thanks for your comment.

  3. From August 2009 – September 2016 I didn’t compete in a single “race” and it was terrible for my training. This year, in March, I committed to my birthday race with a friend and my running has been so amazing. I think that having others to be accountable to is just as motivating as the idea of the race itself. We are aiming for an 8k under 47 minutes….in the “mountains” of NC.

  4. This is a tough question for me, one I’ve been struggling with for a while and have still not found the right balance.

    I was a serious competitive runner in my youth. Now I’m not, and consequently am not as fast. I’m not racing at all at the moment because I’m so slow right now, the race experience would not be worth the cost of travel and entry fees for me. I would like to change this, but…

    When I was a serious competitive runner, I did school and I did running. Now I run, and I practise yoga, I co-lead a zombie apocalypse themed online fitness training group, I just bought an iSUP, and I’m heavily into nature photography and hiking. I also work multiple jobs which are largely self-directed. I know my running would be going a lot better if I was training toward specific goals. But it’s more fun to work towards goals in new skill areas (such as handstands, for which every hour of training I invest leads to a level of skill I have never before possessed) than to train toward a running goal of being only 75% as fast as I was at 13 years old.

    I don’t have time to do everything. So, for now, my running flounders goalless. I don’t like it. And it’s not what’s best for my running. But it is perhaps what is best overall.

    1. Thanks for this. It’s interesting how this question brings up different things for different people. With all the things you describe in your life right now, it seems like serious running training would take away.

      For me the issue is: can I enjoy goalless running? What I have just discovered with this summer experiment is that I can enjoy it for a period of time and then I feel like I want to switch it up. I also have the “benefit” of never having been a really fast runner in the past. So I’ve no former glory to haunt me!

  5. I’m not a runner, but I set goals to keep me going. I’m in the last 4 weeks of a workout program, and I’m keeping in my mind I’m getting ready for my “big” goal of finally completing P90X starting 8/28. It helps, even if it’s a personal goal 🤗

    1. Personal goals can still motivate. I find that it’s easier to “adjust” a goal if it’s only between me and myself. If I’ve signed up for an event I’m more likely to follow through. I’m really enjoying hearing about how goals function differently for different people. Thanks for your comment!

  6. I cycle and used to set goals for distance and number of days. When the number 60 happened on my birthday then I changed my thoughts from goal to fun. For me, it works better not having a goal as I don’t put so much pressure to perform. It is amazing that as I watch the miles click by there is that competitive spirit still there but I am truer to listening to my body.
    Love your blog. Thanks for sharing.

  7. My goals for fitness seems to be climbing certain hills every summer after each winter, without getting winded; cycling nearly daily spring to early winter to do stuff and for fitness. Until I got injured and ended up in bed for 5 months a few years ago, they don’t seem like goals. But they really are..

  8. When I was running (I’ve stopped because of a big injury) I would only run with a plan when I had a race I was training for, especially when I was training for a full marathon. I always liked to keep my Garmin or Runkeeper on even when I wasn’t training because I looked at it as a journal of where I’ve been and what I’ve done more than anything else. Running was something I did and kept doing because I enjoyed it and loved the times when I found the flow.

    In the end, there is not right or wrong way to do it. As long as what you do, works for you.

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