Being a Runner Without Racing

Heidi Kumm

We are in the midst of a huge growth of popularity within the trail running community. New races are popping up every weekend with our regular go-to races filling up before we can even type out our credit card numbers. This is awesome — this means more people are getting outside + exploring the trails to find what we love about them. This burst of trail love is something I’m generally really stoked about + something I am honored to be a part of.

Up until recently my life as a runner has revolved around races + the training plans leading up to them. In high school I ran cross country, in college I ran road races…but only for the t-shirt. After moving to Colorado I discovered trail running with a friend who called it an adventure. No matter, I went home + signed up for a trail race so I could justify running on trails.

Silverton 100k course.

As my experience as a runner increased so did the distances I ran. However, what/when/how I ran was always decided by the race I was signed up for. Without a race to train for I didn’t quite understand why I would even bother running. I needed those races to get my running shoes laced onto my feet + I needed those race finishes to validate myself as a runner.

That’s not a complaint, that is a fact that I chose to believe in. This made for an interesting transition for me in 2016 when my schedule became too uncertain for me to commit to races. I stopped racing, cold turkey. I also stopped running on a regular basis. I’d keep my fitness levels just high enough to tag along on group runs, but no more than that. When people asked if I was a runner I’d say I used to be one…without races, was I even a runner anymore?!

In an effort to rediscover the running hiding inside of me I signed up for the 2018 Silverton 100km, an August race with big mountain climbs. My plan was to take on training with a vengeance, using all that pent up energy from almost two years without a training plan. It was a good plan, a well intended plan. However, I did not even kinda sorta stick with it.

Buffalo Mountain, a run-venture worth more than a race!

That didn’t quite work out. I couldn’t quite dig up the motivation to train aggressively for this race. As race day loomed closer + closer I decided to focus on time on my feet rather than speed on the trails. It turns out that in the time I spent without a training plan I had acquired a love for hiking + adventuring…with other people. This is a good thing…unless your training plan says “run 15 miles” + your friend says “let’s hike for 5 miles”. What do you choose?

I have started choosing friends over miles. My overall love for life + trails grew exponentially but my training + sub-sequential racing suffered, a lot. My general fitness + endurance didn’t falter but my ability to move with speed sure did!

When race day finally arrived on August 11th I was a ball of nerves. I wasn’t sure I even knew how to run races anymore. Did I have all the right things? I did, mostly. Why was my pack so freaking heavy? Probably because I was packing for an adventure rather than a race. Was my game plan + crew plan acceptable? It was, almost perfectly so.

I toed the starting line + settled in for the long haul…all while telling myself it was totally okay if I decided to bail out of the race at the first aid station, mile 11. I seriously contemplated this, but something inside me couldn’t justify dropping out of a race so early, especially with no excuse beyond “I don’t like this.” So I kept going. You can read the full recap of my Silverton 100km race on, but in short, I spent a LOT of time creating excuses to quit.

Mile 11, not quitting yet!

The race course was gorgeous, the aid stations were amazing + the weather was perfect. I was under-trained but I was quite easily staying ahead of the cut-off times. Things hurt, but nothing was broken or breaking. I had no “valid” excuse to quit.

I was happy to be outside in the mountains, I simply didn’t want to be told which route I needed to take + how quickly I needed to cover the ground.

  • At one of the passes there was a peak maybe a half mile off to the side. I wanted to summit it just to get panoramic views…but I couldn’t because I was running a race.
  • When I came upon a rock jutting over the river I wanted to plop down, stick my feet in the water + enjoy my lunch…but I couldn’t because I was running a race.
  • At an aid station I started an interesting conversation with the volunteers that I really wanted to continue, while eating cookies…but I couldn’t because I was running a race.

The course + time restrictions of the race format were annoying me. In the few years I hadn’t been racing I was discovered a sense of adventure that didn’t want to be corralled into the rules of running races. I definitely wanted to be out in the wilderness soaking up the sunshine + the views…but I wanted to do it on my terms!

Although I did spent many, many hours determined to quit the race, I kept going. I went so far as to create an audio recording of all the reasons I was allowed to quit the race…but I kept going. I had the ability to finish, so I did.

However, I walked away from that race with a new understanding about how I viewed the great outdoors. I enjoy running around on trails + I enjoy exploring the wilderness, those are facts. That said, it has become extremely important to me to be able to explore on my own terms.

Eaglesmere Lakes. Eating lunch on a rock, because without a race you have time for that.

I want to choose the routes + then deviate from them when I discover something new. I want to be able to lay on a rock while I eat my smashed sandwich. I want to be able to dip my toes or my entire body into an alpine lake on a hot day. I want to do all of this with friends who love the dirt ribbons woven across the mountains as much as I do.

So, without completely writing off racing [because why limit your whims!], I am now on a mission to become okay with defining myself as a runner…without having a race on the schedule.

Side Note: I should say, the Silverton 100km race was a great event + I would strongly recommend it to anyone who interested in spending a day in the San Juan mountains. It is a well organized + fully supported rugged mountain race…do it! This specific race was simply the canoe that floated me down this river of discovery, not a cause of my wayward feelings toward racing.

Heidi Kumm

Heidi Kumm

Heidi is a Wisconsin farm girl chasing happy around the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. She can often be found on the trails with running shoes or a splitboard attached to her feet + a stash of almond M&M’s nestled in her pack next to a myriad of other “want to be my friend” snacks!

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5 thoughts on “Being a Runner Without Racing”

  1. I love this! Thank you for sharing. I have been going through a similar battle myself the last few years. As a competetive runner in HS and College I didnt pick up trail running until the last few years. As a way to cope with grief I found a group of girls here (my personal Trail Sisters) and together we have chosen several amazing races to train for since 2013. Because this is why you run right…for a race. My last 2 races have been super tough for me mentally. Although they are amazing runs, I tend to choke and preform under my ability, most likely because I am back in that competitve mindset I tried to leave 20 years ago. Thinking back the runs I have really loved the most, Grand Canyon R2R and Bryce Canyon, were simply runs we organized and trained for as a small group. I, like you, wont count out races for good. But am so thankful I can finally come to a mindset where I can get out there and run because I love it and not because I am “training” for a race.

  2. Thanks for sharing your story!
    I stopped racing at high school graduation- it’ll be 20 years next spring- however I’ve never stopped running. My high school coach instilled a deep love for running, for running’s sake. I love the freedom and flexibility to run where, when and how I please and it’s refreshing to have other people realize this path. Being a runner is not dependent on being a racer and I really appreciate this article.

  3. I have only run one race this whole year. I feel okay about this most of the time, except for when people ask, “What race are you training for?” or “What event is next for you?” Then I feel a little pang that I should have something I’m working toward. But for now, it’s just working better to run where/when/how long I want or can fit into my schedule. And a training plan doesn’t always reconcile with that.

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