Being a Runner Without Racing

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 heidikumm.com, 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 Kumm is a trail runner, world traveler, mountain climber, and all around adventure enthusiast. As a trail runner she has covered thousands of miles in the Colorado Rockies and beyond training for and running races from the half marathon distance to the one hundred mile ultra. Heidi is so stoked about finding adventure on trails that she has made it her career as the owner of Adventure Feet First, a travel company that focuses on getting people outside to explore the world as they travel. Over the past years Heidi has spent months living abroad, volunteering around the world, living out of a van/car/truck, and finding new ways to explore on foot, by bike or with a backpack. She has learned the ins and outs of self propelled exploration the hard way, so she’s here to help us learn from her mistakes and to help us become more informed on how to make your own mistakes…safely.

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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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