Allie Burdick

Written by Allie Burdick


What Does Racing Mean To You?

Runners run races.

We train hard.  Set big goals. And start and finish many races but what does “racing” really mean?

Are you still racing if you’re not standing on a podium afterward with award money or prizes?

Are you satisfied with your finish even if you’re not so overcome with elation that you scream YES as you hammer towards breaking the tape?

Bonus Content

Runner, coach and avid racer, Tony Pallotta shares more in this special video.


What Does Racing Mean To You?

Maybe your concept of racing changed over the years. Or perhaps you are just starting to think about what racing means to you personally.

Either way, there can be so many races within the larger race, no matter where you are in the pack. Creating your own goals or challenges within the race, regardless of your finish time, may even help you enjoy the sport more and well into your master running years.

We asked some mid and back of the pack runners what racing means to them. And why they continue to train and race, knowing they will never truly win. Or have they already? Let’s find out.

  • “The idea of winning has never even occurred to me,” confessed 31 year-old Danielle Cemprola, who has run over 50 marathons in nine years and blogs all about it at The T-Rex Runner when she’s not saving the planet or traveling the globe.
  • “I tend to distinguish between ‘running a race’ and ‘racing,’” Cemprola says. “If I’m running a race, I’m just participating. Maybe doing it at an easy pace with a friend, or giving it a medium effort and taking pictures along the way. If I’m racing, I’m going for a PR (personal record) or a really hard effort. That hasn’t changed for me over the years.”

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What About Racing Yourself?

Nellie Acevedo, a proud and “unapologetic back of the packer,” says “I feel as if I am racing myself and I am not concerned with the people around me for more than camaraderie. For me, I love to race against my last PR and I’m never concerned with placements.”

Acevedo, 34, is a wife and mother of two boys who lives in Brooklyn, NY. And  a social media consultant and professional blogger. Acevedo started running just four years ago and has already run her hometown marathon, twice. She has no qualms about crossing the iconic finish line after dark and with only a few lingering spectators, saying:

“We are [the back of the pack] a special, amazing and kind group. We take care of each other, we never run past or step over each other in the name of a PR and we lift each other up the entire way. I’ve made many friends on the course. Sometimes it is all you need to get a second or third wind.”

Are you knew to running? Then check out New To The Running World – Questions Answered.

There is definitely a very different feel from those running sub 6:00 minute miles and those who are out for fun and camaraderie, but racing it seems has a place for every type of runner.

Acevedo admits “Running is a very serious sport,” but also adds “When you take the time to stop and enjoy the spectators and the course, it could be a lot of fun as well.”
Acevedo has been known to “stop and dance with the bands or pretty much anywhere on the course that has music,” which you are not likely to see in the front or even mid-pack of racers.

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Can Racing Be Fun?

This all begs the question. If you’re not stopping to dance or slowing down to make friends, are you having any fun?

Based on some of the photos from the leaders, there seems to be a deep dark pain cave of effort happening. So, if you’re not racing to win, what is the point of putting yourself through the pain?

“I’m not a natural runner and I feel like I am struggling more often than not, but I do this sport because I love it,” said Cemprola. Adding that she sets A, B and C goals for every race she plans to run hard.

“Setting multiple goals helps me to stay motivated without the devastating feeling of abject failure if I don’t PR. I don’t ever want to be so disappointed after a race that I lose the desire to run. That’s not why I do it.”

So we have two very different runners with the same reason for racing, to have fun. But how is struggling though 26.2 miles “fun?”

If you’re reading this then you probably already know the answer. But a lot of runners like Acevedo and Cemprola create many goals for the miles. None of which have any particular relation to the numbers on the clock.


You Can Run Fast And Have Fun

“Recently, I did a local half marathon with one of my closest friends,” Cemprola recalls. “It was a race I had done before and our goal was simply to have fun.

“When we started, I felt great, but I quickly realized that the new course was much hillier than the one I had run previously. And it was also hot and humid.” Things could have gone sour mentally at that point but instead Cemprola and her friend focused on high-fiving as many costumed kids as possible.

And we enjoyed running in a part of our city that we don’t normally see.” The result? “We ended up finishing about 4 minutes faster than I expected!”

Also, like Acevedo mentioned, there can be a closeness or even a fun competition amongst the group of runners you find yourself on pace with, creating a mini-race inside of the larger one.

You never know what friendships you may forge or motivation you may give to someone who needs it. Cemprola spoke at length about how much fun can be had within a spontaneous pace group:

“I think you can find people to talk to at pretty much any pace besides the very front. After all, your hard day might be someone else’s easy day, and vice versa. I run most races with friends or people that I already know, but if I’m on my own, I always try and make new friends.”

She even found not one but two “best lifelong friends” while running a marathon. How could any medal or prize money possibly top that?

Having a brush with running celebrity is also not unheard of in racing. Both women have stories to tell when it comes to running beside legends, if only for a few steps.

Remember, You’re Toeing The Line With Elites

There are not many sporting events where you can compete alongside the elites or even chat them up on the course.
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When is the last time a high school wide receiver caught a pass from Tom Brady during Monday Night Football? Or what about the local tennis pro trading shots with Venus Williams?

Neither of those is going to happen but, in racing, something like it just might.

Both Cemprola and Acevedo have had experiences with running greatness.

And Celebrities

Cemprola once ran with Jeff Galloway. Famous for his run/walk method of racing. Please read, How To Utilize The Run Walk Method For Smarter Training for more.

“[I ran with Jeff] for a little while at a race once and he was very friendly and talkative, but also was sticking to his strict run/walk schedule.” The man has to practice what he preaches after all but, the Galloway method, even with the man himself was not for Cemprola who, “stayed with him for a few minutes just to chat, but then went on my way! Of course, I’m pretty sure he passed me later,” she added, laughing.
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For her five minutes (or maybe 30 seconds) of runner fame, Acevedo was more than happy to be lapped by none other than Deena Kastor! Kastor is a legend in women’s running, owning multiple American distance records including a bronze medal in the marathon from the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece.

The Shape Women’s Half Marathon is part of the New York Road Runners race series. With New York City’s only real estate shortage being miles of running room, the 13.1 distance had to be held in two identical loops within Central Park. This cramped racing route led to the famous encounter.

“She [Deena Kastor] started about 30 minutes ahead of me and then lapped me on my first loop. All the runners cheered for her like crazy! It was awesome!”

In The End

Technically a race has a definitive start and finish line. Part of the fun and misery of racing is you never quite know what will transpire within the miles. Regardless of your training, planning fueling, hydration or the weather.

For your next race, maybe instead of insisting on a strict time goal, create many goals for the miles that have nothing to do with numbers. You never know when you may meet your best friend or lapped by an elite.

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