Racing through 2016: the beauty of “I Don’t Know”

I’ve always been a planner. I created my Pittsburgh Marathon training plan over 6 weeks before marathon training starts. The last two years, I’ve been that girl who has her training schedule for the next year plotted out by September and sign-up fees paid the day registration opens.

So, you may be surprised to learn thatĀ I don’t have a single race scheduled after the Pittsburgh Marathon. Not even a 5K.

Of course I will end up doing some racing next fall, but this year, I am saying “no” toĀ over-zealous planning, over-eagerness to hit the “register” button and over-spending when I do so, and over-committing myself. Down with the “over”s!!!!


The biggest reason is that I no longer feel comfortable committing to races that far in advance. Every time I’ve tried that, life has laughed quiteĀ rudely in my hopeful little face. I don’t know anything about what my life will be like in 6 months. I don’t know if I’ll be injured, burnt out, or simply change my mind about things,Ā or if I’ll be even more raring to go and dedicated to taking on a challenges than I ever imagined.

When I try to picture my running life in fall 2016, all I see is a big question mark, like the one in the photo above. I don’t want to shell out money for races that far away; in fact, I don’t even want to think about them right now. Of course I’ll end up doing some races if I’m healthy, but for now, I’m leaving it open. I’ll wait until that season is nearer and make a decision based on how I feel and what my goals are at the time.

I don’t know right now if I will want to run a fall marathon next year – it seems unlikely, but it’s possible. It’s also possible that if I meet my goal of qualifying for Chicago at the PGH Marathon, I won’t want to run another marathon until that race date in the fall of 2017. I don’t know right now if I will want to focus on training for a shorter distance next fall, or if I want to take that season off for maintenance again.

I don’t know. And that’s a beautiful thing!

I have a nasty habit of over-committing to things and biting off more than I can chew when it comes to activities I’m passionate about. It always gets me into trouble, but I never seem to learn my lesson. Until finally, after my meticulously pre-planned racing schedule fell apart post-Grandma’s, I admittedĀ how much I was stressing myself out by overscheduling myself in anĀ aggressive and impatient quest for improvement. I still care about the improvement, but it took a while to internalize the fact that signing up forĀ more racesĀ isn’t going to make that improvement appear fasterĀ – especially since, as I was finding at a number of those races this year, I didn’t even really want to be there.

I used to thinkĀ I could be one of those runners who is basically in a constant state of “training” for something, but that approach doesn’t work for me. It works better for me to have one or maybe two big goals to focus on per year, and takeĀ the rest of the time off. I don’t mean “off” from running, I meanĀ no weekly workout checklists, no worrying about when and how much I’ll run this week, no “pre-training” for upcoming training cycles, no putting pressure on myself to PR in the races I run. Off season for me meansĀ maintenance running, and that I do whatever style/speed of run I feel like doing that particular day. Time off from training means time off from training, training for a big goal means I’m all in. This “black-and-white” approach just seems to work better for me; I have a lot going on and it helps me prioritize.

The cost of said approach is it means I may not improve as fast as I could. But, it’s a cost I’m learning to be okay with. The more distance I have from hard training, the more I realize I don’t care that much about being “fast” (whatever that even means)Ā or setting all these PRs or breaking X:XX time in whatever race. I’m going to get as fast as I’m going to get, it is what it is. And all those things will happen when they’re ready to happen, and when I’m ready to put in the work. It used to bug me that my PR half marathon was in April and it will likely be a full year before I PR again, but then I realized, I don’t even really care that much about PRing in the half marathon. Sure, it’s always a nice accomplishment high and I’ll take it whenever I can get it, but I’d rather save all that energy and work for a goal that’s a little closer to my heart, like the full marathon.

Also, I am starting to lose my appetite for racing in general. This year I did a TON of races. It all sounded exciting when I signed up, but after a while, it just got old. And expensive. There were a lot of races this year that I lined up at the starting line thinking “why am I even here?” I love races, but what I love about them is that they’re not just an every day thing – they feel special and exciting. Races stopped feeling that way for me when I was doing 1-2 of themĀ almost every month. I want races to have that “magical” feel they used to have. I don’t envy the people who get to race more than I do, I envy the people who are so excited and proud after their half marathon, even if they’ve run half marathons before, because it’s a rare and novel experience for them. I understand that many of you have a different opinion on this topic, but I think that cutting back on racing will help me keep it fresh and fun. Also, did I mention it’s expensive?

Which brings me to my final point about why I’m not signing up for as many races this year: …it’s expensive.

As you saw in my last post, I’m trying to be a lot more mindful about where my money goes. Luckily, other than eating out and the occasional running splurge, I’m not really a big spender. But like everyone else in America, I really need to save more. Kevin and I are taking our first baby steps into the process of looking for and hopefully eventually buying a home, which obviously needs to take financial priority. My Guatemala trip is already probably going to necessitateĀ dipping into my savings, even if I don’t meet my fundraising goalĀ (THANK YOU to everyone who donated so far! It’s a huge help to me and I really appreciate your support!).Ā So not only do I need to cut back on the racing expenses this coming year, I’m also trying to be more selective about my races and support inexpensive, local, no-frills races as much as I can. Not only are they cheaper, it’s nice to support local running organizations.


As of now, I only have two races planned before the Pittsburgh Marathon. I’ll be running the South Shore Half Marathon again, on April 2nd. I wish the timing were better – this is right before my last (and peak) week of training, so I feel nervous about trying to race it and risk injury and recovery… but it would be nice to finally get a half marathon PR again. Hopefully my fitness will be good enough after months of training that I’ll be able to nab a PR without having to race too hard.

During a marathon training cycle I always aim to do 2 half marathon races: one I can race, and one I can use to practice MP. This is also where I wish the timing were better:Ā February and March are a dead zone for half marathons around here. There are NONE (that aren’t a 2 hour drive away). So I’m going to settle for doing theĀ small, local Luck of the Irish 15K on March 20th as MP practice. I’d really prefer something longer, but this is one of those times when you just have to accept the circumstances and make the most of it. It’s actually a great race for MP practice, because it is HILLY. It’s basically non-stop rolling hills. And now that I know this, I can stake out that area for some of my long hilly training routes. Plus, I’ve never run a 15K before so it will be fun to try a new distance.

I’m tempted to sign up for some winter races at shorter distances, but I’m a little hesitant. 2 races during marathon training seems to be my sweet spot: anything more than that and I start to feel like the races are becoming a distraction and interfering with my training.


So, that’s it. I officially have three races scheduled for the entire year of 2016 right now. But for once, the planner in me actually likes and embraces all those question marks, all that unknown space. I’m excited to see what 2016 brings, in running and elsewhere, and let life take the lead this time.


13 thoughts on “Racing through 2016: the beauty of “I Don’t Know”

  1. I feel ya on not wanting to sign up for races too far in advanced. I’ve been burned by that too. That’s why I haven’t signed up for Colfax yet, even though I feel pretty confident that I will. I want to make sure that I really really want to do it when i sign up and that I’m not doing it as some sort of obligation or payback for not being able to run Chicago this year. I am signed up for A1A and a half marathon in August, but really I did that because there were early bird registration that allowed me to get these races really cheap.

  2. I usually don’t sign up for any races until I finish whatever season I’m in. I just finished fall, so soon I will start to sign up for the spring ones. I have nothing past April in mind, either! It’s better that way. Plus, then you can decide and not feel like you wasted money and signed up for a race you don’t feel like doing. Great job in embracing the “not” planning!! I think you are going to like this decision šŸ™‚

  3. Sounds like a good plan šŸ™‚
    I love a 15K, is one of my very favorite distances. There is one here in Jan. and one in April, I hope I can do both!
    racing can get very pricey. I had a blast at Disney, but I know it is highly unlikely I will ever go back, that was a very big ticket race.
    I like to find things I can drive too, and that are smaller. My race last weekend was the biggie, like 16,000 or something. Those smaller ones are really fun too!
    South Shore may be a great time to PR! 13 should feel “short” after some of those long runs šŸ™‚

  4. The expense and lessened excitement factor are part of why I always said I wasn’t going to be a racing runner. And then, I ran my first half (only my third ever race, a full year after I started running, actually). And I decided to run another. I ran two races within the 10 months between halfs, I think. But then, in 2015, I made running a marathon – the NYC Marathon – my goal and decided to do the 9+1 program, and I found myself doing NYRR races three weekends out of five in May just to ramp through them! They were not exciting at all, and they were an extra $23 per race that all adds up (three of the nine races cost more, luckily six were/are regular 4/5M or 10K races that NYRR has nearly every weekend) and I was spending a lot! As for 2016, I want to run NYCM and after this weekend will be able to enter. But before that, I only have one half scheduled, in January, and a long 10-11 months in between where I’ll just see if anything fits into the training plan.

  5. I have once race next year that I’ve registered for and that’s in September, actually, it’s a double race šŸ™‚ I have my list but not wanting to commit to anything yet as I trying to decided between a destination race or a few local races. Between racing and volunteering it’s hard to always make sure someone is with our kids – lots to plan when it comes to races for me šŸ™‚

  6. I’m thinking of signing up for a 10K because it’s only $10, so I completely agree with you that racing can get expensive and that is ridiculous. When I find myself jumping on races only because of their price tag, it may be time to reevaluate why I’m doing it! I have 2 races on the calendar right now and that is a lot for me, I’m in a ‘just wing it’ stage right now with my racing and it’s pretty fun. I am all for the not planning the rest of your 2016 races, it leaves you open for surprises!

  7. Those race fees really do add up! And while races can be exciting and a great benchmarker for your fitness, they can also add a lot of stress to your training if you let it. Speaking from experience now because I just went through a marathon training period without doing anything more than a 5k race leading up to it, I’ll say it was a lot less stressful šŸ™‚
    I think that with this whole lack of getting ahead of yourself with plans, you can embrace more of life in general. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not worth it to go crazy trying to be the fastest you can be. What’s more important is maintaining balance in ALL the things you love and being able to slowly progress towards your goal (and not losing your joy in the process!). You’ll still make it there but you don’t have to make so many sacrifices in other areas of your life.
    I’m so psyched to hear about your other life plans that include home buying! I will hopefully have updates in that area soon too šŸ™‚ And although I’m no expert on it at all, I have learned a lot more through the last few months of house hunting so feel free to ask any questions if you want! (although I’m sure there are differences between NJ and WI)

  8. I don’t run many races a year either, in part because I like to really focus my training in on a particular goal and then enjoy the times of year where I’m not training and just running because I love to run. I’ll probably only run 3-4 races in 2016, and I’ve already signed up for two of them because races fill up fast in the PNW! I actually ran for 6 years without ever racing, back in college and grad school.

  9. Racing does get expensive! The runners group that I belong to regularly sends out impromptu free races, meaning show up and race a 5k or 10k, that someone mapped out…usually because someone needs a race in their training program and is trying to save money. Usually, 5-10 people show up. It’s fun.
    I don’t like to sign up too far in advance of races, I never know when my schedule with the kids on the weekend will “explode”. I am going to be ready to take a break from marathons after Boston.

  10. I prefer to focus on just two goal races a year as well, a spring and fall. This year the marathon was my only goal race, but I “trained” for a spring half to get back in shape after time off in the winter. I do sign up for other races, but I don’t go all-out running them and I don’t formally train for them. I feel like this gives me the best balance of focused training and just fun running. I do have quite a few plotted out for next year, but I always wait to register because life happens!

  11. Over the last two years, I cut way down on races and kind of just played it by ear instead of planning ahead and signing up for races ahead of time. I actually found my running suffered…I think I’m the kind of person who trains better and enjoys running more if I have races every month, even if it’s just a fun 5k!

  12. I’m a huge planner too! And I’m in a similar boat as you: apart from two races next year, I don’t know what else I’m going to do. I really wanted to do my first half ironman but I didn’t get in. The uncertainty feels pretty good right about now.

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