4 Types of Races and How They Impact Your Running Goals

color-runGuest writer Diana Fitts shares how running races can be broken down into 4 types: competition, fun, charity, and once in a lifetime.

To get the most enjoyment out of a race, make sure that you understand the type of race you’ve signed up for and if you’re running goals align with the race’s purpose.

4 Types of Races and How They Impact Your Running Goals

On a beautiful summer morning, I laced up my shoes at the starting line of a famous 10k in my hometown and told myself that I was going to crush my personal record. I wanted to run fast and I wanted to run well. I tuned out the cheering crowds, ignored the bands lining the streets, and tried not to look too long at the ocean views. I was on a mission.

The problem was that I was on the wrong mission.

It wasn’t until mile 3 that I realized I had made a mistake. This was meant to be a fun race, not one of serious competition. I was missing the point and degrading my enjoyment as a result. I pulled over to the side of the road and began scanning the crowd. Heaving and trying to catch my breath, I kept my eyes on the thousands of legs passing me until I saw the pair that had inspired me to start running in the first place so many years ago.

My dad and I ran those last 3 miles like it was the old days. With thoughts of time and speed falling away, we shared stories, laughed at costumes in the crowd, and found connection in a sea of thousands. We had fun. Mission complete.

Version 2 When we set running goals, the type of event we sign up for plays a big role in the attitude we adopt while participating in it. My 10k wasn’t designed for competition and I was limiting my experience by pretending it was.

With the increasing popularity of running, there are events serving every whim, desire, and need, which means we need to be discerning when signing up for them. Does the hot chocolate run cater to your goal of setting a personal record or are you going to be doubled over from trying to sprint on a belly full of holiday cheer?

More importantly, is that what’s going to bring you the most happiness? To get the most out of your running experiences, take the time to understand how the goals of the event align with yours. This will help you prepare you for your best running experience, both physically and mentally. Here are 4 of the most common types of races and how they differ.

1) Competition

When you want to set a personal record, test your limits, or qualify for your dream race, you need to sign up for an event that allows you to get in the zone and push yourself to the limit. These are often flat, fast courses with few spectators. While comradery is a staple of any running race, this type of event will likely have a more serious tone.

A great resource for determining whether a race is serious or not, is YouTube. Scan for videos of your race’s finish line and note if runners are wearing costumes, are running solo or in groups, or are sprinting to beat the clock. The way that runners cross the finish line is often an indicator of whether they are pushing to shave off those last few seconds and reach a personal record, or if they’re more focused on enjoying the moment.

2) Fun

As any runner knows, there’s nothing more special than the energy of the start line of a running event. With a sport that is so often solitary, the rare moments when we all come together to show off our shoes can be powerful reminders of why we run in the first place. If you’re not aiming for a personal record, take the time to look at the views, appreciate the crowds, and enjoy every step. Remember that you’ve paid for this event and you can get up any old day and run for time and speed for free. You only get one chance to enjoy the journey among thousands of other runners.

If you’ve signed up for a fun race, do your best to quiet the voice in your head that wants you to push harder and move faster. As opposed to a competition race, a fun event is likely to have more families, people in costumes, and runners that are willing to stop to dance to the music along the course. Take the time to chat with other runners at the start line and along the course. Invite your friends to join you, or plan to make some new connections during the race. The more you can focus on the community aspect of the event, the easier it will be for you to distract yourself from the need to run at a certain speed.

3) Charity

Running has surpassed the world of sports and become a means of making a difference in the world. Raising money and bringing awareness to everything from dementia to breast cancer, these events are a great way for runners to give back. There’s nothing like supporting a cause you love while doing a sport you love.

If you have signed up for a charity race, decide how involved in the cause you’d like to be. While many races ask for a flat registration fee, some offer opportunities for your family and friends to pledge additional money for every mile you run. If you’d like to be involved beyond the day of the race, many events offer resources for staying involved, volunteering, and assisting with the planning of next year’s event. Is this a one-day commitment, or something you’d like to devote more of your time, energy and money to? Understanding your intentions prior to the event will help you support the cause to the best of your abilities.

4) Once in a Lifetime

When I ran the Boston Marathon, I approached it as my one and only opportunity to experience the magic of that event. My family and I spared no expense, dedicated months to researching hotels and restaurants, and carefully planned every detail from the headband I would wear to the location of the best post-race pub. This was an event I was determined to enjoy from the moment we started planning to the last time I looked out over Boston on the flight home. I didn’t care about how my legs would push through 26.2 miles or if my pace stayed consistent. This was about my family, my running community, and the power of running in a race that feels bigger than one’s self.

Once in a lifetime running experiences are usually about so much more than your time on the course. If you’ve traveled to a new place, figure out how you can turn it into a longer trip. If you’ve heard that the expo is more of a party than a place to pick up your bib number, schedule time to hang out there and enjoy it. Decide what means the most to you, beyond the race itself. This is a once in a lifetime experience, so be sure to make the most of it.

Sometimes we are a part of the once in a lifetime experiences of others. Maybe 10ks are familiar fare for you, but you’re running with a friend for whom it’s a new experience. Let them call the shots and adopt a go with the flow attitude. Think back to your once in a lifetime experiences and how much they meant to you. Do your best to put your own goals on the back burner, while helping to shape the best experience for your friend as possible.


While we’re no strangers to the pain of running, we all pursue goals because we love the sport. There’s nothing like the feeling of standing at the starting line of a race among thousands of like-minded people that can’t get enough of the energy and the pavement. By aligning our goals with those of our races, we are better able to maximize our experiences and ensure we are in the right mindsets to enjoy them. So, take a moment to research your races before signing up for them. This is a sport that is about so much more than putting one foot in front of the other and our goals should honor that.

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