What Makes a Race?

There has been an explosion of nontraditional athletic events over the last few years.  Mud runs, zombie runs, color runs, sweater runs, gran fondos, festivals, etc..  As popular as they are I don’t think of many of these events as races (or competitions, if time isn’t a factor; see climbing comps).  My criteria are simple:

  • Is there a winner?
  • Are the results recorded somewhere?

If you can’t answer “yes” to both of these questions, you’re not in a race, and you probably aren’t listed here at NPA.  That being said, I won’t stop anyone from listing an event that doesn’t match these criteria, as long as it has an athletic component to it–and if your mud run or sweater run has results, that means someone cared enough about the sport to compile them.  Some of these races are even completely subjective experiences for each participant (see: zombie runs, collaborative mud run obstacles, etc.), but as long as everyone is happy with the schema, the results are real.

Notice how I don’t care about free events–if you have a free event with results, it’s a race.  If you don’t even have prizes for the winner, it’s still a race, and the prize is just bragging rights.  In this vein I’d argue that town-line sprints could be races…if you keep track of who won.  If you and your buddies meet up on Thursdays to run a trail loop and see who wins, you should call it a race (heck, I’ll even host your results).

Competition shouldn’t happen just because you want to make money, or create awareness for your group–although these are acceptable outcomes–it should be organic, because you like to compete, because your friends compete, because you want to create something bigger than yourself (or be subsumed by it).  Let the festivals of spirit (or colored powder) pass you by, and race for racing’s sake.

Image by Michael Hicks, used under a Creative Commons-Attribution license.

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