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Just did my first race (half marathon) and I'm extremely sore afterwards. Feel great, loved it, want to do more to test my limits. It got me thinking though: are races an exercise that helps you?

Another way of phrasing it: will you be healthier and faster if you run 6 of your target races a year or just save it for one good race a year?

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    thestrugglingscientists.com/is-running-a-marathon-healthy. Running a marathon is not healthy. Training for a marathon is. I would think the same goes for a 1/2 marathon.
    – Andy
    Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 14:16
  • That comes very close to a complete answer. I'd question the "completing a marathon is unhealthy" conclusion though. The general conclusion should maybe be "pushing yourself to an extreme for a good race time" is detrimental to ones health. Which makes sense? Running a race is intentionally overexerting oneself, and for long distances that's a lot of trauma to recover from.
    – joeyfb
    Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 14:37

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All physical activity generates some level of fatigue.

In "Physiological Basis of Fatigue", Evans and Lambert give us a definition of fatigue (that is used throughout exercise science, emphasis mine):

Fatigue may be defined as physical and/or mental weariness resulting from exertion, that is, an inability to continue exercise at the same intensity with a resultant deterioration in performance.

So fatigue is a deterioration of exercise performance. The goal of training is to intentionally accrue some measure of fatigue, in order to induce some desired physiological adaptations.

Generating too much fatigue in a single session negatively impacts fitness adaptations in the short term.

One of the challenges of effective training is to find the right balance of fatigue accumulation and recovery ability. If we train too hard in a given session, we find that we cannot adequately recover from that session in time for our next session; our performance in the next training session is worse, and we receive an inadequate training stimulus for generating the adaptation we want.

This is what a race does to you.

When you put forth a maximal effort for a race, you will typically be reaching well beyond the level of exertion experienced in training. The fatigue incurred by a race is more than you will typically incur during a training session, and it naturally takes your body longer to recover from the race than it does from a regular training session. This is okay, especially if performing well in the race is one of the goals of your training.

I want to emphasize, aside from injury, the greater recovery demands of the race impose a short term impairment of performance. Just give your body a few extra days to rest after the race, and you should be just fine to resume training. So no, you do not have to run one race per year. Just manage your training schedule around race times to allow for adequate post-race recovery; a few extra days to a week should be plenty. If it takes you longer than that to recover from the race, then it is likely you were not adequately prepared for that distance or intensity. It is certainly possible to "go too hard" as it were.

To answer the question directly, as long as you maintain realistic expectations about what sort of race you are prepared for, even frequent racing should not represent any sort of hindrance to training and improvement. But undertaking distances or intensities you are not prepared for too often can lead to injury or overtraining (chronically elevated fatigue characterized by marked decrease in performance and sensitivity to injury).

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Well, not a runner here but in weight training; testing strength and building strength are two different things. I believe it is similar here as well. You should build your strength and your training should be geared towards it. In races, you generally go "all out". We don't want this to be our training.

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  • Thanks for the answer but that wasn't really my question. I did not ask if every training run should be run as fast and hard as you can. What I did ask is periodic or occasional limiting-testing helps or hinders over all fitness
    – joeyfb
    Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 14:45
  • Depends on your goals. Usually in weight training people tend to taper towards their race and create programs accordingly. If you just race and don't go all out, I don't see any problem happening.
    – Michael C.
    Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 15:05
  • Arguably that wouldn't be racing then: it's just a long run you happen to do with other people.
    – joeyfb
    Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 16:27

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