"A Race" vs "B Race"

>> Wednesday, April 21, 2010

This idea of having an "A" race or a "B" race can be an issue for some people, and I thought I'd open this idea up for discussion.

About couple of months ago, Rural Girl told Pharmie and I about this small half-marathon race in her hometown. She invited some blogger buddies (and real-life buddies) to her town to run the race with her: Simply Stu and Robby B were planning on coming over to race. She invited Pharmie and I, and we thought it'd be a fun way to see our internet buddies again! So we signed up.

I signed up thinking it'd be a "B" race: I'd be trained to go the distance, I'd have a fun race hanging out with friends, I MIGHT just PR (only because my other 3 half marathons have been in the dead of winter here in MN), but I wasn't going to drop all of my other races to train SOLELY for this race.

A few days after that, I thought it COULD turn into an "A" race: Because all of my other half marathons have been in the winter when I've been less trained and wearing lots of extra clothes, this could be a chance to DESTROY my PR. And it's before multi-sport season in the midwest, so I wouldn't be skipping real important bike rides to make sure I got my long runs done.

After my real decent long run last week, this could definitely be an "A" race: I ran a 12 miler pretty hard, but not quite "all out," and I finished in under 1:19. My 13.1 PR is 1:28. That's PR territory, folks.

I think it's only natural that some races are more important than others to most people. I'm really training up for Liberty Oly Tri in June (an "A" race), but I may be throwing a small tri in the works in a few weeks (a "B" race). I won't drop my training plans and taper off for 2 weeks for that "B" race if I decide to do it; I'll just tackle it and treat it like a hard training day.

In fact, the MDRA Mudball (the race report seen in my last post) was only a "B" race. I was telling Chris before the start that I was just treating it as a hard tempo run. I just took a rest day before the race to be somewhat "fresh" for the run, and then ran as hard as I could. The outcome wasn't super important to me, so it was definitely not an "A" race.

Here's the big deal for some people with regards to "A" races or "B" races: if we are running together in the same race, only it's a "B" race for me and an "A" race for you, and I BEAT you, is that super insulting?

If I say, "Oh, this isn't that important of a race to me," and then I beat someone who trained hard for this race, that can be degrading. To some people, this is a big slap in the face. And I have to say that I can see their point. Everyone just needs to keep in mind that someone else might have a different idea of what "success" is at any given race.

So what's your take on having "A" races and "B" races? Is it just the necessary manner in which we train and race? Or is it something that can be disrespectful to other athletes? I have my thoughts, but I want to see if I'm with the majority of people.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

So I can't wait to be able to hang out with Rural Girl, Simply Stu, and Robby B this weekend at the half marathon! Here's a slightly embarrassing photo of each of them from WIBA last summer:

Rural Girl headed to the woods to pee before her long ride

Robby enjoying some post-ride meat and beer

Stu and I manning the grills after the bike ride.
No "tongs" jokes. Thanks.

Anyway, I'd love your thoughts "A" vs "B" races. I have some "A" races coming up shortly. After all, duathlon season is in the air.......


Joe 6:39 AM, April 21, 2010  

Isn't it perfectly natural to have "A" and "B" races?

If I'm training for the Twin Cities Marathon this year (and I am), and I'm only building my distance and fitness from a very low level, everything that isn't Twin Cities is a "B" race because they all need to serve my training.

Will I try to do my best in the other races I have planned for this summer? Of course. Does running my best half marathon at 13.1 Minneapolis matter near as much as doing solid work to prepare myself for Twin Cities? Not even a little bit. I can run a 1:51 or a 2:20 at the half and as long as it was my best effort and I didn't do anything to hurt myself for the marathon, I can walk away proud of how I ran in the "B" race.

And - I plan to do Living History Farms in Iowa in late November. As much as I want to do this race (which is a lot), it's a "B" race because it isn't about performance. It's about the experience despite the fact that I'm going to run my ass off.

If I beat people who have trained hard for Living History Farms, or if you beat people at the MDRA Mudball...it doesn't degrade them, their efforts, or their training.

It just means that your (or my) training and fitness is better than that of another person.

As runners of varying ability and levels of training, we should understand that and be well used to it.

(sorry, that was a long first comment here. hi.)

Joe 7:03 AM, April 21, 2010  

Also (sorry), don't elite athletes do this? They build their training to peak at one particular race, say the National Championships or the Olympic Trials.

It doesn't mean they don't run hard at the other races, but with certain exceptions during the season, some (if not many) of those races would probably be considered a "B" race compared to the importance of that key race they are shooting for.

Steve Stenzel 7:24 AM, April 21, 2010  

Yep, elite athletes totally do this. I was talking to Michelle Frey (formerly Michelle Lilienthal - featured on the May 08 cover of Runners World) as she was training up for a marathon. She decided to do Grandmas Half Marathon as a "tempo run" as just a B race. But she was careful in the way she talked about this. I could tell she didn't want to offend anyone. She ended up running something like a 1:18 at her B race. Speedy. ;)

Unknown 7:43 AM, April 21, 2010  

I have A, B, & C races. The A races are the ones I'm actually training for. C races are just for fun. B races I try to do well, but don't train specifically for them and sometimes train through them. It makes sense to me...

Matt 7:48 AM, April 21, 2010  

I don't see a problem with A and B races—I expect to be beat by many people when I run, so whatever effort they put into it is irrelevant. That being said, if the person is a jerk about it (e.g. bragging it up as "I didn't even try and got such and such a time…"), then I just assume they are generally a jerk. But, that has little to do with it being an A and B race and everything to do with their character.

Mario 8:11 AM, April 21, 2010  

Many very good points. It comes down to planning, not results. You plan out your season so you can peak for particular races that you choose way before the race is approaching. Typically only a few per season (I only pick 2) are "A" races. All others are 'B' and 'C' races along with others that you add last minute. I have had better B races than A races sometimes (even some C's have went better). It takes some figuring out and sometimes the timing is off. This is a personal method, but the way I determine which of my remaining races are B or C is this: if the race is at the end of a Recovery week or during a Taper week (tapering for the "A" race), its a B race. My thinking is that I should be a little more 'fresh' during an Recovery week or Taper week. C races are those that happen any other time. For instance, my first multisport race this season is in a little over a week. The timing couldn't be worse--its at the end of a 3 week high volume period (ok, high for me). The following week is recovery. The race will be a 'C' race.

Also, Joe mentioned elites peaking for Olympic Trials. That explains a lot about why records aren't usually broken during the Olympics--because they are peaking to get there.

Steve Stenzel 8:13 AM, April 21, 2010  

Matt, I love this, and you are SOO right:

"...if the person is a jerk about it (e.g. bragging it up as "I didn't even try and got such and such a time…"), then I just assume they are generally a jerk. But, that has little to do with it being an A and B race and everything to do with their character."

JC 8:21 AM, April 21, 2010  

I think people that are upset about your success in a race need to "suck it up". If you've registered for something and you are a faster person, WHY the heck should someone be mad because you beat them? The person who won the race beat them. I would be a bit mad if you told me that you were going to run with me and then last minute you decided to take off - BUT that's totally different.
Oh and that picture is TOTALLY calling for thong jokes, lucky for you I don't have any!!!

CoachLiz 8:39 AM, April 21, 2010  

On tagging a race either as being an A or B race is something that needs to be established at the beginning of a training and race season. Once the one or two A races are identified, everything else is a B or C race. Flip-flopping B races to A races tells me that there was still uncertainty in a person's racing season. The option to sign up for other or more events is there and the focus is not as sharp as it could be. For some people, that is ok. They might be racing for fun or to just take in the whole experience as Joe talked about.

There is nothing bad about having a great race at a B race that smashes everyone else's A race efforts. What is bad is the bragging. If you do well, you can say,"This was a test to see how well I can maintain my mile splits, and I passed the test!" or "This race was to see if I was able to do a negative split. I did it but it was painful and I may need some more work." and then you follow it up with Congratulations to your friend and asking them all about their PR. Put the focus back on them and celebrate their success.

By the way, 75% of people's B efforts will always be better than my A race effort. I have gotten over it. I am a middle to back of the pack person. I train to go faster but I think my body might self destruct if I tried to run faster than a 7:45 mile. I guess it is something about that heart defect and the asthma....but it could be my shoes. Maybe if I had fast looking shoes....hmm...

Jenny Davidson 8:53 AM, April 21, 2010  

Not at all disrespectful, though yes, it must be handled tactfully.

Alan Couzens has a good post today about the distinction between A, B and C races - I would note, with all due respect to previous commenters, that actually in terms of the terminology as Friel et al. use it, often one should NOT be "doing one's best" at a B race!


Judy 9:04 AM, April 21, 2010  

My best races are much slower than your "easy" runs but I know the level of fitness I'm at right now and I'm ok with that. If I spent all my time comparing my efforts to yours I'd never get off the couch. If people have problems with the fact that you're faster than them then their focus is on the wrong thing.

But Matt said it right - a decent person wouldn't rub their success in your face but rather see your accomplishment as being just as good as theirs. So my 10:15 pace at a recent 15k is just as huge as your getting a PR at twice that speed for a half.

Bullet 9:05 AM, April 21, 2010  

For me, a "B" race is one that I don't taper for and will continue training through on pursuit of my goal for the "A" race. The "B" race is just to prep me for bigger goals. As far as being a slap in the face, everyone has to run their own race to their own abilities. You being faster than someone else is not a slap in the face. It's your ability and training vs theirs. Well, it is a slap in the face if you rub it in. Don't do that. Bad kharma, flat tires, and gas bubbles on the run will follow.

Georgia Snail 9:40 AM, April 21, 2010  

Someone's gotta do it...

That is quite the apron you have there Mr. Stenzel....

Amy 9:55 AM, April 21, 2010  

I actually had a conversation about this with a friend the other day. I don't distinguish between A/B races. They're all important to me. I think that if they weren't important, I wouldn't bother signing up for the race. However, I understand why elite athletes (and people who are just better/faster than me in general) distinguish between the two. At this point, I'm just racing to keep up my fitness and see how much I can push myself, so it's all really personal for me.

Amy - the gazelle 10:15 AM, April 21, 2010  

honestly, I am not fast enough to really ever race against anyone but myself, so if your B race time beat my A race time, I wouldn't even think twice.

I have both A & B races, and define them the same way I do. Maybe if I were in any danger of ever placing in a race, I'd feel more resentful of someone who hadn't trained as hard beating me, but I doubt it.

Borsch 10:36 AM, April 21, 2010  

Short answer from me....simply how you train for a race.

Look at the half matt did with me. I trained all summer, he trained for a week and finished just a few seconds behind me.

People who are insulted need to take a chill pill. You never know how much effort that other person is putting in for other races. Or how much they have done to get to that point where they are simply faster than you. Some of it is genetics and some of it is input (time, energy).

Ok. Not so short but you get the idea....

teacherwoman 11:22 AM, April 21, 2010  

In the past, I have never really put much thought into A and B races as I was just getting used to new and different distances/races. However, this year, I still don't know if I am really thinking about my races in regards to labeling them A or B, but if I were, all my races would be B races and my only A race would be the Olympic Triathlon in August - not because I am going out to break any records or place in my AG, but because it's the main thing I am focusing on and looking forward to accomplishing in addition to a sprint tri here or there before that weekend.

The Boring Runner 11:40 AM, April 21, 2010  

People get too worked up over stuff. I have a,b, and c races all the time. C races are normally the ones that I do with my friends, but I've had A races that I do with my friends too.

Sometimes people just need to be OK with their abilities.

drdave 1:02 PM, April 21, 2010  

I have used a local 5K as the second leg of a brick training session. I ride in on my bike, park it, slap on my number and shortly there after the gun goes off. It seems to really piss some people off when I do this, but I am not doing it to brag. I am just trying to support the local running club and get a good hard training day out of one event.
BTW, I don't usually beat any of the runners. A few 'joggers' yes but none of the runners.

Michelle 1:55 PM, April 21, 2010  

I don't really care about the letter; A, B, C, or X. Doesn't matter in the end. A race is a race and you'll try as hard as you can. The clarification comes in how you plan your training schedule and that's geared all around the A races.

And yes, PR material this weekend!

Michelle 1:56 PM, April 21, 2010  

BTW, that picture makes my butt look big!!

Josh 2:02 PM, April 21, 2010  

I believe there are three kinds of races not just two.

A: You structure your season around this race so that you are your fastest and are giving yourself your best chance to perform on that day. World class marathoners, and long course triathletes can only do one or two A races in a year. Short course athletes typically have a period of a few weeks when they're on A form and put a few A races in there. Cyclists can be on form for TdF in the summer, usually meaning they're not in great shape for the Spring Classics. Typically the people who win the Spring Classics don't fare well at the world championships in September. They decide when they want to be fastest a whole year in advance.

B: You structure the week prior to the race to perform your best on race day.

C: You structure the prior 24 hours to the race to perform your best. Some workouts need to be C races if you're going to be familiar with what it requires to perform well on race day for B and A races.

Steve, I'd suggest that what you're really discussing is upgrading this half marathon from C status to B status. If you're adding it mid-season you're not structuring a season around it.

Steve Stenzel 2:32 PM, April 21, 2010  

Josh, I nearly had this about A, B, and C races. I actually deleted the C part just before posting. I don't really follow any sort of training plan, so I don't really have any "super" A races. I'm always "sort of" in shape, so that I know I could pick up a certain race in a few weeks if I wanted too.

The half marathon was never at C status. It was always higher than that. But your probably right in that it's also not a "super" A race. It's up there, but more like a A- / B+ race. If that exists! ;)

Joe 7:21 PM, April 21, 2010  

Steve: I was thinking about C races when I posted.

I don't have a problem with an A- / B+ either, because I think any gradations depend entirely on who you are and what you are looking to get out of a particular race - or what your goals are. I'd probably select my races as A, B, and C without much in between, but I can see how certain races could easily be an A- / B+

Amytrigirl (aka Amybee) 8:23 PM, April 21, 2010  

Steve, Steve, Steve. I, of course, have A and B races. I, of course, know that you will beat me whether I'm doing an A, B or Z race.

I'm okay with that.

I'm waaaaay okay with that.

I'm waaaaaaaaay okay with the fact that I'm usually at the bottom of the page of race results.

I just try to beat my own times and I really try not to embarrass myself.

See you soon (or at least at WIBA!)

Rocco 11:03 PM, April 21, 2010  

If you put a number on it's a race. End of story. Go all out. The less distance runners think, the better they off they are. If you start labeling races on how hard you will go, you can learn to rationalize your way out of the second half of any race.

Now how you react post-race is different. It's okay to say after a race, "well I'm coming off an 80 mile week, I ran 22 three days ago, so I can allow for my slow time." But when you are racing, you owe it to yourself and the rest of the field to go all out.

Steve Stenzel 10:08 AM, April 22, 2010  

Rocco, you bring up a point I forgot to touch on, and I know this idea is different for many people....

If it's an A or B race for me, I still RACE as hard as I can. For example, at the Winter Carnival Half Marathon this last January, I ran with a camera and took a video most of the way. (See sidebar for race report and video.) It was NOT an A race - it was barely a B race. But, I pushed as hard as I could in that run.

And I totally agree with the "post-race" thoughts. It's it's an A race, I'm thinking "I NEED to hit XX:XX or I'll be unhappy."

Anonymous,  10:59 AM, April 22, 2010  

Well, for A races I try to schedule a 12-16 week training cycle with a taper. Somehow however, I tend to do better at my B races. I'll train through B races, but I may take a day off, and just do "leg-openers" the day before. Then on race day, I go as hard as I can, understanding that there are no expectations. As for C races, I do these for training and fun. Sometimes I'll do two events in one day, sometimes I'll go hard, and at other times I'll just cruise. Or, I'll go hard, but then shut it down right before the finish just to avoid turning myself inside out. I must say that the A races are the least enjoyable.

As for having some guy on his C race crush me, well, some people are just fast like that...

Peg S 11:22 AM, April 22, 2010  

My 5K PR was in a "C" race where I was planning to run for fun with a friend that is about 3 or 4 minutes slower than me. She didn't show up, but I was in that frame of mind and for once didn't press at the beginning - then got faster the whole way through the race.
You would have still gotten to the finish line 10 minutes before me. Why would anyone be upset about that?

Wedgie 1:27 PM, April 22, 2010  

I just had my A race for the year turn into a B race because I added an A+ race to my schedule. I grade my races based upon the training leading up to them; how much am I willing to sacrifice preparing for the race? I might PR on a 5k or 10k (which could be a C race) because I have residual fitness left over from an earlier A race.

If you are doing a race with somebody and you know it's their A race and your B race, you shouldn't say a thing other than to support them. Saying that it's a B race for you is either demeaning or will sound like you're making excuses in case you don't perform well.

Julie 8:03 PM, April 22, 2010  

Okay Steve, I really don't know the difference between A & B races...for me I am just trying to survive whatever race I happen to be in:)

I was reading your post and scrolling down and then before my eyes...a true Steve Stenzel picture:) Love the apron...you do have a speedo under there...right?

Thanks for stopping by my blog again..you are like my college son...he never calls anymore or writes...comments on my blog:)

Have a good one Steve!

kelands 8:09 PM, April 22, 2010  

I've been running all winter in an attempt to have a solid base before training for a marathon.

My friend on the other hand has been running for a few weeks, smokes several cigarettes a day and was extremely hungover on race day. He still beat me by 5 minutes in 10 k and I was running 8 min/miles. Now that's offensive!

Nelson 10:09 AM, April 23, 2010  

Hi Steve, I've been reading through your blog for some time now (I started at the beginning and worked my way to here, that's kind of like endurance training I think) and I finally made it to a post that I can comment on.

This is my first season of training in any of the tri-sports so I'm certainly no expert, however, I think the A, B, C distinction means the most to people who do heavy tapers. From what I've read about you, you don't really taper much, so maybe the distinction isn't as big a deal.

A races tend to be more difficult and require a longer taper, B races not so much so taper very little, and C races are just like training so no taper at all.

In terms of beating an A racer in your B or C race, my opinion is fairly straight forward. I have read numerous descriptions of people during their races. I have come to the following conclusion, we all give it everything we've got for these races, and we all feel the pain, it's just that faster people can go that much harder before they hit the pain wall. Once we get there, be it a 10 minute mile for some, or a 5 minute mile for others, we are all in the same place regardless of our race designation.

I just did my first 5K in March, and I felt pretty much how you've described feeling at a ton of your races. I finished mine at a pace of 9:33 which was huge for me. Your easy runs are 7's. I don't think you're an ass as a result, I think you're awesome to be able to do that. I also know you put in a lot of hard work to get there.

I think this comment is now too long to be my 2 cents, so may it's my $1.25.

Ryan 2:31 PM, April 23, 2010  

I seperate races into A, B and C but when the race comes up... I always end up giving A race effort and being dissapointed if it wasn't a PR or close to it... =) Bad side of being competitive. =)

Cyborg Queen 5:25 PM, April 23, 2010  

Interesting comments. I agree with the others that it's HOW you react to your friend/ or your friend reacting to you regarding to PR's and A/B races. If you KNOW it's your friend's A race, and it's your B race...just don't say anything. Just say, "Congratulations! How you feel! That was awesome!". Don't brag and say, "Oh this was just a B race for me, easy peasy. No problem-o." etc. It's making the friend's work downgraded.

Personally - I focus on races that I want to do really well, and that would be my A race. I don't expect to push myself so hard that I *must* complete it in xx:xx:xx. I would push myself hard to say that "I finished it in a lot less time than I thought!"

This is my first season of tri, and my first race is May 15th...while I'm probably going to be BOP or maybe even MOP, but you know what...it's my FIRST race, I lost 30 pounds to get there, I worked VERY hard to get there...Me, myself, I. Not anyone else. Me. Do I care about the times? No. I want to finish, and have bragging rights that I said I completed a Triathlon. I don't give a hoot's a$$ if it's way slower (and I have to keep reminding myself that), than anyone else. It may be different for many others who are seeking to be the fastest, to contiune breaking PR's. I think there's a limit of what you can really do...without injuries or issues. I can never see myself doing a 7:45/mi run, e.v.e.r. Sometimes I do wonder if people who have been doing triathlons/running for many years forget the rush/high/even disappointments they felt when they just started out. I'm doing it for fun and just for myself.

M 10:02 PM, April 24, 2010  

There were too many comments to read (and its late and I'm lazy from my long run) so I apologize if I repeat anyone's thoughts, but my two cents are this:

I think most people have A, B, and C races - the ones we train uber hard for (A), the ones we use as "test" races and are more fun (B), and the ones we sign up just for kicks and giggles, sometimes the morning of (C).

And the reality is that races are filled with people of different skill levels, and who sign up for different reasons (just to finish versus PR). I don't think its insulting if you are running your fifth half-marathon as a B race, while someone is running their first as an A. People are always going to have different goals for different reasons.

M 10:07 PM, April 24, 2010  

P.S. But I also agree with everyone's comments about the bragging part. I really liked Coach Liz's comment!

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