Just Say No!

I developed an anecdote during a recent 10k race. I'll give away the punch line now: How do you know if the person running next to you during a race is someone you want to pace with? 

When the starting gun went off for a recent 10k, I was in 4th place, enjoying the view of lakes and trees in the opening minutes.  I could hear a guy coming up behind me, but he wasn't right behind me, he was about 30 meters back.  I heard him because his breathing sounded like he was kicking to the finish in a track race.  I thought, "This guy won't last through the 2-mile mark."  He decided to settle in next to me, and as I tried looking past him to catch another view of the lake, he asked if I was trying to stick with 5:45 pace.  "Sure," I said. "Great," he replied, "run with me, I need someone to help push me."  Now you may be thinking, "that's great, running with someone helps your race performance!"  Wrong.  What is the one uber-important disclaimer to put on that tactic? Anyone, anyone? Let's read on and find out. 

Because he was breathing like we were on Mt. Everest, I knew he was in over his head at 5:45/mile.  Who cares what his stride looked like or the fact we were shoulder to shoulder, his breathing was out of control.  So, I looked at him and said, "nah, I'm okay, go ahead".  He went ahead just before the 1-mile mark, then slowed a bit as I passed him on a gradual incline.  As we crested the hill, we hit the Mile 1 mark at 5:45 exactly.  It was a rolling mile and I don't believe in Garmins, so how did I do that?  Stride, breathing, discipline.  Just Say No to peer pressure.  Experience helps a great deal; I know what 5:45 feels like.  Effort.  Intensity.  Perceived Exertion.  These are all more important than pace and/or "running with someone". 

As we crested the Mile 1 mark, we had a looooong downhill, my favorite.  I passed him easily, which told me that we had two different running styles and strengths, so that was another clue I knew not to pace with him.  I didn't say 'no' 3 minutes into the race because I thought he was a faster runner.  I said 'no' because I knew he was too slow, even though he went ahead of me.  After that downhill, I never saw (or heard) him again and beat him by 3-4 minutes, all of which I could predict from 10 seconds of data collection at the half-mile mark. 

Once I passed the other guy ahead of me at mile 3, I knew he would fade because I watched his stride as I came up behind him.  His cadence was just too slow to be running at that pace.  I came in 2nd place to a great runner, who I actually beat in a 10k two months ago.  I let him go right off the gate, and he pulled away further each mile, no way I would beat him today.  The effort required would have sunk me.

The moral of the story: Be very selective in deciding who you're going to run next to in a race.  And be very selective when you do it.  It's safe to say that trying to "run with someone" (a stranger) from the opening mile is a recipe for disaster.  Either you're too fast, or they're too fast.  Monitor your own breathing and stride and be disciplined.  If you know it's too much effort, back off.  If you find yourself pulling ahead of your group or doing lots of passing, then check your body.  Much of the time it means you're doing great, keep it steady.  Get in tune, which is aided by consistent track work.  The goal of track workouts is to hit the same...pace...every...lap!  iPod runners may have to read this story again :)

Train hard (and don't follow strangers)!


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