So what is the view, if you’re not Lead Dog? Well, to start with, it’s usually full of fellow runners, every one of them different – and potentially instructive. Watch who stays ahead of you, who passes, and who drops behind – and you can learn a lot about running, and about yourself.
One example: in the early miles of a local event a few years ago, I played leapfrog with a runner who looked to be about my age and fitness level, trading places when one of us would slow down for a water station or a short uphill. After I passed him on a stretch of straight and level pavement though, I pulled away strongly in my ground-covering strides, breathing relaxed and deep, while he was mincing along with quick, short steps that looked like the product of approaching exhaustion. Confident I wouldn’t be seeing the guy again till the after-party, I put him out of mind. It was a shock then, to see him come up on my shoulder with a couple of miles to go,
My competitive spirit said there was no way I was going to let this guy get the best of me, but when I boosted my pace to stay on his heels, it was quickly clear I wouldn’t be able to keep that up for the duration. In desperation, I tried copying his cadence – speeding my steps up as fast as he was doing, and lo-and-behold, I was able to keep the space between us constant – for a short time. That gait didn’t feel natural though (I hadn’t trained for it, after all) and soon enough I fell back into my own style – and watched mister short-steps disappear into the distance ahead.
Struck by that experience, I began to read more closely, and train more consciously, teaching myself to run with shorter strides and more of them, and I’ve seen my times and endurance profit from it – a growth experience which only came about because I was in the middle of the pack, mixing it up with a whole range of other runners.
Lead dogs have no one to watch, and no one but themselves to learn from. Just one reason the mid-pack view can be pretty grand, if you look at it with open eyes!