A few years ago I had a difficult run – colder weather than expected and headwinds that seemed to come from whatever direction the course was headed, no matter how many ways it turned. After battling intermittent showers and my own head-trips, I finally reached the home-stretch, laser-focused on one last chance to feel good about my morning by finishing strong, and found myself pulling-up on another runner who didn’t seem to have much ‘oomph’ left. Inflatable arch in sight, I huffed and puffed and managed to pass the guy with less than a hundred feet to go, feeling really proud of myself. It was only later, when the results came out, that I discovered the gent was over twenty years my senior! He’d been ahead of me for 26 miles, and if he took any notice at all of me passing, it could only have detracted from what was a far more impressive performance than mine. Suddenly that last-minute pass didn’t feel so glorious.
Since then I’ve become a lot more conscious about who is around me in that last hundred yards or so.
It’s one thing to challenge yourself to catch some person up-ahead in the middle of the race – that’s a great way to keep up the concentration and intensity, and for all you know, she or he might find it a useful spur to try to keep ahead of you. I know I’ve felt that way – the “I’ll be darned if she’s going to pass me going up this hill…” kind of thing. At its best this turns into a team effort – two runners drawing each other on so that both excel. With a few friendly words tossed back and forth along the way, I’ve had this lead to a new friendship in the cool-down pen – exchanging names and histories, and even sweat-soaked hugs. (Nothing better than those slippy-soggy, salt-crusted, post-race hugs….well maybe a few things).
Nor am I saying a finish line push is never justified. If there’s a chance to catch some big young fella’ you’ve been playing leapfrog with all the way – and he’s still fighting as well – that’s part of the game. But if I find myself approaching the finish line neck-and-neck with a 14 year old kid (yup, it’s happened) or if it feels like one more hard push with two strides to go might allow me to pass another runner who’s clearly run out of gas, my rule now is to back off and seek satisfaction in clock-time and how I executed my game plan.
Running in the middle of the pack is about how you run, not dodging your “would’a, could’a, should’a’s” at somebody else’s expense. The best events are run against the clock, not the other MPRs around you.