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Friday, May 25, 2007

Clocks Never Lie: Why I Like Racing

Thinking today about the lure running races has for me, while posting on a discussion board the comparisons of martial arts (about which I know nothing) and running, I realized what I like.

Running is a naked sport.

Looking at a 5K, the distance du jour for me, I see a great leveling of humankind. The fastest racer in most local 5Ks will win in not faster than around 15 minutes. The slowest runner will complete the distance in around 50-60 minutes. Within a 35-45 minute span, the race is complete.

I am not dependent on someone throwing me the ball, blocking my opponent, or special equipment assisting me. Money, tools will not help me. It is true good shoes help, but that's only around an $80 investment.

Equipment: Any old t-shirt, shorts which don't chafe, good shoes are all that is needed. Socks optional. Guys can even forgo said shirt.

Race, gender, age are all unimportant.

While it is true that male runners in their 20s have an edge, it is not a given. Great women runners can still show the young boys how it is done. Black, white, purple? No worries. Alberto Salazar was originally Cuban. A Moroccan, lots of Kenyans and Ethiopians have all excelled in distance racing. Bill Rodgers is a white guy. Whatever your prejudice, personal bias, issue -- it is all moot. Either you run faster or you don't.

Every runner endures almost the same conditions.

Golfers later in the day compete on the same course, but different weather, and, after 100 golfers have tread the grass, a different lawn. The only difference a faster and slower runner deal with is that the slower runner, in a larger race, contends with others around him. This could slow his ability to move up a few places.

Few Rules

Rules to running a 5K (and any other other road race)
  • Start here.
  • Run the course as designated.
  • End there.

That's it. OK, OK, you probably should not hit your opponents, spread butter on the road or use a skateboard. There's no three-second rule. No illegal equipment. A referee is not likely to call out something about 12 men on the field. Out-of-bounds could be an issue, but rarely relevant. You run. (You can write that down if necessary, but I'm hoping you have that covered).

I am racing the clock, and the clock never lies.

Time is time. No matter how outclassed I am in a race, I can still have a PR or meet some other goal. I can run faster on that course than I did last year, have steadier splits, or a stronger finishing mile. As I am working toward a faster 5K time, if I progress, even if I am last place, I can achieve my goals.

Times Don't Win Races, People Do

The prize does not go to the fastest time, but to the person in front. While, certainly, it is true that he who who has the fastest time that day brings home the trophy, it is more so true that a slow time can still win.

In the 2006 Pikes Peak Marathon, a record was set. Winner Matt Carpenter, a 42 year-old runner from nearby Manitou Springs, CO, set the ascent record (2:08:27, knocking off almost 10 minutes from the previous record). Took home several age-group records in the process.

What? 2:08 is a marathon record? No, no. That's just half of a marathon. The other half of the race is going back down. His entire time was 3:33:07. Not a bad marathon, but, in any other race, he would not end up with hardware. Mr. Carpenter won the race, not his 3:33. See the course map below.

A Race, Ultimately, Is Honest

No excuses. Whether racing against the clock, or against that guy who kicked past you last year, running is blatantly honest. The idea, the process, and the victory are all simple. When race day comes, it as all you. Whatever training you have done is done. The weather is the weather, for better and for worse. The course is known - no secrets. If you have run a few races, you have a good idea where you stand, and cannot blame naivete.

Now, go run.

(related: Something I Do: I Run)

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