Pushing the Pace

The following post was submitted for Trail Runner Magazine’s symposium question:

Is too much emphasis being placed on competitive results in the sport?

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I swiftly glide past the mile marker 3 of my favorite 10k trail race feeling a little taxed, a little “went out too fast” fatigued.  But, I’m opening the throttle instead of tempering it.  John, who I chatted with at the starting line, is 5 yards ahead of me and I’m committed to staying on his heels.  The pace is a slightly faster than I’m comfortable with so I should slow down.  But, I won’t.  John and I are competing.  We are way behind the leaders and vying for a position well out of the top 10.  This doesn’t concern us.  The leaders have their race and we have ours. This is what makes a trail race a “race”.

You run trails for the solitude, for stress relief, for the balance of getting your exercise and mental cataloging done on rolling piece of single track.  And you might be out there training for a race.   Mileage, hill repeats, fartleks, is beet juice really good for recovery?  You run, you consider, you tweak your gear to get better.  If you’re not directly competing against other runners than you’re competing against yourself.  A PR or a time faster than last year is a satisfying day in the dirt.

At the finishers tent with bagel and OJ in hand, we hustle over to the posted results to see how we stacked up against the rest of the field.  And yeah, we may not say it, but it’s an ego boost to better our trail mates – To subtly know, “I was faster than you today.”

At the pro level competition is what it’s all about.  Behind all the PC comments these runners thrive on pushing each other.  They feed off it.  They need it to bring out all their potential.  Think about it.  If you’re handily winning races with no challenge, no looking over your shoulder stressing about the 2nd place runner reeling you in, then where’s the incentive to get better?

Competition drives course records and feeds our fandom.  On Monday Night Football when Brady or Manning are under center, you witness one of the all-time greats pick apart a professional defense.  When you watch them compete against each other, it could be the game of the decade.

Same thing on the trails.  Everyone wants to see which elite runners are toeing the start line at Western States.  Their race inspires the rest of us midpackers.  Their competition makes ultrarunning history.

Is too much emphasis being placed on competitive results in the sport?

No.

That emphasis happens organically.  It happens with or without out contrived influence from the business/advertising/sponsorship side of trail running.

It’s human nature to push the pace.

As for John and myself.  He puts about 50 yards on me by mile five, but I close the gap and pass him at mile 6.  Then John shows a superior finishing kick and dusts me by 10 seconds to claim 17th overall.  We acknowledge a great race – I pushed him and he pulled me.  No one really cares about 17th place.

But, we sure do.  We competed for it.

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