A couple of weeks ago I was invited to a morning tempo run with some of my chums who are much faster than I am. My goal marathon pace is their easy recovery pace. But all the same they invited me out. While I couldn't make it due to work (really) it was pretty exciting to be invited to the cool kids' table for my tempo run, even if it would have thrashed me for a couple of days.
Today as I knocked out a difficult 10 mile interval workout at 5:45am I heard foot steps as I picked up my pace for another two minute burst at 10K pace. As I got out of the way I looked to see who was passing me, and of course getting read to judge them for going too fast on a run. However it was one of the very fast and gifted runners in our club. I speeded up to sub 5K pace and he slowed down. We ran together for a minute and then he took off for the rest of his speed workout and I was grateful for the beep of the Garmin telling me it was time for three minutes of recovery.
When he looped the bottom of the park, he smiled and said "half way done." I flashed a grin and kept going.
This got me thinking: Why should I judge someone zipping past me? I know my pace and I know that I am doing my workout, so why should I get defensive on a Thursday morning in Golden Gate Park?
The answer is built into how and why runner train.
This is a bit free form but come with me if you don't mind.
In the March issue of Running Times David Alm's article explores the significant differences in the way elites and competitive amateurs train and race. "An Elite State of Mind" tapped into something I have been trying to identify within the running community.
Alm's article focuses on a time he won the opportunity to race as an elite runner. After winning a local race he traveled, trained, lived, and raced with guys who actually run for a living. They were humble. They were poor. And they were not from the United States. These characteristics, in addition to doing easy miles at a 5:30 pace, set them apart from most amateurs in the U.S.
Most conversations about races start with "how fast did you go?" or "did you PR today?" What Alm notes in his article was that these elites, these professional athletes, weren't interested in that. They just wanted to race and do it well or do it well next time. CLEARLY this is a romantic view of the elite world. Most of these folks make less than minimum wage to run professionally. A vast majority have sponsorships that provide almost nothing in the way of meaningful support. And there have got to be at least a few pros who are absolute dicks about their times and paces.
What differentiates these runners from the guys lined up in the first few corrals of a local race is in their heads, says Alm. And I agree.
As a middle of the pack guy with increasing speed it always upsets me when someone who knows how fast I am and knows how fast I wanted to run a race asks how fast I ran my race. I am not mad at that person, but I kind of wish they asked if I was pleased with the race. Running a race, as I have noted before, is a self-centered endeavor. Alm discusses the danger of these kind of humble brags and so-called constructive critiques. They can destroy your drive or cause you to return the favor and in effect poison the well. We do this to feel better about our pace, our race; it is playground shit.
Alm goes on to write that the elites he was bunking with didn't talk about their speed and stuck around to cheer for him after he bonked out of his race.
That sounds a hell of a lot like a running club. We help each other, cheer for all the people running the race, whether they finish in 2:40 or 5:40, we ring cow bells and act a fool. Sure we probably judge each other a bit more than the elites outlined in this article but I really believe a friendly club atmosphere is a similar kind of community to the one described in the Running Times article.
But again, running is a selfish. I need to work on my immediate reaction to judge the guy who is coming up "too fast" or the guy wearing $500 of running gear who likes to "jog."
With that, there are a few people I know I need to apologize to about this and I hope to get better about staying in an elite state of mind when it comes to the community.