At some level, every runner except the one in the lead is chasing someone. Still not convinced? Watch the race for last place. Make no mistake it is a race. – John Bingham, An Accidental Athlete
It finally happened. After participating in several races, yesterday I felt like I was racing. I placed 154 out of just over 160, but there was only one person I wanted to place ahead of.
It was the girl who cut the course short.
Now, I am the last to judge or look down on anyone at the back of the pack. I don’t care if you’re walking a 5k. It bothers me a little if you’re mostly walking and still ahead of me, but that’s my problem, not yours. I’m only out there racing the old Andy. (OK, if I’m honest, I definitely wanted to place ahead of the 350 pound guy I met at TriRock Annapolis, and I did. He smoked my bike time though.)
But all fellow penguin sympathies are gone when you short the course. I don’t care if you’re some young hotshot who skips the energy lab at Kona then brags about your time later, only to be outed on slowtwitch. (one of the most epic threads ever), or you’re some girl who doesn’t care about her time but just wants to catch up with her two friends who are walking faster, shorting the course is shorting the course. And I’ll be dipped in GU before I let you short it and walk in ahead of me.
We were maybe 50 yards from the turnaround in a fast out and back course on the Isle of Q in Selinsgrove. I saw the walker ahead of me just turn and jump in with her friends who had already rounded the cone. This made for about a 100 yard cut of the course.
Now I shouldn’t give a whit what she did. She’s not stealing anyone’s AG place, she’ll be in the bottom 10% no matter what. But what if she didn’t short it, would I place one higher? Why do I care? What difference does 153rd make from 154th? Well, 11 is one louder than 10, isn’t it?
As I rounded the cones and headed back, I wondered, will I catch them? At mile 2 I took a short walk break, then decided I was going to actually run my hardest for the last mile. I knew I wouldn’t drop dead trying. I probably wouldn’t even get side stitches. But I was going to push. I kept them in my sights and finally passed them around mile 2.5.
I was jazzed, and wanted to keep going at what felt like a strong pace. It was hard. It was a struggle. As I got closer, I wondered if it was possible to finish in under 40 minutes. Now in the record books, a 40 minute PR is usually only bragged about if it’s a 10k. But a PR is a PR, and I wanted mine that day. I hadn’t run below 14m/m steadily in a long time.
When I crossed, I had a time of 39:56. I made it by four seconds. The official time may read even closer, but I know I didn’t start my watch 4 seconds late. It’s official: I got under 40m for a 5k course. I averaged under 13:15 per mile.
I definitely felt the effects of the effort while walking back to the gathering spot. I saw the course-shorter walk in with her friends. I was happy that I wouldn’t be left with this unreasonable and distracting sense that I missed a place because someone skipped 100 yards. I decided I was going to beat her anyway. She wouldn’t care, and would probably find it laughable that I had to struggle to beat the three walkers. But it mattered to me.
I’ve heard how rewarding it is to pass people in a race, even if it’s just one. I passed six I believe, but there was only one I cared about.
You don’t short the course. Not on my watch.