Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Purpose of Politeness

The proper Study

of Mankind

is Man.

Alexander Pope

Due to Jeff Galloway's suggestion that I was overtraining and his urging that I go out at a several minutes per mile slower pace on the Sunday long runs, I have been running with several other pace groups, including a Half Marathon group, and Sunday before last I led the 4:00 Pace Group and this Sunday I loped along at the back of the 3:45 PG. After only three hours of sleep the night before, I was more than happy to leave Hugh in charge.

It was quite a revelation.

As a Pace Group Leader I have a reputation for keeping a tight grip on the reins - they do after all, call me the Pace Nazi. And my only defense is that I have no other choice.

In nearly every Pace Group I have ever encountered, or run with, and in particular those where there are more than half a dozen people - and God forbid; should a new face show up out of nowhere - there will be at least one or two morons who seemingly cannot grasp the rational and purpose of a long, slow easy group run nor the reasons and concept of pace group etiquette. These morons must forever be at the front of the group, they must continually challenge the Pace Group Leader for the "lead" because these fucking idiots are in a "RACE"! And therefore they must be in the "LEAD"!

These individuals, these poor lost utterly deluded souls, are the one who almost invariably bonk on the actual race day and are almost always in a state of chronic injury. And they chew up Pace Group Leaders, especially new ones.

I have a simple Pace Group Rule - one by the way that comes directly from Jeff Galloway's Chapter (and Yes, he actually devotes a whole freaking Chapter to it) in his book "MARATHON!". No one runs in front of the Pace Group Leader. Period.

Galloway writes in part in Marthon!, the Chapter "The Power of the Group"; "It's not an easy job to try to keep everyone in a group from going too fast. On any given run, there are usually one or two individuals who are feeling good and who want to increase the pace. By restraining these exuberant individuals at the beginning, the Leader will not only help those who aren't feeling good, but all the members of the group will benefit from the chemistry of keeping the whole group together. Even the frisky ones will benefit. Instead of slowing down later and and suffering due to the fast early pace, they will feel strong to the end and will have the best chance of recovering quickly. Don't argue with your Group Leader when asked to slow down and stay together... even if it's a bad hair day or your blood sugar is low."

Plain English. Simple. Straightforward. Easy to understand. No?

Anyone who has ever trained with marathoners is now rolling around on the ground laughing uncontrollably, as they howl with side-splitting hysterical laughter. These people know better. Some people NEVER seem to get it.

Scottish philosopher Francis Hutcheson elevated "politeness" to the highest of human virtues. It was a term actually taken from jewelers and stonemasons, and quite literally politeness means polished. Being polished or polite was more than just good manners.

As Arthur Herman writes in How the Scots Invented the Modern World, " Politeness... encapsulated all the strengths of a sophisticated culture: its keen sense of understanding, its flourishing art and literature, its self-confidence, its regard for the truth and the importance of intellectual criticism, and most important, an appreciation of the humane side of our character... Kindness, compassion, self-restraint and a sense of humour... were the final "fruits" of a polished culture." Politeness reminds us of our obligations towards others.

But not the "Pace Grinders", as I've come to think of them. The pace grinders who want to race every Sunday are too self-involved to think of how their behavior affects the rest of the group. These little Princes and Princess' are too wrapped up in themselves to think of others. The pace grinders are generally lacking in self-confidence, hence the need to "prove" how fast and fit they are every Sunday. And God, you have never seen a more humourless group when they run than the pace grinders. The entire run is done with a look of grim determination fixed on their faces. Crack a joke? Tell an amusing story? Most of the time they are going so hard they can hardly speak.

But if they could just remember the purpose of politeness - kindness, compassion, SELF-RESTRAINT (I'm sorry, I couldn't restrain myself) and a sense of humour, they might be saved.

So Pace Grinders everywhere, I implore you...

And as a former pace grinder myself, I can only cry out,

"Be saved, see the light!
Please, just be polite!"

I know I speak for every other weary Group Leader who is tired of telling you to "Please, slow down!" and every other member of the group who is tired of watching you make an ass of yourself every long run.

In the long run, you'll be glad you did.


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