Thursday, June 08, 2006

Love of the Pack

Let me preface this Post with the clear and unequivocal declaration that I am among the worst offenders of the running sin I am about to decry.
This particular sin is that of judging your performance and measuring your progress and success against the people you run with. It is a fool's game.
It is a shame in part because so few of us are ever going to mount the podium at a marathon. It is also a shame because if you are competing with the people you run with on a regular basis, it has the faintest whiff of fratricide about it.
I find that the people I run with are an important part of my social circle. My running buddies have become some of my closest friends and I think one competes against close friends at considerable peril not only to your friendship but also to your self esteem. Competition by definition has winners and losers. And no one likes to consider themselves a loser. Bearable if you only see your betters at races a few times per year, less so if you are reminded of your failings and shortcomings several times a week!
The moral of this little fable then is that as a recreational or lifestyle endurance runner it is probably healthier to compete with yourself than the people you run with on a regular basis.
I run with people who are both older and younger than me, and most of them are more talented runners than I. The younger ones just flat out beat me, and the older ones, well, when they're not beating me outright, they are getting top five age group finishes or actually collecting medals. It is a humbling experience. I can take some small satisfaction from the fact that I get such a vicarious thrill from their success. If you can't sip from the cup, it is good to get joy from seeing your friends sip from the cup. Learn to take some joy in seeing others do well. You will be a better person for it.
Why this now? Another marathon clinic - my tenth in a row - started on Tuesday. We have gone out on a few runs and I can already see that a few people don't really grasp the benefits of running with a group. The training runs are already little races where they are measuring themselves against others in the group. There are too many long hard miles left to run without the added burden of looking over your shoulder all the time to check and see what everyone else is doing. Do it for yourself, is my best advice. Easy to say - hard to do - I know!
They will get away with this in the first few weeks, but it will create havoc as the mileage climbs. As an old, wizened codger you can issue a few cautionary comments but you can see it going right over the tops of their heads. I am already wincing thinking of the twenty miles runs coming up. Save it for the race.
Hopefully they will soon learn the benefits of running with the group, making new friends to have beers and pasta with after a run and when struggling to do a twenty mile one Sunday morning, feeling the full love and support of 'the Pack'.
And finding joy in the sheer accomplishment of what you are doing for yourself. Measuring your success against you yourself, and not the people you run with, and not the people lucky and skilled enough to be on the podium after the race.
I see people in the clinics and the running club getting faster and faster, year after year, and despite setting and achieving new goals, they never seem any happier than they were before. They set a goal, meet it and then what is next? What is the point of being on that treadmill if you never derive any satisfaction from it? I have to wonder what role running is playing in their lives. Are they running towards something, or running away from something?
Live is short. Smell some flowers. Be captivated by the view. Enjoy the journey.


Anonymous kelly said...

Life is short. Smell some flowers. Be captivated by the view. Enjoy the usual Vince, words well said.

9:39:00 AM  
Blogger Blaine Moore said...

I do not completely agree with you. I think you make some good points, but some healthy competition between similarly talented runners can also be a good thing.

I responded in more detail at Run To Win:
Running Teams and World War II

12:27:00 PM  
Blogger Vince Hemingson said...

I agree, Blaine. Healthy competition can be a good thing.

My biggest concern is runners who chart their progress and measure their success against others, in particular the people they run with on a regular basis.

You're best off running and competing against the clock.

And turning a training run into a race is rife with difficulties and complications.

Save the racing for race day!

12:32:00 PM  
Blogger Vince Hemingson said...

And having said all that, I participate in a Personal Best Clinic once a week, on top of the Marathon Clinic, where intervals often turn into races.

No question you squeeze every ounce of effort out in a friendly attempt to best your running rivals!

And while I recommend it for experienced runners, you should probably get a marathon or two under your belt before taking it to the next level.

12:37:00 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

I agree with you Vince, as indicated by my motto on my blog:

Don't bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.
- William Faulkner

4:51:00 PM  
Blogger Anthony Epp said...

Competition during a training run is not a good thing, especially when training for a marathon. Maybe in a sprint or something, but even then it's probably planned and well coached.

3:32:00 PM  

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