Posted by: thehungryrunner | June 18, 2008

How NOT to race: Lopsided spurts!

Hopefully I’ll have the chance to give a full race report for the Estes Park 10K, which I ran this past Sunday.  Suffice it to say, in the meantime, that it was the most picturesque race I’ve run to date, what with the fragrant meadows and clear lake and snow-capped mountains all around.  It struck me as a sampler of what it might be like to run a course in Switzerland.  Pondering this possibility, at least, helped take my mind off of the first and foremost challenge of the event, the altitude.  At 7,200 feet, I was definitely out of my element, being that I live closer to 800 feet above sea level.  While I was mercifully spared any altitude sickness — no headache, shakiness or stomach upset, I did find myself laboring and breathing hard at a pace that would normally not be terribly challenging at all.  Then again, we were all struggling, and it was apparent both in the demeanor of the athletes and in the finishing times.  I watched the guy who won the marathon (there were four running races that same day) cross the finish line, clocking in at around 2:50, vs. the 2:30 he might normally have run in lower altitudes.

But perhaps the most notable indicator of the altitude was the runner I found myself paced behind.  And I have to admit, I found myself feeling a combination of empathy, amusement…..and yes, annoyance.  Ladies, and gentleman, while I myself am a strong proponent both continuous running AND sometimes using carefully structured walk/run intervals….what follows is definitely NOT an example of how to train, never mind race!

This runner — let’s call her Spurt Girl — was constantly taking walking breaks.  Not a bad thing in itself, except that she never seemed to take the lesson and adjust her running speed/intensity.  Instead, she would stop and walk, then, usually right around the point in which I was about 30 feet behind her (thus nearly catching up to overtake her), she would resume her run, only she would go all-out, scampering ahead at a pace that clearly could not be sustained.  Sure enough, about a minute or so later, she would stop and walk again.  Once again, around the point in which I was just about caught up (which by the way I think is coincidental — I don’t think she could hear my striding nor do I think her actions were motivated at all by trying to stay ahead of me), Spurt Girl would switch it back into high gear and zip ahead, neck and arms tensed in a way that one might imagine a T-Rex might run.  There was never a sense of relaxed, sensible pacing; only this all-or-nothing, frenetic go-go-go-go, stop-walk-and-gasp, go-go-go-go, stop-walk-and-gasp.  I seriously doubt she ever caught any sense of flow and probably bypassed tapping into certain cardiovascular systems altogether, instead relying on a more anaerobic “fits and starts” rhythm.  Sure, it was annoying to be behind her, but more over, it just isn’t the best way to take full advantage of all our bodies’ cardiovascular capabilities.  In the case of this particular runner, I couldn’t help but think the better approach would have been, after that first or second need to walk, to either slow her pacing down to a very light jog, or to at least try to bring the two extremes closer — walk a little faster, then run just slightly faster than that.

I did finally pass by her around Mile 5, but by then, I had tuned her out (for the most part), letting go of the frustration of having to follow such an erratic runner and instead looking at this as a challenge to keep my own pacing as even as possible, especially given the altitude.  But you can bet I won’t be employing her method of racing any time soon!

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