This is something you hear all the time, but it is an important thing to remember even when training. When you’re out running, you should be out running for a reason. Time again coaches have stressed that quality is always superior over quantity when it comes to mileage, and too many of us just go out for “junk miles”. If you’re running to make a number on a website somewhere go up a bit and for little else, you’re probably not using your training time most efficiently, and you could even be headed for an overuse injury.
So you’re out for a reason right? Then why would you “chase” another runner? Or get a bit miffed that they passed you (or even worse that they’re “racing” you)? What you’re doing that day, at that time, is almost guaranteed not to be what they’re doing, and it is likely your fitness is not at the same level as theirs is (up or down).
Far too much merit is placed on the rah rah nature of getting fired up, letting adrenaline push you. If you’re like me, you’re going out and putting in miles. A lot of miles, for a variety of reasons (tempo, speed work, etc). Some of you way more than me, some less. There’s a science to improvement, and it has nothing to do with macho “last one to the corner is a rotten egg” schoolboy/girl games. If you’re out to play, then play, but even though you enjoy running, it should still keep an air of seriousness.
This extends to race day too. Now, I’m not talking about the elites. They are on another level. I’m talking the folks for whom running is an escape, perhaps a hobby (if an obsessive one). You’ve trained a particular way. You know your splits. You’ve worked out a nutrition plan, a hydration plan. You understand what it feels like to push, what a sustainable effort is. So why exactly are you chasing people down again? And doing it in the first quarter of the race?
A lot of us are competitive. I get that. I can get there too, but letting yourself succumb to the pull of that feeling is a self defeating strategy. I’m a terrible runner, but I can’t tell you how many people I end up passing later in a race that passed me early on. Did I like it when they did it? Definitely not. It took a lot of self control not to give chase. One guy even taunted me a bit when I sat to fix a blister. I managed to limit myself to a slight wry smile when I passed him a few miles later as he lay panting on the ground, his girlfriend standing over him with an annoyed look on her face. I didn’t see him till the end, though his girlfriend did catch up to me and pass me after she ditched him. But I digress.
The other thing to consider is that you have no idea of the caliber of racer you’re contemplating chasing. Maybe you’re in a 1/2 marathon and there’s a 10k racer who spent the first half of the race trying to slow burn himself into being tired before trying to run the last half as fast as he can. Honestly there’s no way to know, and if you run their race, you’ll potentially blow up or maybe even get injured.
I’m not saying “don’t go out with winning on your mind”. But if you think you’re going to win by pulling yourself along, that can only get you so far. Again, I’m not talking about the elites. There are definitely people at the highest levels who can push past their limits because they are neck and neck with a rival. That works because of their level of fitness. It is a “fine tune”, a tweak, an extra boost over an already incredible level of ability. For most runners though, they are not at a level where they have that kind of headroom. If you go out, push to the level allowable by your training, hit your splits, stick to your nutrition and hydration plan, you’ll run your own race. And maybe you’ll win (your age division at least!). Maybe not. The important thing to consider is that, ultimately, running isn’t about the guy or girl next to you at the starting line. The best improvements you can make require you to look inside.