AVOIDING AN EGO TRIP
“Do as I say, not as I do.” –Pretty much everyone at some point.
Last week when I ran the New Year’s Race, I broke one of my own rules. I did one of those things that “rookie” runners typically do and have to learn a lesson the hard way.
It was a momentary lapse of judgment on my part, but still a “no-no” and I’m embarrassed by it. Okay, maybe not totally. What was my mistake, you ask?
I raced somebody to the finish line at full sprint.
Before I beat myself up (not too much, mind you) let me explain why it’s potentially dangerous to sprint to the finish in a long race and why it’s pretty silly to race someone to the finish to begin with.
When you sprint, you in essence jam your body’s gas pedal right to the floor. You’re going “full tilt boogie” for a short burst and throwing caution to the wind.
At the hind end of a long race (especially a half or full marathon), your body is definitely a little out of whack and maybe even much more so. That is not the time to let your inner “Jesse Owens” loose. The problem isn’t so much getting up to full speed, although you can certainly pull a muscle or injure yourself during that sprint.
The real problem is stopping.
In my very first 10K, I sprinted the last 100 yards as the crowd cheered me on. I gotta tell you, it felt great. As soon as I crossed the finish line, I put on the brakes before I slammed into the other runners… suddenly I was lightheaded, seeing with tunnel vision and my legs felt rubbery. I came within a hair’s breadth of passing out. That strong overexertion combined with a quick stop can really wreak havoc on your system. I’ve witnessed more than one runner collapse in a heap or “heave cookies” (or both) at the finish line thanks to an ill-advised sprint. It’s never pretty. At the Peachtree Road Race they train certain finish line personnel to look for people who might collapse and try to catch them as they fall.
And what do you gain for your effort other than a brief ego boost and some cheers from the crowd… a few seconds shaved off of your final time. If you want speed up near the finish to use up your energy stores, and I fully encourage it, pick up your pace consistently over the last few miles or cut short your walk breaks. You’ll end up with a much faster time than trying to sprint in the last 50 yards. And you’ll avoid a potential trip to the medical tent in the process.
For me, if I run a race right, I simply don’t have any extra energy at the end to properly sprint anyway. I’ve picked up my pace in the last 2-3 miles and I’m crossing the finish line just as my body’s needle hits “E.”
Now what about racing the guy or girl next to you? We all love competition, right? Well, seeing as how races can have thousands or tens of thousands of runners, you pretty much have no idea of when the runners around you actually started. That person running neck and neck with you at the finish could have started 10 minutes before you or 10 minutes after you.
So unless you feel the need to feed your ego, let it go and concentrate on your finish and looking good for the cameras.
Back to last week, I had been battling a chest cold all week, so I held back a little during the race to be safe. I also helped pace a friend in the last two miles, so I had slowed down a bit more. With about a quarter mile left I realized I had more energy left than usual and decided to burn some of it off before the finish line. I picked up my pace quite a bit.
I ended up passing a fellow runner about 75 yards from the finish. Only, he wasn’t having any of it. He started kicking hard and slipped past me with about 50 yards left. I would have let him go, but he flashed a grin as he passed me… and my ego was a little hungry that night.
It was on.
All of my training and common sense went right out the window as I downshifted and jammed my pedal straight through the floor. We both sprinted.
To be honest, I have no idea who finished first in our little “ego race,” as we were neck-and-neck when we crossed the timing mats over the finish line.
Fortunately this night I still had something left in my tank, so the sudden stop didn’t cause a full body revolt (although my legs were more sore than normal the next day). I bumped into my competitor at the bag check and introduced myself. He was a veteran runner and we both acknowledged silly we had both been. We had a good laugh and wished each other well in our next races.
And as I walked away I gave myself a little internal lecture about remembering to run smart. I didn’t have anything to prove and I was only competing against myself.
But I still think I beat him by a half step.
(Do you sprint at the finish of a race?)