Tuesday, December 11, 2007

How To Finish A Race: A Grimace or A Smile?

One of the things that fascinate me about the racing experience is that no matter how many times you may have run the exact same course at the exact same date every year with the exact same people, there is always something unique about each race that makes it unlike any of the others you may have run before. Sometimes it is a new sight you’ve never seen, or maybe just a new perspective on something you’ve always known. Other times, it’s a feeling you’ve never felt or a thought you’ve never had while running a course at a speed that you’ve not been accustomed to. And then there are times, few and far between, when you see, feel, or hear something in a race that is so truly scintillating or inspiring, you can’t help but be changed by it. And then you wonder for a while long after the race has past why you’ve never noticed it before. I call these my “A-hah” moments, and I believed I had one while running arguably my worst race of the year Sunday (Please see my race report in my last post if you need a recap).

As I mentioned previously, during the latter part of the 10K race while I was running fast past many of the slower runners to reclaim some of the time I had lost in the port-a-potty, I saw more than a few disparities in the shoes, attire and form between the middle-of-the-pack runners and the frontrunners that I generally run with. One of the more interesting differences I noticed was the fashion by which both parties approach the finish line. Usually, when I come across the final mile or half mile marker of a race, I am gearing up for the final sprint toward the finish line. As a result, if anyone has ever seen me in the last 0.2 or 0.1 mile in a road race, I am biting my lip and have a strained and menacing grimace on my face. (Maybe that’s why Brightroom has never offered to capture me crossing the finish line…Their camera would probably break from the sheer hideousness of the photo!) And judging by the extreme competition, painful grunts and heavy breathing I see and hear all around me at the end of every road race, my competitors and fellow runners all share in my philosophy as well. So imagine my surprise when, at the end of the 10K race on Sunday, I see people jogging slowly across the finish line, with perfect smiles on their faces and their hands raised high in the air like they have just completed a marathon. Even the announcer guy at the end commented how the smiles coming across the finish line were so pretty they could be used for a toothpaste commercial! I was flabbergasted. Smiles? Hands in air? What? I just never see that in the crowd that I usually finish with. We’re usually too busy sucking air or trying not to fall over to care how we look crossing the finish line. Maybe that’s why no one sped up with me towards the end of this race. Instead, people were moving to one side and letting me through like I was a tailgater on the left lane of a major highway. I felt bad, but maybe shouldn’t have. They were all busy preparing for their photo op!

After I recovered from the exhaustion of running the last 0.2 mile at a 5:45 pace and grabbed two cups of hot chocolate from the Gatorade dispenser (weird…) I walked back toward the finish line partly to reflect on my poor performance and partly to survey whether runners were actually finishing the race with more smiles than grimaces. And sure enough, healthy teeth and victory signs dominated the end of the contest. Wasn’t even close.

As I walked slowly in the cold back to my humble abode after the race, I thought about why I was so miserable about one bad performance in one race that I’ve run maybe ten times before, and why these people who are so much slower than me, are perfectly content to just finish. (I hope I don’t sound too facetious, because I am not good enough to pull that off..) But maybe I’m running with the wrong crowd. Maybe I need to just not care about running fast anymore and just jog my races so I can too smile and be victorious at the finish. How come no one has ever mentioned this to me before; the fact that the back-of-the-pack have so much more fun than the front-of-the-pack? I like to have fun while I’m racing too. Maybe a shift in perspective is in order here…A-hah!

10 comments:

Frayed Laces said...

Hey Laminator,
Thanks for your comment--I had no idea that you were an expert in that medical field! I have lots of questions for you: any chance you could send me your email so I could ask you questions a little more privately?

Non-Runner Nancy said...

"the frontrunners that I generally run with" there's something I'll never utter.

I think many of them are just happy to be finishing and even finishing strong. Not sure. At the way back of the pack, most of us are REALLY happy to be finishing and smiling about that.

On my way to Manhattan for the long weekend. Can't wait!!

running private said...

I'm not too sure how I finish a race - I think more often than not its a smile immediately after rather than at the end.

I find on long runs there's nothing better than smiling to yourself when it starts getting tough or you've just done a hill. Sometimes it can relax you completely and fools you into thinking its the most normal thing in the world to be running 20 miles on a Sunday morning!

Bob said...

Hey man!

Ya know... you say that... but you know that's not how you run... You, like the rest of us who run, do it to push ourselves to be better. If you just coasted so you could smile as you crossed the line, it would be a fake smile because you knew you could run faster. You smile on the inside when you walk away from a race with a PR. The grimace crossing the finish line is because you wanted to do even better.

All of those mid packers would gladly grimace if they could run one race at your time... I know I would... Then... I'd pass out...

Alahan said...

When I took up running again as a middle of the pack runner, I too was surprised at all the smiling faces and to see how much fun everyone was having - in the middle of the race! Now I always try to have a fun attitude - it's worth the few seconds loss to give the kids a high-five as I run by!

nwgdc said...

Great post. I'm currently stuck in a conundrum (love that word) where I love to run a lot of races, but I'm always RACING them, rather than enjoying them, which I think leads to a poorer finish time in the "big" ones. I honestly find myself much like you--I have no idea what it would feel like to simply jog across a finish line. I really should, though.

See Zanne Run said...

see, that's just it - RACING isn't supposed to be fun. running is, but not racing. racing hurts. you're sucking wind, you're going all out ... only thing fun is seeing the time on the clock when you've had a minute to catch your bretah & look!

now, a great long training run? i totally smile & bet that anyone who sees me thinks i look like a total freak with a big huge grin on my face. but i am sure the smile is way better looking that the dying fish face thing i usually have in a race.

Jamie said...

Very cool post. It really depends on the race on whether there will be the grimace or the smile. The marathon I was so happy to finish and didn't care about time that I was smiling nearly the whole way. I like Nancy's explanation.

The Laminator said...

Thanks everyone for all your comments.

I agree that racing and training run are completely different. A race is ultimately a competition, so it should be about running a good time, while training runs are just that, training, so speed and time are not so much an end onto itself.

I also agree that running a marathon is different matter altogether than running a shorter road race. I like to think of a marathon as an experience, not just a road race. As a result, if you're not smiling when you are finishing a marathon, especially for the first or second one, then why are you running in one at all?

Laura said...

I'm definitely a middle of the pack runner, but I also always do the sprint to the finish. I'm generally the only one in my vicinity doing that though, which often results in a mention from the announcer ("whoa, someone's got some speed there!"). Kind of fun, but I do it really just to shave a few more second off time. Unfortunately, I still haven't perfected the art of giving it everything I've got so that I don't HAVE the energy for a final sprint...

 
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