Thursday, December 13, 2007

How To Finish A Race: A Grimace or A Smile? (An Expert Opinion)

It’s not often that you find answers to one of life’s great mysteries just flipping through a magazine, but that’s exactly what happened on the subway this morning on my way to work.

As you may or may not know, for the past several days since my Sunday race, I’ve been stuck in a running-related philosophical dilemma. I’ve been wondering whether slower runners are actually having more fun and therefore smiling more at the end of races than faster runners. And if so, whether I’d have a more satisfying roadrace experience if I took it slow and coasted to the finish rather than gutting it out in the end to save a few seconds. I’ve gotten quite a slew of comments and responses arguing both sides and it has been difficult for me to determine which is actually the “correct” race strategy.

I was perusing my latest issue of Running Times on the train this morning, when I found an enlightening editorial written by Editor-in-Chief Jonathan Beverly that dealt with the issue at hand. He described in very elegant terms, why crying is more preferable than smiling at the end of races. (Please go there and read it for yourself – I highly recommended if you’re even remotely interested in the discussion. He seemed a little miffed at the suggestion that “slower runners enjoy themselves more than fasters runners.”) Not only was the article satisfying to read, restoring my belief in the duel-to-the-death, take-no-prisoners mentality that gives purpose to the racing experience, but I found it downright inspiring, daring me personally not to be satisfied with anything less than my best performance on race day. I especially found the following passage especially poignant:

(…And in, all cases, even the negative ones, I’d have to say that tears trump smiles. Tears mean you cared about something. Tears mean you felt something. Even tears of loss mean that you know what it is to win. As Graham Greene wrote in Journey Without Maps, “You don’t weep unless you’ve been happy first; tears always mean something enviable.”)

I guess I’d never felt the urge to cry at the end of a race before. (Well, I may have almost cried when I ran across the finish line at the NYC marathon, but that’s a different set of circumstances than what we’re talking about here…) Yet, I can still relate to the frustration and disappointment that comes at the end of a poor race performance. I think it’s apt that he mentions that “you can’t draw a line at either a place or time to divide the front from the back…” because in the end, there are always going to be runners in front and behind us, and the way we perceive our race results is subjective and personal. That’s why I think we can all use this approach to run and train for our races. The message is clear: Race to be the best, but prepared to be humbled.

Okay, maybe there can be a more inspiring interpretation. I’m just glad he legitimized my feelings of misery and disappointment at not running a kick-ass time at the last race.


Steve Stenzel said...

Wow, that IS a good running-related philosophical dilemma. I don't know what to tell you.

I've never cried at the finish line, but I did start getting a little choked up around mile 25 of the run during Ironman.

Steve in Ptbo said...

I gotta admit that when I finished the NYC 2007 with a smile on my face I felt success. I can't just measure my existence based on the performance that is the easiest for someone else to measure, like time.

Time is a way to measure how well you compared to someone else, or yourself on a different day.

Very few people asked my wife and I what our time was. They all commented on how happy we looked. That was because it showed --
Not that we don't appreciate a decrease in our times. That comes from training regardless of your desire to puke at the end.

Any way you slice it. We ran the NYC! Congratulations on your great run!

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