Sunday, April 6, 2008

A Need For Speed

How fast do you run?

I’ve been asked that quite a bit lately. Whether it’s nonrunning friends or acquaintances asking for curiosity sake, a race entry form requesting this information so they can place you at an appropriate starting corral, or a member of your running club wanting to know before he decides whether you can be training buddies, everybody wants to know your speed. But the funny thing is, speed is relative. As such, the answer to this seemingly simple question will inevitably be varied as well.

By ‘how fast’, do you mean my 5K time, my 10K time, my half-marathon time, my marathon time, or for shorter distances like 400 meters or a mile?
If you want to know my mile time, do you want to know my mile time during interval training, in a group run or in a race?
And if in a race, do you want to know my mile time this year, last year, in a past life, or if I were to spontaneous drop this bottle of beer and start running?

Although this internal monologue always seem to play itself out whenever the question is posed, my curiosity is never satisfied because it would be the equivalent of committing social suicide. As such, I often have to guess the sort of response my interrogator wants to hear. Some of the answers I’ve given are: “Well, I’m not fast, but I finished the New York City Marathon in a little over 3 hours last year.” “If we were to all start running right now, I’d probably end up somewhere between Lance Armstrong and Katie Holmes.” “Oh, I’m slow. I can’t even run for one mile what the Kenyans average for the whole marathon.” After offering a quick answer, I always wait in eager anticipation for a followup question. But none ever comes, as if they know if they were to ask, they’d open the floodgates to a full blown running discussion.

Those of us who have been in this business for a little while know that running for speed is but just one small aspect of the racing experience. As such, it would be inaccurate for me to assume that just because I ran a few seconds or minutes faster than some guy in a race we both entered some time ago, I’m a “faster” or a “better” runner than he is. There are so many variables inherent in running and racing that trying to judge the competency or skill of a runner based solely on speed would be a little like trying to determine if Tiger Woods or Alex Rodriguez is the “better” all-around athlete based on their statistics in their respective sports . It makes good fodder for debate, sure, but in the end, there really is no objective basis of comparison.

I believe it is enough that we all intuitively know our own speeds in our own terms. No matter whether we run 5, 7, 10, or 13 minute miles on a sunny day or a winter’s night, we are in competition only with ourselves, in so far as we strive with every race in every year to run a little better and finish a little faster than the year before. As long as there are people in front of me and people in back of me, and I’m finishing my race at a respectable time for me, I’ll be happy because ultimately isn’t this what life is all about: To live and run the good race. No one asks, Yeah, but what time did you finish?!

Having said all that, it still feels pretty awesome in the rare instance that I receive recognition (admiration?) for my speed. Case in point. I was struggling to finish up my long run yesterday, at mile 9 of an 11 mile trek, when I found myself at the foot of Harlem Hill with a biker about 40-50 yards in front. The weather was unseasonably warm, and both of us were having a difficult time running up the steep incline. As I started running and gaining on him, his breathing became audible and louder with each step. Initially, I had quickened my pace not so much to beat him to the top, but because I was nearing the end of my run and just wanted to get this over with as fast as possible. He continued to pant louder, as I continued to run behind and then next to him. He looks over at me and I could see he’s off his bike seat, trying to peddle as hard as he could, with beads of sweat trickling from behind his sunglasses onto his spandex shirt. Something about that visual bothered me, and I decided right then that I’d turn up the afterburners and take him to the crest of the hill, which was maybe a quarter mile away. Once I took off, I could hear that he knew it was on. But despite his loud grunting, his bike was still not moving very fast, at least as compared to me and my kicks. A short while later, I beat him to the top of the hill by a safe margin. Now, ordinarily, that would be the end of the story. But lo and behold, as we approached the top of the hill, there was a little girl in a ponytail crossing the street with an older woman, I assume her mother, holding her hand. And even though my heart was pumping hard, my chest burning, and globs of sweat stinging both my eyes, I had no trouble making out the words to the conversation happening right before me.

“Mommy, mommy, look, he’s running faster than the bike.”
“Yeah, he’s fast, isn’t he?”
“I wanna run fast too…”

I couldn’t resist, but waved to the little girl as I ran by. Looks like the Running Laminator Fan Club just increased its membership by one. Woohoo!


Kirsten said...

Excellent post. I could identify with all of it. I'd not be surprised if that little girl were to one day take up running.


KimsRunning said...

Make that two members!! LOL
Awesome story!!
I just started running last October and that was for training for a marathon. My coach had to teach me everything from shoes to nutrition in 4.5 months! He also taught me to run in such a way that I LOVE to run. Whether it's across a parking lot or in a marathon, doesn't matter. I trained to keep a 10 mm pace. (Incidentally, Katie Holmes beat my time by 2 minutes, but I won't hold that little crack against you...LOL) Anyway, I have been bitten by the speed bug. I already know I have endurance, now I want to be fast. My next goal is to run a qualifying time for Boston 2009 at the Cape Cod, Ma marathon in October. At first my coach's jaw dropped because I have to cut 1:47:59 off my marathon PR, but within a couple days he started giving me the speed training. He says knowing me, I will do it. The challenge has been issued....LOL

Nitmos said...

I love running by bikers. Usually, they are just out for a leisurely ride but it's still a nice feeling to take 'em on the run and see their facial expression. Great post (again).

Non-Runner Nancy said...

Wow, only in my wildest dreams would I be faster than someone on a bike. YOU ROCK. And thanks for the post. It's nice when even the fast guys say stuff like this. :D

Andrew is getting fit said...

I loved that story. Way to go!

sRod said...

That must have been a greaqt boost for your run. Nice post.

P.O.M. said...

Oh that is too cute. What a great story. I want some fans... hopefully tall, dark, single, handsome, funny, smart, caring and athletic. A girl can dream, right?

Run For Life said...

I always take the "how fast do you run?" question literally as well. That's so cute about the little girl. You deserve some fans!

Betsy said...

I too am between Lance Armstrong and Katie Holmes, which must mean that I'm fast just like you!

KimsRunning said...

I know it may not work out for Boston 2009, but I'm sure going to try. my coach is also my friend so I get a ton of help and support from him. I know how lucky I am!

It would be cool to see you in Hopkinton though!!!!

Jamie said...

Great story. The other day while running on the beach a little boy asked his mom why I was running and if he could go with me. It made my day!

audgepodge said...

Wow - you probably looked like Superman to her! :) Beating a bike... pretty amazing!

Frayed Laces said...

Rad--great story! I passed a biker on a hill...once. It was a fat tourist on a loser cruiser, so I don't think it is exciting as your story. Still felt darn good, though.

aham23 said...

uh, the post is nice and all, but you are FAAASSSSSTTTTT! you knew that right? :) later.

thebets said...

Great post...just had a disappointing time in a race and your words of wisdom definitely helped! Thanks!

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