Yesterday I had a big serving of humble pie and revealed to much of the local running community just how much of a jerk I really am. Some of the businesses in town ran a mother's day cure for cancer race (entry fee plus money raised all goes to cancer research) so I figured I'd do it because I love to run, good cause and all that. I'm really not a competitive person.... I run just because I truly love it and 99% of the time I'm the nicest guy you'll meet out on the trail. But slap a number on my back and put me in a race, I turn into a different person. Kinda like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
I wanted to see how fast I could do the run (10 km is approx. 6.22 miles) since regular running routine has been suffering with all the trips out of town for work, I wanted to see how I would fare "cold turkey"... very little lead up time for training. When I have managed to get out, I've been focusing on pacing for longer distances not speed... so my goal was 45 minutes. The last competitive event I ran was a half marathon in august 07 so it had been a long dry spell of personal running with no other runners to benchmark off of.
So we all line up and get ready to go. First off was the kiddie race, where the toddlers get their chance to run. Even if you're a cold-hearted SOB like myself, it's still a priceless sight to see a pack of kids howling with wild abandon as they tromp in the general direction their parents have pointed to (with all the hijinx that accompany a mob of five year olds running together) So that finishes and it's time for the adults to race. For anyone who's unfamilliar about running etiquette there are a few unspoken rules, which I promptly broke;
1) Don't run at the front of the pack. Unless you're confident you've got a good shot at staying at the front, it just makes you look like a jerk with a big ego. Pace yourself. Nothing looks funnier than seeing someone sprinting at the beginning to get ahead and then end up limping across the finish line at the rear of the pack at the end.
2) Once the race has begun in earnest, DO NOT look over your shoulder to see who's behind you/if people are gaining. This sends the message to other folks that your # 1 priority is beating them. This also sends the message that you are a jerk.
3) Spitting. Please try to limit where and when you do this. Some folks do it frequently throughout a race, some don't mind if you do it, and some are offended. So generally a good idea to keep it on the DL if you have to do it.
4) Communication. If a runner talks to you, talk back or at least acknowledge them. If you're winded, at least make eye contact and nod your head. Quite often other runners will offer encouragement good-naturedly saying things like "good job, keep it up!". If you don't at least smile or nod in response, it communicates that you don't give a damn about them or anything they have to say.
So we're off to the races. Immediately I established my dominance over all the runners by zooming to the front... there were about 100-120 runners. The correct thing to do is stay in your place and gradually move forward in a race. No need to rush, as everyone has their own pace and most crowds will thin themselves out remarkably fast as everyone falls into their own rhythm. Not me. I weaved in and around folks, ducking and dodging like it was rush hour traffic. In my adrenalin-fueled rage to be # 1 I almost plowed a couple of folks pushing baby strollers off the road but managed to squeeze through the tiniest of gaps between runners at the last moment (I'm sure they appreciated that) Before I knew it I was leading the charge. "HA HA HA, foolish losers!!!" I cackled to myself. This was going to be a piece of cake.
Little did I know it at the time, but the first two miles I ran I was going way too fast. I worked it out after the fact that the first portion of the race I was running in the ballpark of 10 miles per hour when I should have been doing 8 or 9 at most. Throw in a couple of nice sized hills and I was a hurting unit. My pride though, demanded I maintain my alpha male status over everyone else and kept on giving it. Since I could feel my lungs and legs complaining I didn't want to go too fast anymore.... just fast enough to stay at the front. So I started looking behind me to see who was in my line of sight and how far away they were (this is jerk move # 2) At first it wasn't so bad, so I slowed down a bit. By the three mile point there were lots of folks I could see behind me but I was still numero uno. As I passed the halfway point I was still in the lead, although now I was sneering as I looked over my shoulder at the approaching runners (how dare they challenge my status as lead jerk!), and every minute or two I was launching delightful spitballs off to the side of the trail (this is a natural byproduct for some runners)
By mile 4 a couple of people had passed me and offered friendly encouragement "keep it up, good job!" and the like. My only response was a guttural growl followed by more spittle launched in furious volleys. It was nothing personal against them... I was just focusing all my efforts on keeping a good pace. But as with all things it's not your intent that's important, it's how others perceive your intent. I continued to slow gradually from my initial speed and people continued to pass me in a gradual trickle. This particular race was being done in two laps of the same course (I HATE laps) so toward the end we were passing lots of folks that were taking their time. Again, I almost plowed a couple more babystrollers off the road. My crowning achievement was when I nearly succeeded in driving a poor kid on a bike into the ditch (I managed to swerve around him at the last moment) but his handlebars were definitely wobbling as I passed.
I ended up reaching the 10K finish line in 41 minutes, 45 seconds in something like 9th or 10th place. Technically this was a win for me because I beat my goal of 45 minutes, but there's a far more important lesson I'd forgotten-
It's not what you do, it's how you do it.
I beat the time that I wanted to achieve but was a snarling, egotistical, run-you-off-the-road monster in the process of doing it. If I wouldn't have been so obsessed about being # 1 at the beginning and paced myself further back, I probably would have finished with a better time because by the end I was reduced to a fast jog thanks to my big ego at the start. And all during a charitable event that's intended to be more fun than competitive. So the whole point of this is... I am indeed a jerk. While I've learned my lesson and will be more cordial when I run in competitive events, deep down that same ol' jerk will come out of hiding the next time a number gets slapped on my back.