Short sprint – No-one’s racing anymore

A few years back, I was going through the preliminaries of ascertaining whether I would be the right coach for a potential client. One of his questions to me was whether I could help him with racing. My reply was that it was something I had no experience of, but fortunately despite this, he still went ahead and took me on as his coach.

It later transpired we’d had different definitions of racing. He’d wanted to know if I could help with what to do on the day of his mass participation marathon race (which I absolutely could) whereas I’d been defining racing as what happens when you’re trying to finish ahead of your fellow competitors. For most people, when they talk about attending a race they’re really talking about a time trial – how quick can they run the distance?

Parkrun is not a race. For starters its insurance doesn’t cover it which is one reason why there are no race numbers or race clocks. Parkrun doesn’t even have a winner, it has a First Finisher, although when I first attended it did, until the nomenclature changed. If you look back to its beginnings, parkrun started as Bushy Park Time Trial then, as other events opened, it became UK Time Trials before rebranding as the friendlier sounding parkrun.

Running doesn’t have any true time trial events like say, cycling where riders go off at intervals of a minute or more and the winner is the one covering the distance in the quickest time. Admittedly when I orienteered it was done against the clock with runners having their own start times. This is a logistical necessity to ensure they don’t all reach the check points at the same time and have to wait to punch their card. But orienteering isn’t a pure running sport, it’s also a test of your ability to navigate, runners go off at intervals to avoid being able to follow someone else.

Typically elite runners do time trials to find out what form they’re in. When it comes to races the goal is simply to finish ahead of the person behind you. Often championship medals are won in times slower than heats especially at longer distances.

Of course there are some (many?) who turn up to parkrun and think they’re racing against others but true racing is a tactical art. It’s about letting your opponents take the breeze, it’s about knowing your strengths, their weaknesses and how to gain an advantage. It’s knowing when to go with the pack and when to let leaders go it alone hoping they’ll burn themselves out. This is the tactical stuff I’ve not got any experience of because I’ve never been good enough to need to learn it. I understand some basic theories as I’ve outlined but I’ve never experienced them. Like almost everybody else, I just run as fast as possible trying to get the best time I can.

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