Monday, February 10, 2014

It's Not Where You Start, It's Where You Finish

Near the beginning of the Super Sunday 5, during the period when everyone is either heading to the start line or waiting for a vacant bathroom, the race announcer said something over the loudspeaker that, in my years of racing, I’ve never heard before. 

As everyone staked a claim to a small patch of asphalt that, for the next few minutes, would belong to nobody else, the announcer made the usual remark that slower runners should move farther back. Then, to assuage everyone’s fears, he added, “The race isn’t won in the first 100 meters.” 

For someone with a nasty habit of starting races like a bat out of hell, this stuck with me -- especially since, as the crowd gathered, the blue-and-orange START banner seemed to get farther and farther away. 

I lamented about getting boxed in at the start several months ago, in my James Joyce Ramble recap. Back then, I chalked it up to a lack of confidence; I’d bonked badly in a marathon a few months before and remained on the proverbial comeback trail. 

This weekend, though, I directed my ire toward the runners gathering around me. Perhaps I was jealous that they’d located their friends and exchanged pleasantries while I stared ahead in solitude. Perhaps I was a bit chilly. Perhaps their perfectly matching outfits turned me off. Whatever it was, I wanted them gone -- even though, like me, they’d paid to run a race with the express mission of raising money to kick cancer’s ass. 

My ire continued after the gun, when the murderous, thieving horde of peasants refused to part like the Red Sea so I could get to the front of the pack. And it continued when I passed the 1-mile mark about 20 seconds slower than my goal pace, even after adjusting for the gun vs. chip time split. (I also left my watch at home. That may have contributed to my mood.) 

Then a funny thing happened: I got stronger. I wasn’t gassed from an unnecessarily fast start. The gradual hills that lead into Harvard Square didn’t bother me. I didn’t start losing ground to folks who had started even farther back. I actually maintained a constant pace for the duration of the race and finished with the same 5-mile time I ran back in April on a flatter course. 

Sure, I didn’t PR, but I’ve accepted that I can’t PR all the time. (I ran a sub-30 minute 5-miler back in college. That’s never happening again.) I also learned that, sure enough, you don’t win a 5-mile race in the first 100 meters. Finally, I was reminded that it really doesn’t matter where you start but, rather, where you finish.