Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Racing vs. Pacing - cast your vote

I have been thinking about this subject for years, and figured it would be a good blog post to genereate some discussion.

I remember reading Pete Pftizinger's book years ago and recalling him describing two types of runners, racers and pacers. Racers are competing against other runners on the course, or themselves. Pacers go out for a certain pace and/or time, and maintain it (or attempt to).

I think most of thee two terms not as race vs. pace, but "goal race time" vs. "just finishing the race". To me, this is an accurate simile.

Ask any distance runner weeks before a big race what they hope to run it in, and you will get one of two responses
"I hope to run in x time"
"I jut want to finish".

While this does not seem like a good comparison, to racing vs. pacing, the metal approach is the same. Every marathon I have entered in the last 6 years, I have had a specific goal that was agressive. The training in the following months often altered the time goal, in the original intent was almost always the same.

Ultra running was a little different this year. With my first 50 mile (Ice Age), finishing was a big part of it. The more I trained and became comfortable with agressive terraine and longer disctances, I began to set a goal time. For me, I have to set a goal time to keep the training focused. The problem was, my range was two hours, versus 5-10 minutes for a marathon.

While I do not consider myself a racer, my training and preparation is similar to one. Once the race starts, I am a pacer. At Superior Trail Races this year, there was about 8 of us leaving the first aid station together. Everybody had to take a "bio break" at the same time, and everybody was in the bushes every 50 yards or so. I kept telling myself "run your own race". When I was done, I ran alone for the next........ 9 hours. When I passed people, I was not trying to pass, I was just pacing. When I was passed, it was the same situation. Racing only came into play when I could see in the last 4 hours that I could break the 11 hr. time. I "raced" when stopping at the aid stations, preparing to get me through the next leg without crashing. I kept tabs on my time, realizing my margin of time was shrinking.

The last 4 hours of Superior, I was racing, albeit the last 3 legs were slower splits than the outbound.

Now, compare this to the two types of responses to "I am just trying to finish"
1 - "I am just trying to finish" - Translation - "I have a goal which I am not sharing with you"

I saw Wynn Davis a few weeks before Superior (he won the 100 mile race) training at Afton. I was stupid enough to ask him the question "what are you hoping for?" His response was the number 1 above "I am just trying to finish".

2 - "I am just trying to finish" - Translation - "I am just trying to finish" (within the cutoff time).

For many, just completing the course is the goal, although there is a cutoff time they have to achieve. So, in some way they are racers as well. I think for many, the time is meaningless. I think the longer the race gets, the more it becomes apparent.

Anybody who can make the cut at Superior 100 is a stud (studette?). PERIOD. One can not cheat the training to get trough that. (or any 100).

My friend Dale claims to hate running, but continues to run Grandma's and TCM every year. I think his motivation is to stay fit while growing old, and this is a good way to do it. I think he would say he is a pacer. My guess is he does not like "racing". But he always gives me a goal time he is going to finish in.... Maybe a little of both.

Just to be clear here, I do not look down on one style or the other. I am a combo of both. I usually set my goals higher than I can achieve, but that is my personality. I set a goal 15 years ago to run a sub 3hr marathon, a goal which 7 marathons later I have still not achieved. But, the prospect of trying and going for it gets me going.

If I run Ice Age next year, I am thinking of a sub 8hr goal. Agressive? Yes. Out of reach? probably. But, that is what gets me out of bed to train.

This leads me to think of a couple of styles of runners.

My friend Joe, Mr. 2 speeds (racing and sleeping), will give you a time when asked the question, but he will tell you the slowest possible time he could run (which is still way faster than me). If he set out to run a 2:55 marathon, he will be mad (very mad) if he runs a 2:56. He even DNF'd once when he saw he was over the 3 hr pace. He is a very humble runner thoug, he just is very agressive. He is a racer. I am not in this camp.

My friend Jim, started distance running because his doctor was about to put him on a drug regemine to lower cholesterol. Jim told his doctor to give him a few months first. Jim changed his diet, and signed up for Grandma's. We trained together (with speed man John Aikins). The doctor was so impressed with the results after a few months, he did not put him on any drugs. For Jim, any time was a win, even with John and me getting him to shoot for a certain time. Jim is a pacer, but has some racer in him.

I have met countless people who just getting to the starting line of a marathon is a victory. They truly do not care about their time. They had to overcome their own deamons, challenges, physical and mental limits to get there. The finisher medal is their race.

Where do you fit in here?

As I have aged, I have become more of a pacer. But the racer stirs in me as an alter ego. He gets me in trouble. I call him my shadow.

Vote your opinior on the right and/or leave your comments


Carl Gammon said...

For one, I am usually in the "just trying to finish" group. However, that doesn't mean I don't have a goal (sometimes secret).

I have friends that can remember all their times and splits, and I used to be that way, too. These days, I run because I enjoy it. I try to do the best I can, but I no longer get upset when I don't hit some "magic" number.

Wayne said...

Seems like most runners have some 'racer' in them, except for maybe the first time at a new/longer distance.

Similar to what Carl said, I'm not going to spend a ton of time and energy (like 18+ weeks on a specific marathon training program) and then at the end declare the whole thing a failure based on missing some "magic" number. I train enough to go the distance, and then do the best I can... and if I get the shirt, it's all good. So yeah, I'm a pacer.

aharmer said...

Great topic Matt, this is what makes running so great. Everybody is fundamentally doing the same thing, but we're all doing it for different reasons. Carl runs because he enjoys it. I enjoy being a racer. Not by choice, it's just what drives me and I don't think it would be as enjoyable for me any other way. Hope you're a racer in November, there are course records up for grabs!

Kel said...

Since I'm moving towards longer distances (ultimately ultras) that I've never done before, I'm probably more of a pacer at this point. But when I get familiar with my abilities at certain distances, I tend to compete with myself to better my previous times. So.....I'm a blend, currently more pacer type than racer type. That could change tomorrow ;)