Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Miss Manners

It was the NSAC Homecoming 5K last Saturday, which was was also my first "official" 5 K in many years, if ever. They'd always seemed so short and not worth driving half- (or an even smaller fraction) way across the province for. The whole "road-to-race" ratio seemed far too small. A ten hour round-trip for the 28 hrs of the Cabot Trail Really is a pretty much unimpeachable road-to-race ratio (1:2.8). The twenty-four hour round trip for a 3hr Boston (1:0.125) seems kinda sucky but at least it's a marathon and guaranteed to be worth the trip as the marathon (not to mention getting over it) will occupy a fair amount of time. By comparison, the 6 hr round trip to the Digby 5K (1:0.042) doesn't even start to compute.

The NSAC 5K had a ratio of about 1:1.5 given it was about a ten minute drive to the start, a ratio only bettered by the Cobequid 10K which at a ten minute walk from my apartment was at ca. 1:4. In other words 5Ks may suck when you train for marathons and stuff but with a road-to-race ratio better than unity for a race that lasts minutes (and a trip shorter than the race itself) I was fresh out of excuses.

I'd love to give you a blow-by-blow of the race but I can't for the simple reason that there weren't that many blows; "start, run hard, finish as first loser" was all she wrote. The blows, such as they were, started by getting beaten by someone half my age! Then to rub NaCl into the as-yet unclosed wound, he ended up winning my age-group too. Somehow, in this event, "Open", (that is the 19-39 age-group) is synonymous with "Overall" (that is to say everybody), so the 18 y.o. Nicholas Wood (#3652 below I think, I didn't really see his face. Oh, watch for the name and under no circumstances attempt to stay on his heels, don't say I didn't warn you) won the U18 and the 19-39 categories whilst yours truly didn't even get a name-check in the weekly college e-bulletin (redefining "faculty rights and privileges").

"And they're off....". It was all a red- and-lactate tinged blur after this point

Still, I mustn't really grumble; after a health scare I should be (I am) thankful to be running at all, I am thankful that I am still able to be competitive at events, to be at the pointy end of affairs and help to make (not follow) the race, and compared to this getting name-checked (or not) in the campus newsletter is not important. Besides, it's not personal, not like Monty Mosher at the Chronically Horrid, a guy who has seemingly gone to extraordinary lengths to avoid printing my name (the print-union at the Chronic obviously charges over-rates for 'a's).

One reason my lungs still felt bruised twelve hours later was that I posted a PB 17:24, and it was only a PB because I couldn't remember running one before! The idiot box gave an average pace only slightly higher than riding 68" fixed into a stiff headwind, which I found scarily sobering. Something else that is sobering is that at Canada Games Matt Piggot ran way faster than I did last Saturday, but after the swim and the bike.

La belle posted a PB 21:15, taking 15 seconds off her Lung Run time. The record should show that unlike the pan-flat Lung Run course, the NSAC course has a couple of hills in the first 2K which are nowhere near compensated for by the net downhill in the last 2 km as you've likely already shot your bolt on the climbs! She should have been 30th, but had to settle for 31st when she was outsprinted in the chute by a guy she'd passed a mile earlier and his very momentum seemed to carry him to the Popsicle-stick lady first. Kudos to buddy for making up the time but to outsprint a lady for 30th place, let's just say even Mark Stein seemed to look on with a slight air of "Duuude, WTF?"

Etiquette. I'm a roadie and I'm British which means I've got manners and etiquette stored up for the most unlikely situations; probably even etiquette on etiquette. What can I say? It's genetic (like apologising for everything, but that's another story).

Always remove your hat to a lady; especially if it's an IronMan visor.

This blog is ostensibly about clothing etiquette, but finish-line etiquette seems to be equally as obscure to some and exposition is clearly required. When it gets to the point that even Mark Stein (who has stood at more finish lines than I've had hot dinners) goes "duuuude, WTF", the time has come to act. Or write a long, polite note (does it get any more British than that? I'm sorry).

In our line of work the sprint is something special and like Grandma's fine china, you only get it out for special occasions. Only sprint "for something". The podium or money are the only things to come to mind really. If you aren't sprinting for the podium or money, what are you sprinting for? 30th? In a field of 70? In a local race? Nice. That'll look good on your palmares.

Call me old-fashioned (and if you do it will be the nicest thing I'll have been called all week) but endurance sports are all about pace, are they not? What separates a Rami Bardessey from the rest of us, apart from no fast-twitch muscles whatsoever, zero body-fat and a camel-like ability to survive without food or water (and yet it's me who has the hump!) is the ability to measure his effort so that he hits the line with nothing left, having used every last molecule of ATP getting from A to B as fast as he can. If you have something left to sprint to the line with, then you didn't leave it all on the course. What's the point in trying to save two or three seconds in the final 100 m when with a more careful application of your reserves, you could have saved two or three seconds per kilometer. It doesn't take a Stephen Hawking to prove that three seconds saved per kilometre, in even a 5K, is "better" for your time than saving three seconds in the final sprint.

Use these wisely, use them sparingly but use them all on the course, and by course we don't mean "finishing chute"

There are of course, a couple of exceptions to the general "all on your own, mid-pack and still sprinting" embargo. If you hit the finishing straight and you know that a personal best or a Boston qualifier is on the cards then by all means lunge for the line, although given the mathematics of it you'd probably be better off starting to wind it up from a couple of kilometers out rather than scattering finish-line volunteers like nine-pins. I accept these exceptions and have taken advantage of them myself but given the volume of "sprints" that I see, please don't try and convince me that everyone is always seconds away from a PB or a bus to Hopkinton.

Sprinting to get a time to go here is fine, sprinting just to get a time is not!

What is worse than sprinting for 142nd is outsprinting a lady. Convention once required us to hold doors open for women and let them go first. What held true in the hallways and drawing rooms of Victorian England still holds true in the 21st century finishing chute. Whilst accepting that there are few doors on a race-course, this doesn't abrogate your responsibility to let the lady go first. How fragile can your ego possibly be that it will be assuaged by sticking to a F30-39 age-grouper in the Sprint to claim 63rd? That's really going to bolster your reputation as a hard-man come race day. Classy!

However, the crime even more heinous than outsprinting a lady is outsprinting the lady who has paced you all the way. What better way to thank her for all the hard work she has done by nipping in front of her at the line? She's done the graft, she gets the applause. Simple. There are, again, a couple of exceptions. One is she's a pace-bunny. Once you put on the silly ears and the "Follow Me 10-and-1" T-shirt you have abdicated all rights and responsibilities to a place, a time and sometimes even a prize (not to mention your dignity!). As pace-bunnies we pretty much pace, promise, plead, support, cajole and threaten you to within sight of the line and then let you go for your moment of glory. In fact, if we do our jobs right, we won't even be on your finish-line photo. So if she's wearing ears, you can go for it.

You can outsprint the Pace Bunny, but first you have to stay with the Pace Bunny!

The second exception is that you have made a prior agreement. And I do mean prior, I don't mean within sight of the line. I mean many, many miles down the course. It can be implicit, it can be explicit. Try asking "let's work together for the next x miles", try asking "wanna go for it?". Either way, so long as you both know that after a certain point, the race is on, then it's fair. You might want to wait for the sprint, she might want to go for the long flier but with 100m to go there's no point asking a "long flier"if she wants to make a race of it; she wanted to know twenty minutes ago! Once the race is on, all's fair in love and war apart from an egregiously-thrown elbow and so long as you both fully understand this, it's OK.

Oh, and apart from looking good when you cross the line; jersey zipped up and straight, shades on and a big smile there's one more, slight point of finishing-chute etiquette those of us in reflective vests would like to ask of you; please don't vomit on the head of the chip-retrieval person!



  1. I admit I only skimmed your post because well, I have a very short attention span. But as a woman let me speak for the fairer sex, I don't want anyone holding back in the finish chute because I am female. Heck don't hold back for anyone.

    At the end of the day, it is a race and it doesn't matter if its 31st or 30th place.

    I usually try to pass anyone I can see when I am finishing but made the mistake of thinking that the gal in front of me was a guy (I guess I had racing brain)and I didn't want to work hard enough to pass the "guy" when I thought I was first woman. As a result I was like you, the first loser. Perhaps if I had just tried to beat the "person" in front of me I might have come up in a better finish placement.

    I suspect the dude was just giving it all he had and maybe he did hate being chicked or maybe he was just plain racing. MC is a stud and it may be his only chance to beat her, let him have his day. He won't likely have it again.

  2. It's a race.

    The point of a race is to beat those around you, ideally all of them and finish first. It IS a legitimate move to sprint past an unsuspecting competitor, and one of the reasons timing lines and chips routinely track to small fractions of a second.

    It is a race.

    If being passed en route to the chute is viewed as a bad thing by yourself, the female competitor in question, or any competitor, perhaps there is a lesson to be learned that not everyone thinks the race is over as you APPROACH the finish line...

    It is a race.

    Whether you pass other competitors in the middle or at the end of an event is not a recorded detail - only the time and position are recorded. It's nice that we can split the finishers into male and female and age groups so that more people can celebrate their (relative) success within their particular demographic, but those distinctions are both man-made and irrelevant to the essential nature of a race.

    It is a race.

    We may have civilized running to fit into today's modern environment, but historically, the only thing that matters is the fast runners catch the deer, and the slow runners get eaten by the wolves.

    It's a race.

    Get the deer.

    Watch out for Wolves!

  3. Just a quick point...
    Letting a woman finishing first, when both a woman and a man arrives at the same time at the finish line, when the woman has been ahead for the last km is just being polite. A guy could do it to another guy, or a woman could do it to another woman too. Especially in the situation when the person passing is much taller and is catching up sprinting like crazy.
    When not racing for top positions, when not even in same gender/age group, then being "a gentleman/woman" is totally fine, in my opinion. I have been in both situations, and it certainly did not make me feel "slower" or "inferior" when a man let me finish first after a friendly sprint. Shake hands, congratulate each other on a great race, smile. Same thing could happen by letting finish a child ahead of yourself at a race. Sportsmanship. It is as simple as that. I would not feel good passing a 11 year old at the finish line, sprinting for 30th, if the kid was ahead of me in the last stretch. Same here. if a guy doesn't want to be "girled", he has to think about it before 50 feet from the finish line no?

    Anyway, interesting debate. A little more etiquette and sportsmanship at local races would just make them even nicer events.

    Happy road, trails and Autumn!

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