Pace or Punish?

My attitude and approach to training and competition seems very much aligned with that of legendary runner, Steve Prefontaine. Everything of his that I have read seems to have been born in my own heart. Last Sunday I completed the Dallas Running Club Half Marathon, which I posted an article about (11.2.08). When the gun went off, I couldn't move. I had to wait for the huge mass of people in front of me to move before I could. When my legs were finally free, I took off. I had no sense of pacing throughout the 13.1 miles. My start was fast and energetic. I was passing everyone. Of course, I could not maintain the ambitious pace I established. I slowed and slowed until I finally found a rhythm. Then everyone started passing me. However, I made sure that by the time I crossed the finish line I would not be able to physically stand on my own. I made sure to leave every ounce of energy on the course.

After the race, I thought about my strategy and wondered how things would have been different had I maintained a consistent pace throughout, saving something for the end. Then I thought of the following Steve Prefontaine quote: "A lot of people run to see who is the fastest. I run to see who has the most guts, who can punish himself into exhausting pace, and then at the end, punish himself even more. Nobody is going to win a 5,000 meter race after running an easy 2 miles. Not with me. If I lose forcing the pace all the way, well, at least I can live with myself."

If I didn't cross the finish line as depleted as I did, I don't know who I could walk away from the race and feel satisfied. For me, there are two levels of satisfaction: (1) winning and (2) pouring out my guts into something. For me, the former always involves the latter. Even if you are far superior to your opponents, you punish yourself to the end - always. But the latter does not always produce the former. I think when people talk about pacing they so often are really talking about saving energy to call upon later. I prefer to be cranking on all cylinders every step of the way.  I prefer to set the bar high from the start and force others to compete at my level. I prefer to crush spirits early. Sure, it does not always lead to a first place finish, but it produces toughness. It produces the guts and the willing spirit you will need in the heat of the battle. And if that's what it comes down to, then nobody can beat me.

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