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Race to RACE, times will come (May 3rd 2010, 3:21am)



Race to RACE, times will come

Published by
Coach Matt   May 3rd 2010, 3:21am

After reading a blog by Vern Gambetta today, it made me inspired to basically reiterate and elaborate on what he wrote.

On the heels of a few great races this weekend, and a few very similar reactions by those who were defeated in similar fashions, I am reminded that the focus of going to track meets is to RACE. And even remembering back to a few of my own 'best races' and a few of the athletes I have worked with, focusing on RACING more often than not will lead you to a time you wanted, or one that perhaps you didn't think you could achieve.

First off, the thing I preach more often than not to my distance runners is that you must learn how to run HOW YOU FEEL. How often do we do this on our easy days (run the pace you need in order to recover today), or even in workouts where you wanted 64's, but it was a little windy today so 65's were ok. So why 'force' the issue in races? Why focus on the time when that is putting you into a position where you are focused on something that doesn't take into account your physiology on that day?

The clock is the validator of our sport. But not for us... it is the way we think we need to value what we have done to the outside world. At the end of the year, the Championship meets all only care about who wins, and not what time they run. So that's easy to validate to others. I was National Champ... I was 7th at Nationals... etc. But in the world of non-scoring invitational or even the 'pointless dual' meets the only thing we feel we have left to do is run fast times to validate to others what we are doing.

This is wrong. You cannot expect to be able to compete your best with one tactic (racing to win) if you spend the entire year competing with another tactic (racing for time).

What do we remember more? Pre's Olympic time, or what place he got and how the RACE unfolded? Will we remember the time Andrew Wheating and Robby Andrews ran in the 2010 NCAA Indoor 800m final or in their Penn Relays anchor legs, or will we remember the battle that ensued and how those races ended?

Even recently with one of my athletes' races, I caught myself starting to think about time too much instead of trusting what he was doing in the race. His PR coming into the race was 4:26 in the 1500m and his PR in the 800m was about 2:03 (though as every coach says, I knew he was better than that). He came through the first 400m in about 64-65, and the first 800m in about 2:12. Each time coming around he looked in control, despite my watch saying he was too fast. But he was COMPETING and my in-race instructions to him were all centered around COMPETING in the race he had involved himself in rather than against a clock. Even though he slowed a little, he maintained his position, and was able to COMPETE over the last 300m. He ran a huge breakthrough PR of 4:16. (Later that day he did the same thing in the 800m and PR'd again in 2:01.)

And so I find faults with Lee Emanuel's 1500m at the Oregon Invite and Galen Rupp's 10k at the Stanford Invite. Not because they didn't run terrific efforts or that I think in any way they didn't give everything they had. But as a casual outside observer (so I'm making some big assumptions here) I feel like they weren't racing for the right reasons. Both of these guys got set up by their own ambitions to fail. And I fully believe that both of them would have been HIGHLY capable of winning their respective races.

Does that mean I believe either of them should've done more of the "sit and kick" thing? NOT AT ALL! But I think that Emanuel pushing hard from so far out in the race wasn't necessary, and cost him the win... and with it the great time. Yes, he has pushed from far out in the past and been a two-time NCAA Mile champ because of it, but those races weren't set up as fast as this one was.

And in the case of Rupp's race, I feel like there were a few points in the race -- especially after the second rabbit dropped around four miles -- where he was obviously not that interested in being the leader anymore (he started looking around A LOT). And to me (again, just some assumptions/feelings here) it looked like he was reluctant to give up the lead for fear of losing the pace they were on.

Do I think Wheating or Chris Solinsky were "punks" who just let others do the work? Nope. They RACED. If Emanuel would've held off a touch on his long drive and kept one final gear perhaps he could've reacted to Wheating. And if Rupp was really bothered by leading so much he could've dropped back; I almost guarantee that it would not have fallen off pace, because there were four other guys around him who were in a rhythm at four miles that none of them wanted to get out of.

I don't mean to belittle anybody's efforts or question their abilities. I merely want to point out that in two races that were obviously set up for fast times (rabbits), it still came down to who RACED the best. And the great rivalries in our sport (or any sport) will come from the competitions between athletes, not in the impressive times they run. The ability for us to relate our sport to others -- as we so desperately are hoping to do -- DEPENDS on the Rupp vs. Solinsky and Wheating vs. Andrews rivalries to be built up.

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