Whether we want to admit it or not, even the most zen of us has that competitive spirit pop up from time to time. Usually this feeling occurs in the middle of a race we’re participating in, but once in a while this urge to beat another runner comes to the surface during an innocuous training run.

Let’s delve into these training “race” scenarios…

The Passive-Aggressive “Race”

This is when you’re out there on a training run and across the street or on a parallel path to you there is another runner traveling in the same direction just a little ahead, who you are gaining on. You of course don’t make anything of this fellow runner, continue to keep your pace and slowly catch up even to him on your side of the street and gradually pull away. But just as he is out of your peripheral view for a few seconds, he darts back in full focus, now pulling ahead of you. At this moment you decide to do one of two things:

1) Let this guy have his “win” and not change your current pace.

2) Take on this silent challenge from across the way and turn up the torque on your hip-sockets causing your legs to churn just fast enough to catch this guy and ideally pass him.

If your choice is number 2 then the “race” is on! This can go on for a few blocks, or if you and your running-nemesis are of similar fitness levels, can go on for miles.

In this type of “race” no one ever looks at each other or acknowledges the other’s existence. The “race” usually ends when someone “surrenders” and backs off the pace or makes a turn off the path or to a side street.

The Mano a Mano “Race”

This “race” is the same as the passive-aggressive “race”, with the only difference being that it happens on the same side of the street or path. Still there is no acknowledgement from either party that he is trying to break the other’s will during this training run, even though clearly the deep breathing, arms pumping like an old steam train up a steep mountain and laser focus of each runner is apparent to any passer-by.

The Full Respect “Race”

I had this “race” when I was 13 years old, right after watching on tv Rod Dixon winning the New York City Marathon (one of the greatest comebacks ever in a marathon, by the way).

I was so fired up from this miraculous race I had just witnessed that I threw on my shoes and left my house for a run in a light rain on a November morning in the suburbs of New York. About 2 miles into my run I caught up to this older guy, maybe early 30s, who was running a pretty good gait.

As I approached his shoulder he said, “How are you?” I responded with “Good…I just watched the New York City Marathon.” From there we proceeded to chit-chat about running, how he was planning on running New York that year, but couldn’t for some reason; so he was hammering out a run in lieu of the race. I stuck with him and he stuck with me. We were moving, to say the least. I was not going to let him go and I’m sure he wasn’t going to let some 13-year-old kid get the best of him. But we were cordial while still upping the intensity of the run the entire time. At some point I had to turn around to get back home, but just before I did, we both parted with the words “Good job!” to the other, or something to that effect, and continued in our now opposite directions.

Your Secret “Race”

This is probably the most common “race” many of us do on some of our training runs. This is the one we only know about. Maybe we are running an out-and-back run and on our way out, just before we turn back for home, we pass some other runner moving in the opposite direction, who looks like he is running slower than us. That is our mark. We have now placed a bull’s-eye on this fellow harrier’s back, unbeknownst to him, and have made an internal mental challenge to ourselves that we need to “beat” this person before we reach such-and-such a place. It’s funny when we do this because sometimes we are literally in a full dead sprint just so we can “beat” this guy before we hit that particular intersection,  the car wash on Main Street or some other indiscriminate landmark we’ve deemed just a challenging enough reach for us to achieve before our “competitor” does.

While I would tell you to follow your training plan, it’s alright, on a whim, to get those competitive juices flowing every so often during a training run. Having a competitive drive is healthy, in my opinion. Plus, it’s fun turning a mundane training run into a more race-like atmosphere, even if it’s unintended.

Happy Running!

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