Defining “Finish”

With about 10 minutes left Sunday night, I decided to pop in to #RunChat, even though it was Easter Sunday and I didn’t figure the chat was especially active.

“Especially active” or not, one transaction had me apoplectic within seconds. My husband, who develops the same type of apoplexy when one of his fantasy sports players is failing or some other sports-related travesty is occurring, was looking at me as though I were losing my mind.

What was the conversation?

Running Race Rules

Running Race Rules

There were a few more tweets in this back and forth but you get the idea (and I blocked the other individual’s name because although I disagree with her, I don’t want this to be an attack ON her — I’m just still hopping mad and need to rant a bit more!).

Do I agree that someone is a “DNF” if they did not complete a race by the cut-off time? If they completed the race distance, I absolutely do NOT agree!

Running Race Rules

Credit: Pixabay geralt

If you choose to register and participate in a race that explicitly requires you to agree to be “swept” if you do not meet a certain cut-off, then yes I think you are obligated to comply with the race directors’ request.

Otherwise: a finish is a finish is a finish! I understand that race directors may use their discretion in choosing not to list a finisher who arrives after the cut-off in the official results and that they may not award a medal, but the athlete has ostensibly done their best and most importantly, they have completed the distance!

While I could have a lively back and forth with my fellow #RunChat participant about what “finishing” means, it was the “train within the rules” part that had me scratching my head and ranting, especially since she states she is an RRCA Coach.

I would expect a coach to review my goals with me and help me find a goal that is achievable yet a challenge. If I told my coach I wanted to do a 50-mile ultra in four months, I am thinking she would talk me down, because given my current training level there is simply no way to do that distance without risk of injury or other adversities. A coach does so much more than schedule workouts; they help you as the athlete think through and choose your goals, then strive to meet them.

But even the best coaching in the world, combined with the most compliant athletes in the world, will not prevent the unexpected from happening. Ten minutes in the med tent for dehydration, a wrong turn because a volunteer provided incorrect direction, cramps, “bodily waste” issues, the simple fact of grappling with your mental state to push yourself through when it starts feeling impossible. None of those exceptions can be mitigated by “training to the rules.”

When I walked the United NYC Half Marathon in March of last year, my friend Mary Jane and I were within sight of the sweeper bus for much of the race. We watched water stop after water stop being dismantled before we had gotten there. We were “behind” the predicted cutoff. Honestly, I don’t know what the official race rules said about people who arrived after the cut-off. It did matter logistically, because a tunnel in lower Manhattan had to be closed for us and other accommodations had to be made. I was thrilled to get a mylar blanket and a finishers’ medal. I don’t think I have even looked up my official results. I was with my dear friend; I was making a difference via my fundraising for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Association, and I was making memories that were so more significant than the miles.

One More Story

My friend Maria set out in 2015 to do our track club’s ultimate challenge. The ultimate challenge involved doing a group of specific races throughout the year, culminating in the Tallahassee Ultra Distance Classic in December. At the ultra, Maria missed the cutoff by about an hour but I and many others can attest that she traversed the entire 50 miles.

In January 2016, track club member Mike Martinez said this about Maria:

She has blossomed as a runner, faster times and an incredible range in race distances, from one mile to fifty miles.

(and he said a lot more, presented here for you to see the whole picture, as he presented her with our club’s Female Runner of the Year award!)

I was pretty familiar with Maria’s training and I feel quite confident that she “trained within the rules.”

But what happened at the end of her ultra was not a DNF.

I would call it more of a FWC.

Finished With Class!

Running Race Rules

Attacking the 50 Mile Tallahassee Ultra Distance Classic! Photo Credit: Robin Bennett

 

Run With Your Friends

Over the past three years, I have become more and more distanced from my local running friendships, and a couple of Facebook conversations this week prompted me to share my conclusion that in-person running friendships are not something to take for granted, that despite your specific training plans which may make it hard to “lace up and go” together, it’s worth figuring out how to make it work.

RUN WITH YOUR FRIENDS

When I first started being coached, I began heart rate based training. The result was that my workouts were structured around lengths of time at specific zones. For example, as opposed to “run three miles,”  a typical workout may be “warm up ten minutes at Zone 1, run 20 minutes at Zone 2, 10 minutes at Zone 3, cool down 10 minutes at Zone 1” or “here’s a workout on iTunes — put it in your ears and do what it says” (not an instruction from my current coach) or “every 20 minutes, run at a higher heart rate zone for 3 minutes and then slow back down”). It was a little complicated to get my head around and I felt awkward telling people “even though I can run faster, I have to watch my heart rate monitor and stay within a zone so don’t pay attention to me.”

Run With Your Friends

A typical “with surges” workout in Training Peaks.

Related to this change, I began isolating myself from group runs I previously had participated in. In addition to the specificity of the workouts, my first coach did not want me racing as much as I had been (translation: almost every Saturday). The withdrawal from frequent racing made sense from a training standpoint but took me further away from the Saturday morning visit/run/sweat/eat routine.

My initial goal of being coached was to prepare for my first half marathon (September 2012) but after that I was single-focused on my goal of the sub-30 5K. That’s why I stuck so religiously to the “less racing” and “more following coach’s instructions to the letter” plan even though it meant being separated from my running peeps.

I vividly remember one friend saying of the Saturday morning group runs, “We’d invite you but we know you do your own thing.”

To be fair, a certain amount of my running has always been solitary. Early morning runs before work are sometimes more easily accomplished by just knocking them out in the neighborhood. I’m not always able or willing to meet a group at 7 a.m. on a Saturday. I love running alone but I also love the people in my running community. The farther I got into my little training world, the more distance grew between my local running friends and me.

I can’t say exactly when I began refusing to accept the impact my coaching plan had on my local running friendships, but I saw a subtle shift about a year and a half ago, when I started meeting a group of Moms Run This Town (MRTT) runners on Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 5:30 a.m. for their runs. I was always the “caboose” and still running alone but it made a difference to start out with a group, to say hello to friends, and for someone to know I was out there (and to have a change of scenery from my neighborhood loop). It was a little silly to drive 20 minutes there and 20 minutes back, sometimes for a 40 minute run, but some actions that add quality to our running lives are not measured solely in minutes spent.

Run With Your Friends

The term “local running friends” should be broadly interpreted to include Miniature Pinschers, of course.

The more obvious shift came when I began experiencing challenges with my heart rate, leading to my April 2015 EP study and diagnosis of multifocal atrial tachycardia (MAT). Because an ablation was contraindicated (for now), I am currently taking a beta blocker half an hour before I run and, although I am sure there are plenty of runners out there accomplishing a sub 30 5K on beta blockers, I am dubious that is in the cards for me, so I am re-assessing my goal.

And it bothers me that before I got to the point of reassessing that goal, my path took me farther and farther from my local running friends, leaving me with a goal unaccomplished (I hate that!) and social bridges whose support pilings were on the verge of being washed out due to neglect.

That is why, when I got into those two Facebook conversations last week, I sent back responses that were hopefully articulately, sensitively, and diplomatically worded but were intended to say:

RUN WITH YOUR FRIENDS!

IT IS MORE COMPLICATED AND YOU’LL HAVE TO BE CREATIVE BUT …

RUN WITH YOUR FRIENDS!

I am not saying that coaching is a bad idea AT ALL (I LOVE my coach and my team at KR Endurance) and I believe in the effectiveness of heart-rate based training. BUT don’t abandon your local running friends.Whatever happens with your coaching journey and however many workouts you check off as complete in an online training system, none of that can replace:

  • Scrambling to make it to pre-race photos
  • Shared Finish Lines
  • Conversations over breakfast/coffee/beer/pizza (and Tuesday Post-Track Tacos of course)
  • Sacrificing your time goal on race day to help a friend who is struggling or has injured themselves
  • Sweaty hugs
  • The growth of trust and history with fellow runners that only accretes through being together regularly

Run With Your Friends