Friday, October 2, 2009

Coaching on the Waterfront

I was running with L halfway through my final training run as a coach for my club, in the last long run before the target race, the Army Ten-Miler. Running down the Georgetown Waterfront four miles into the run, we were behind three other Program runners who had formerly been trailing us, thanks to an impromptu stop I had made. The five of us were leading the main body of runners, who were half a mile back with the other Program coaches.

Passing runners in a race, I explained to L, was all about attitude. You have to put them away so they don't hang around.

(Left: The Program runners who ran on Sundays out of Fleet Feet in the District. In the middle, I'm the old-timer in white tank top on the left, Bad John Braden, a terrific coach, is the one on the right.) We came up on the first runner and I told L to follow me. We surged past her in a sustained burst and didn't settle back into our natural pace until we were 10 yards in front. The other two runners were a little ways ahead and when we caught them, we took them the same way, putting distance on them immediately while we passed them.

"See?" I said. "That way in a race, they have to work to get back up to you, and they might expend all their remaining energy or just get discouraged. If you merely cut in front of them, they will hang around behind you and let your energy work for them, drawing them forward. They will pass you back at any time."

We came upon another runner, wearing headphones so I knew she wasn't part of the Program. We smoothly moved around her but she sped up as we went by and we didn't establish any separation. Some runners don't like to be passed and this was definitely such a runner. She started driving us from behind.

She hung with us, pushing us forward into an uncomfortable speed as we labored to stay ahead of her. After a few hundred meters with her on our heels, she suddenly went on by us and we let her go. (Right: Program runners stream down the Georgetown Waterfront this summer led by Bart Yasso, in red.)

"See what I mean?" I said to L. "We didn’t put her away and she passed us back."

We emerged from the waterfront and ran down Rock Creek Park past the Kennedy Center. I could feel the tiredness starting to emanate from L and I slowed down, hopefully imperceptibly, to accommodate his diminishing energy. We did a 9:40 mile, and then fell into the ten-minute-per-mile range as we passed by Lincoln. We were in the homestretch of our run, running down the Mall to round the World War II Memorial before heading for the Memorial Bridge and home, two miles further on.

Passing by World War II, I found the key to unlock L and get him to open up a little, conversationally. All people have interesting tales, sometimes you have to draw them out.


Petraruns said...

That's a really interesting strategy and I have never really considered it before. Something to take with me into my next race..

Danielle in Iowa said...

Ooh, I'm going to try that next time I want to take someone down!