It seems there's a movement in the sport of running that lately has become more prevalent. It's always been there but it appears to me to have become more overt in recent years. It's the pursuit of fast times.
During my high school cross country days, the average length of a course was somewhere between 2.5 miles and 3.3 miles. Funny thing was, as runners, we never really knew or cared how long any particular course was. No one bothered wheel-measuring and no, GPS stuff was not on the market. At best, some coach might ride his bike with a speedometer and give us a rough estimate. My home course was somewhere between 2.9 and 3.0 miles… I think.
Course certification has become an increasingly important part of the race scene. In other words, running a 10k course means running 6.2137 miles, not 6.2136. Really? And no, I did not need to reference that conversion from Google.
I guess in some respects, this has become very important in the marketing of races. Our expectations of a good race experience includes a nice premium (t-shirt, jacket, back-pack, etc…), good post-race fare, a safe race course environment, a beneficiary, quick access to race results and the ability to run fast! Hey, for the $40, $50, $60+ we shell out, we should be treated like good customers! By the way, this is why I rarely recommend running first-ever races — too many potential problems (DC Hot Chocolate run last year).
The Brian's Run 10k in West Chester, Pa. used to attract an internationally fast field and over 4,000 runners. In 1994, a water main break the morning of the race caused the course to be rerouted literally as the gun went off. As it turns out, 6.2137 miles became 6.02 or 6.03. Forget that this was a huge fund-raiser for spinal cord injury research, there were some really unhappy people… and that was 18 years ago!
I bring this up because I realize the importance placed upon accurate distances at events. But I think we've become a bit too focused on accuracy and a little less focused on racing and experiencing. I also have the same complaint about technology. Has racing become a NFZ? (no fun zone).
This has spawned a growth in off-road events, where time is of less importance, but the experience enhanced. A recent off-road race actually awarded a top prize for best "flop during the river crossing." They even had judges. This course was not flat, nor fast, nor usual. It was FUN! And no, I did not win the river flop award. Had I only known…
Please don't misunderstand me. I race 12 to 18 times a year and am intent on running fast times on flat courses when it matters. But I also see a whole lot of my running friends who look at that as the end-all, be-all of our running experience.
Page 2 of 2 - My high school cross country experiences had nothing to do with fast times. The first person from point A to point B was the winner. That's as "pure sport" as it gets. My 5k PR is a sub 15, and but I don't recall if the course was certified or if somebody stuck a wheel out of a van window and drove 3.1 miles. I do recall a pretty good experience.
I'd like to suggest you start pursuing better experiences in some of your racing. You may be surprised that "flat and fast" start mattering a little less, while the fun of running, racing and experiencing returns. Good bye NFZ and hello river flop!
Former Lock Haven University stand-out runner Andy Shearer is the Middletown Athletic Club secretary/treasurer. Shearer has been running since 1978. His column "runs" the first Monday of each month.