For the past few years I’ve participated in an annual 5K run sponsored by a nearby town. Since the course is the same each year, I use the race as an annual benchmark of my level of fitness. I’ve also experimented with listening to music during the race, taking into account issues of etiquette, safety, and whether it’s even desirable to tune out the event. I can report that whatever the drawbacks, earphones will indeed help you go much faster.
The race organizers do a nice job at the starting line trying to separate the faster runners from the slower folks. Several large signs clearly indicate where you’re supposed to stand based on your typical pace per mile. Each group goes off in a staggered start separated by a minute or so.
Although this athletic honor system should help streamline the race, the whole arrangement breaks down under actual event conditions. Pumped full of pre-race adrenaline, people who have never run three miles in less than 30 minutes conclude they’re going to streak down the course at an eight minute pace. Likewise, you have folks with no conditioning at all that decide to accompany their more fitness-oriented spouse or relative at the starting line.
Everything would be fine if these people, totally gassed by 1,000 meters, drifted off towards the sidewalk in a courteous and controlled fashion. Unfortunately for the rest of us, they crash suddenly and stop right in your path. For those of us in the third or fourth wave of runners, the first half of the race is most notable for its frequent collisions and for weaving around the widespread traffic jams. In fact, the beginning of the race encapsulates everything wrong with the state of fitness today: People with unrealistic expectations starting too fast, burning themselves out, all while getting in the way of folks trying to train seriously.
There’s also fun to be had at the water stations at miles one and two of the course. Now, I imagine the race organizers set up these stations only for liability purposes or because it’s required by some county code. As a practical matter, do you really need to suck down a pint of water nine minutes into your jog? I’m serious – are people normally crazy with thirst after four laps around a track? I know that I haven’t even started to sweat yet at this point in my workout. Regardless, runners swarm the the tables and fling their empty cups all over the road. In particular, I like watching the guys who grab a cup of water in each hand and pour it over their heads, like they’re heading into the final stage of a triathlon.