Run As a Lone Wolf or Stay Back With the Pack?

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by Heather Borsellino
The Summit Chasers Racing Team

I’m halfway into a 50k race. I have had the same racer on my shoulder for the last five kilometres. We’ve stopped at all the same aid stations. We grunted in unison when the terrain became more technical. Feeling a connection with this stranger, I decide to strike up a friendly conversation with her during a quiet stretch on the trail. The short pleasant exchanges feel rushed between our rapid breathing, but we both welcome the distraction from the pain within our bodies. We feel a camaraderie as we jointly conquer the hilly rocks ahead – many times reaching back to help one another. We are feeling grateful for this new-found partnership.

The trail widens as we exit the forest and then reality sets in…we are racing against each other. My legs feel decent and I have some gas left in the tank. There are only a few kilometres left and a pang of guilt hits me as I realize that I want to pick up the pace. I battle internally with how to handle this situation. Should I stay alongside this runner and possibly forfeit the thrill of leaving it all the trail? Or do I just take off, dropping this fellow competitor with whom I have spent that last few hours?

Finding a buddy within a race may complicate your race strategy. When on a training run, we often pair ourselves with like runners who have similar pace, distance, and effort goals. This predefined plan ensures that we have a defined objective for the run, which typically includes staying with the training group. For some runners, experiencing a race side-by-side is far more beneficial than forging out alone. Race times are irrelevant if our focus is on having a shared experience with the supportive cast of our training partners. Alternatively, some runners may feel that they have some curiosity about their own unearthed ability. Their desire to independently exhaust themselves prevails in order to test their own limitations. We need to define for ourselves what our intentions are and how we want to experience our journey.

So what happens when a friendship is ignited during a race? Are we willing to forgo a ’PR’ for ‘RP’ (personal record versus racing partner)? For me, what it comes down to is motivation. What motivates you? What motivates me? I’m motivated by my desire to always try my best, to push the boundaries of my physical and mental strength, and most importantly – to share in the experience that is running.

So what did I do in the last kilometres of that race? I told the racer beside me that I wanted to “kick it in.” She looked wearily over at me, smiled, and said, “I’ll tell you what, you sprint to the end and I’ll chase you down.” We crossed the finish line within a second of each other. I won’t tell you who crossed first, but I will tell you that, after we finished, we shared a big sweaty hug along with an experience that we will never forget.

What was my time? I can’t remember.

Dedicated to the sublimely talented and graciously warm Neela D’Souza.

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