The Top 5 Things Not To Do In a Running Race: Lesson 1

The Top 5 Things Not To Do In a Running Race
The Tales and Lamentations of the Ill-Prepared Runner

Lesson 1 – Starting Too Fast

I have been a competitive distance runner for 4 years. Throughout the duration of my race career, I have stumbled and fell – both metaphorically and literally. I have had great moments and I have moments peppered with pure stupidity! I am here to inform you of the latter, the mistakes and pitfalls of running. Throughout this series, I will be discussing some of my errors on both race days and in training. Please learn from my mistakes! Take notes! Tell a friend! Call a broadcast station! Do anything to not repeat my mistakes!

My name is Chad Baird…and I am a distance running fool!

The date was July 11, 2010 in Calgary, Alberta. 8:00 a.m., 7 degrees Celsius, slight wind, perfect. The half-marathon section of the Stampede Road Race was ready and waiting for me to tear into it. This was my first half, so I was itching to run, itching to get the rubber of my soles on the pavement. Unfortunately, with new experience comes naivety. As I joined the crowd of excited runners at the start line with my father, who I love to death but secretly and subliminally loathe because he is 29 years older than me and in better shape than me, I prepare myself for the ruckus that is about to ensue. 21.1 km ‘til freedom. The gun goes off and my dad and I take off at a speed typically saved for the land-speed records of large jungle cats or the roadrunner’s foot speed from The Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show. Pacing between a 3:45 to 4:15 kilometer for the first half of the race, we were on top of the world. There was nothing that could stop us. In our heads, we were Greek gods, shining, majestic, eating a cluster of grapes atop a grand mountain of stone and steel. Nearing a full sprint pace, I looked down at my Garmin wristwatch at the 5km mark and thought to myself, “I am going to finish this race in 1:30:00! Marathon running is easy!” Correction Chad…marathon running is not easy and you are just sadly misguided. My dad and I hit the 7km marker and I could see panic brewing in my father’s eyes. His gears were grinding, the machine slowly crumbling. He told me to keep up the pace and run ahead because he couldn’t maintain the crazy pace anymore. I swiftly bid him farewell, and victoriously ran ahead. I was running on pure adrenaline, but my body had had enough and at the next aid station, I fully understood the meaning of pain.

9km aid station, the plague of my soul – either name with suffice. As I slowed down to walk and grab a Gatorade, I realized that I was fully destroyed. Everything is wrong, everything is lost. At that moment, I am pretty sure I heard a violent car crash in my brain. Crunching metal, screeching tires, sirens. I had nothing left. My lungs heaved as I tried to catch my breath. The sun beat down on me and I was reduced to nothing more than a weary desert traveler. My legs felt like scuba tanks, heavy and hollow, wading through endless amounts of water. My arms were so weak that I could barely lift my Gatorade cup to my lips. It was in this moment, I considered a good, healthy man cry. “NO CHAD! GET IT TOGETHER!” I threw my cup to the ground and started to run again. “Yes, Chad! You are the king again! Back at it! Eating Zeus grapes on Grecian mountains! Racing like a champ!” I looked down at my watch and expected to see the sub-four-minute pace I boasted previously. My watch read a dismal 13:38 kilometer pace. It is at this point that runners start to make excuses. “THE GPS ALIGNMENT IS OFF! THE TREES ARE BLOCKING THE SIGNAL! SOLAR FLARES ARE DISRUPTING MY SATELLITE!” It was none of those things. I was just pacing at a speed that is often surpassed by infants crawling for a toy in the modern family home. With my back slouched and legs burning, I continued on in the race at my Baby Gap super speed and finished the race in 2:15:00. Considering how violently I hit the wall, I am just happy that I didn’t have to get pulled to the finish line in a little red wagon by a road marshall.

2010 Stampede Road Race = 1, Chad Baird = 0

I tell you this story because there is an important point I want to outline. Do not (and I really mean do not) start out a race faster than you are comfortable. I’m going to repeat that just so we understand each other. DO NOT START OUT A RACE TOO FAST! There is so much excitement in the beginning of a race that it is easy to start off too quickly and do exactly what I did – burnout! You trained for the race and you know your pace. Make sure that you keep yourself in check because you don’t need to be a hero. I tried to be hero, but I lost my cape and fell from the sky.

Start the race at a pace that you can maintain, and you will be running across the finish line with a smile on your face. Running is beautiful; don’t make a mess of the Mona Lisa.

Stay tuned next week for Lesson #2: Not Training At All

Written by Chad Baird | BCMM Public Relations Student | Mount Royal University