Winning isn’t about life and death, it’s much more serious than that.

 You’ve got to love age-groupers. You know who they are. These are the runners who know what place they’ll get in a local 5K by just looking at the cars in the parking lot. They know who, in their age group, they can beat every time, who they can never beat, and who might give them a run for their money.

They are at every race, in every club, all over the country. I know. I’ve met most of them. You know who they are without even thinking about it. These are the runners that wear the event t-shirt from the same race 20 years earlier, and who aren’t altogether sure that those new fabrics are really such a good idea. After all, cotton has worked well for all these years.

These are the runners whose car trunks look like a combination running shoe junk yard and locker room. There are at least 3 towels, probably a couple of different jackets, an pair of wind pants, an old pair of sweat pants, and a “throw away” long-sleeve shirt. There’s never any thought of trading in a runner’s car, there’d be too much stuff to transfer.

I used to be an age-grouper. I used to go to the races are try to figure out if there was anyone in my age group that I could outrun. Then, I try to figure out of there was anyone in any age group that I could out run. And often, I tried to figure out if there was at least ONE person that I could outrun.

There’s a real system for assessing the competition. It starts with looking for new faces. These could be a problem. It’s very nerve wracking to not know, for sure, what place you’ll get before the race starts. So, the system is to wander over, introduce yourself, and welcome them to the race. Then, you start checking them out.

Are they wearing racing flats? A dangerous sign. Are they wearing a singlet from another running club? Another dangerous sign. Are they wearing sunglasses? A hat? Most importantly, do they have a tattoo of the god Mercury on their ankle? If so, chances are you’ve just moved down one position.

If, on the other hand, they are wearing walking shoes, socker shorts, and an oversized t-shirt that comes down to their knees, you probably don’t need to worry. You can’t be certain, but the odds are pretty good that they are just going to be happy to get through without falling down.

Engaging in conversation is tricky. You can’t just jump into the “what do you think you’ll run today” dialog right off the bat. You need to sort of sneak up on the subject. You might talk about other races of similar distance to try to draw them out, but never, never, mention your PR first. Remember, everybody’s fast until the gun goes off.

It’s not a bad idea to mention that you are recovering from a recent injury, just in case they run off an leave you at the starting line like you were tied to a tree. You can also try pointing out all the fast runners in your age group, and two or three younger age groups, just to see their reaction.

In the end, though, the trophy sniffers, the age-groupers, and the rest of us have to toe the line together. There comes that moment when all of the assessment, all of the psyching out, all of the calculations come down to a simple question. How many people are going to cross the finish line before you do?

Even though I long ago gave up my dream of an age group victory, I still like to look at where I placed. I still like to know where I fall in the giant scheme of things. And who knows, if I can just keep the speed I have now and just get older, by the time I’m in my nineties I’ll be a trophy sniffer again!

Waddle on, friends.





Leave a Reply