Friday, May 27, 2016

The Passing Games

Here’s a situation played out daily on running paths around the country:

Woman is running along, la de dah, and gradually catching the man in front of her.
She reels him in, easy peasy, he’s clearly going slower than her current pace.
She passes him.
He starts sprinting until he’s passed her back.
Inevitably, because he sped up too much to make the pass, he slows.
Woman—now probably annoyed—reels him in again, because she’s been going the same pace all along and it is still faster than annoying guy.
And repeat.

I realize I’m stereotyping here, but I’ve heard many women complain of the same thing and I’ve never had the same experience when passing a woman (unless it’s a race, and all’s fair in love and racing). To their credit, the vast majority of men don’t give a crap if I pass. They often share a kind wave or smile.

But then there are the dudes that have to prove themselves.

Getting lapped in high school...  
A couple of weeks ago, a guy took it more seriously than usual. The scene played out as above: me jogging along, catching up to dude, passing him, he sprints, then slows, I pass again. Repeat. But this guy was so adamant about staying in front after the second pass he started running through red lights to ensure he stayed ahead. (I stopped, being that it was rush hour in DC and not exactly safe to be running through those intersections.) After the second red light dash, I was particularly annoyed: Let it go dude. I just want to enjoy my run without offending you every time I run by. But also, I don’t want to have to slow down just to save your ego.

Admittedly, I have certainly tagged behind guys (and girls) before to try to boost my motivation or pace. I generally try not to do it in such an annoying and obvious way (staying a good distance behind), but maybe that’s all these dudes are doing. But from the many stories I’ve heard and the sideways glances and angry headshakes I get when I pass, I get the impression that many of them just really hate being passed by a girl.

... and at the Trials. See, it's no big deal!
When not racing, do we really need to make
such a fuss over getting passed?
But the other day, the opposite thing happened. I got sucked up and passed. I don’t mind being passed by a guy (or girl) and this guy looked like he was cruising, so no biggie, he was gone.

He made it look easy, and it snapped me out of my jogging cruise control. I picked it up a hair and felt good. He was still way ahead; I had no intention of catching him.

But then he started slowing. And while I don’t mind when people go by, if you make a show of passing me and then start slowing, you’ve got a bull’s-eye on your back. (See above.)

Still, he had seemed a lot speedier than the normal dudes who try to prove their manliness. I never want to pass someone just to stick it to them, so I made sure I was still running comfortably and relaxed. I had picked it up since he passed me, but it felt effortless and smooth.

After a lot of stalling and sitting awkwardly on his butt, I passed him. But soon enough he passed me back.

And I felt like a huge hypocrite. Was I one of those dudes I hate, just trying to prove something? Speeding back to the front just to slow down? I didn’t feel that I had sped up too much to make the pass or slowed down after, but who knows. After he passed me the second time, he created another big gap. But slowly, over the next mile, I reeled him in again.

Before I could catch him, I hit my turn around spot and headed home. I was shocked to see the halfway split, how fast I had been going without killing myself. And I had enjoyed the distraction. Was there anything wrong with that? Maybe that’s all these macho guys are doing—using me to snap out of a funk or get some interval training.

And I realized another hidden benefit of these passing games that I hadn’t considered: they can also help you practice staying relaxed and taking note of your effort
 “You can’t force fast running, you relax and let it happen.” –Desi Linden
Sometimes I try too hard to lock into a pace. On dedicated workout days—tempos, track intervals, races—I often try to force it and end up missing the mark. But when I’m doing these unplanned workouts with strangers, I stay relaxed. There’s no real pressure, so no reason to overanalyze the pace or berate myself for a missed split.

Sure, we weren’t going race pace that day, but I still found a new gear that felt effortless, which was surprising given my recent slump. Maybe there’s more to this than I thought.

You’d think the macho dudes would be a bit more appreciative and less visibly annoyed…

Dream big,