01 February, 2014

My Fairly O.K. Corral Experience

Reminiscence: Around the Bay 30k - Random Thoughts on v.2013

Since I am not entering it this year after three straight, I thought I'd take this time (in which I am not out in the cold and snow training for it) to look back on 2013's edition.
    Going into this I was feeling fairly chuffed to have qualified for the 'B' starting corral. For the uninitiated, running corrals herd participants like sheep into small spaces near the front end of a race start so they can spend a few moments under the impression that they are faster than they really are. This was to be my first bona fide corral start, and I relished the little dream I'd nurtured of not having to wade through, over, and around the myriad joggers, yakkers, and elbow-flingers who inevitably materialize in front of me just before the starting horn.
Corrals are nothing new in road racing. Photo taken from 1910 Around the Bay race. Following this particular event, race directors decided to swap future corral allocations so that the faster competitors would start in front of slower ones. The sheep set out quickly enough, but were hampered by the street car tracks and lack of grass at the aid stations.
Finally, I had arrived.

It wasn't like I was elite or anything, and I didn't wade forward through the massed hoi-polloi waving my colour-coded number bib over my head like I did in high school with that one trig exam that I aced. Still, I confess to feeling a small burble of smugness tingle within and I'm pretty sure it wasn't the morning's bagel & jam coming back up on me.

    In reality, yes, once the race began things were different - just not exactly better. Where before I might be held up for a few strides until I got around Mr. Overdressed, or the Chatty Cathys, and slip into the open gaps of their frontal wakes, here I was surrounded, tightly, for what seemed like a quarter of the race. I was now haunted, shadowed by a swarm of runners who were pretty much going the same speed as me. If it was exactly the same speed, I guess that would be fine, but there were tiny differences that caused ebbs and flows of clearance; small openings never became bigger and heels a half stride ahead of me were constantly, nearly clipped. Any time this giant improv group ever slowed down or sped up, I was forced to conform. Wow!

    Conclusion: it's a wash for me. Sure, with no corrals there are more “obstacles,” but with corrals: fewer options for navigating the ones that arise. My choices? 1) quit running; 2) race like a scalded banshee, turn Elite, and get front row starts; 3) pretend it doesn't matter and "go with the flow." Given that 1) seems boring & unhealthy, and 2) requires injections of so many expensive, harmful and illegal substances that my syringe would be the size of a fire extinguisher, it appears the writing's on the wall: it's time to just Zen down, queue up, zone out and run as if this doesn't matter in the big scheme of things. Because it doesn't.

As for the race: Spirit: Willing, Flesh: Weak

And by weak, I don't just mean my pace slowed along York Street to the finish after the notorious Northshore hills; it means that long before then my will power to summon my inner stud from beneath its sheath of protective wintery blubber failed at every turn - starting with the twirls of my fork as I coiled and crammed countless lengths of pasta down my pie hole from October until the Friday night before the race.
As for my plantar fasciitis, which really got my attention after this race: when I stop to think about it - especially in a Darwinian natural-selection sort of way - it is sort of perplexing how some running injuries can actually feel better once you get running & warmed up. Taken to a reductio absurdum level, does this may mean that if one could somehow keep running non-stop - 24/7 - then one might never experience the very injury they are supposedly harbouring? Time to go lie down.

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