Sunday, September 09, 2007

On your mark, get set, wait five seconds to cross the start line!

I've been racing a lot lately. Two weeks ago I did Hood to Coast with a great group of people, none of whom had I met until the day before the race. This was my first year in Van 2, and I ran legs 7, 19, and 31. Wow the first two made me glad that I've still been hill training even since leaving Capitol Hill. Anyway the whole thing was a lot of fun, and my legs recovered a lot faster than they did the last couple of times.

So I was only too happy to sign up for the Iron Girl Seattle when one of my Hood to Coast teammates emailed me about it. I did the 5k event that took place at Green Lake this morning. What a great event! I wasn't sure how it was going to go -- there's nothing too special about running at Green Lake for me since I do a lot of my regular mileage there, plus this is a nationally sponsored race rather than a local one. (Ryka sponsors.) Well, it was great!

This is the first women's-only race that I've done, and this definitely made me want to do more. One thing that totally cracked me up was the dynamic in the start line. General race ettiquette asks that people line up approximately according to where they intend to finish, by their projected pace. In this way faster runners are supposed to be closer to the front, with walkers at the very back of the line. The goal is to get the race going smoothly and avoid congestion, so that faster runners don't spend the first mile passing and dodging strollers and slower athletes. In many races, this expectation is formalized by pace signs, so that for instance if you're planning to run 9 min/mi you should line up near the sign that says 9 min/mi. It's a good system, if people use it. It's a terrible system, if most people don't.

I've never been to a race where this really works, because people are always trying to squeeze as close to the front as possible, stretching for the extra couple of feet advantage. Never mind that in this day and age this kind of jockeying for position has no point, since all runners wear chips that gauge their start and finish times electronically anyway. As sure as there is a start line, there will be be slowpokes mixed in with the faster people right up against it.

Except... not today. In fact, the women in this race were so determined to line up appropriately that there were actually no women yes NO WOMEN lined up in front of the 7 min/mi sign. This left a gap of at least 20 yards between the actual start line and the first few runners. The commentator had to actually ask everyone to move forward to compress nearer to the start line. That's crazy! And also awesome. It made for a very smooth race. I didn't notice myself passing in builk or being passed in bulk at any point during the race, so at least from where I sat in the field, it worked really well.

And if you had asked me yesterday if I thought that such a thing were possible based on the approximately 100 races of various distances that I've run, I would have told you no way. And laughed at the question for good measure.

Next race is the Run for Children's on September 30, another 5k. I'm definitely going for speed in the next few months.

(I was happy with my finish time today also: 22:50, 7:24min/mi pace, finished 29th out of 775 overall.)


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