When you're running, Schmidt happens

I’ve had this rant bouncing around in my head for a long time, and I keep hoping that what I’m about to go off on would rectify itself on its own, but this past weekend it reared its ugly head again, so I figure it’s just time to let loose.

I hate running in races with Jean Schmidt.

Over the last 15 or so years, I’ve run in close to 100 races of all different distances, from a mile to a marathon. I’m by no means an elite runner, but I’m pretty good. I usually finish in the top 10-15% of the field, and I occasionally walk away with an age group medal. So I think I’ve got enough experience and credibility that I can make some judgments about how people should handle themselves during a race.

At the beginning of a race, everyone has to line up in a queue of sorts. Usually it goes about 10-12 people wide, so when you figure that most races have hundreds - or even thousands - of runners, the queue can get extremely long.

It’s generally understood that the fastest runners start at the front, the slowest runners and walkers at the back, and everyone else fills in the middle based on how fast they are. There’s a good reason for this. Once the race starts, runners need to have space to accelerate and run at their race pace. If slower runners start at the front of the pack, the faster runners will quickly catch up to them, and will need to go around the slower runners to keep their pace. This makes for a messy situation, because now those faster runners have to sidestep the slower ones, and could run into not only the slow runners but also fast ones trying to get around other slow runners. If enough runners start too far up in the pack, it can get dangerous really quickly.

Jean Schmidt, without fail, lines up way too far up in the pack. She’s a very good runner for her age group, but her times in no way justify her constantly lining up in the first four or five rows of a large race pack. And having run over 80 marathons, she ought to know better.

Anyone that’s an experienced runner knows right around what time they’re going to run. For example, if you typically can race 4 miles in 30 minutes, you’re not going to put up a time of 25:00 on a given day. You may run 29:00, but you’re not going to have disproportionate gains that occur out of nowhere. That’s just not the way it works.

A neophyte to the running world can be forgiven – once or twice – for making a mistake like this. Maybe they just don’t understand what a race is like or how fast the front-pack runners are, and once they experience it they realize that they need to start farther back. But if you do it more than a few times, you’re either oblivious to the race that’s going on around you, or you’re just being disrespectful to the faster runners.

I would think that, after participating in race after race where scores of runners pass her in the early stages, or being in races where she has to walk part of the race – and I’ve seen this happen - she would realize that she needs to line up farther back. Or maybe she feels justified in starting up front because she’s one of the fastest in her age group – I would dispute this strongly, because I don’t see other slower runners in this situation start up front, but if that’s her reasoning then she should move to the side of the pack so she doesn’t get in the way of as many runners.

It’s inconsiderate and disrespectful to other runners to continue to do this, and it’s a bad reflection on a runner’s character when they continue to flout convention in this regard. If you continue to do this over time, it’s fair to wonder why you do this, and what that says about you overall.

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