One of the unwritten rules of cycling and running is that no one should ever catch you on the road. Ever. Of course it is a rule that I made up in my head. It’s not written down anywhere, or codified in The Rules on Velominati. I’m a little surprised they missed that one.
Perhaps they are smarter than that. It is an absurd proposition to think that you’ll never get caught by anyone. There are millions of cyclists faster than me, for example. And nowadays people even catch and pass me while running. I don’t like it. And I try to keep it from happening. But it does.
That didn’t happen much when I was young and fit. There were very few people then running six minutes per mile in training. It seems like there are even fewer doing that now. There aren’t even that many people these days who seem to race faster than 6:00 per mile! I see 5K race results in which the leader of the race runs just under 18:00. To me that’s unfathomably slow for a race win. We once did 3 X 3M at 17:00 in training, for God’s sake.
Sniffing the Go Glue
Now that I’m flirting with 6:00 pace in training again, it’s an interesting proposition to see what might happen if that pace becomes possible in a race.
On that subject, recently I discussed training pace with a friend. We were talking about both cycling and running pace. His physiologist and coaching buddy is doing a study on speed and aging. Apparently one of the basic reasons we slow down as we age is that most people simply quit doing the speed training they once did. He put it this way: “The idea that if you want to do a 4:10 mile, you should got out again and again trying to run a 4:10 mile in training is absurd. You have to train faster than 4:10 pace to be able to sustain that rate of speed for a mile. But that’s what most people do in training. It’s true for both cycling and running.”
As a result, few of us actually get faster. That is, until someone is trying to catch us.
Coming up from behind
Admit it. You’re riding or running along and happen to notice someone coming up behind you. They might be 400 meters back while you’re running, or half a mile back when you’re cycling. You pick up the pace and it is amazing how fast you can go when you don’t want to get caught by someone else. You’re thinking, “Not on your life am I going to get caught…”
Top athletes use such motivation in their training. They know that no matter how fast they might be going in a workout, someone, somewhere else must be going faster. Such notions haunt the dreams of athletes at every level. We don’t like to get beat, but we really don’t like to get caught. That means someone is so much better than you…they are not only going faster, they also made up tons of time and are actually passing you by. AAAAAHHHHH! I can’t stand that feeling.
I once got caught in open country by two women cyclists. They rolled by at 22 when I was going 19. I asked if I could join them. That’s etiquette, you see. They said yes. But you don’t just grab on to them and hang on. No class in that.
They were better cyclists than me, so I only did a couple pulls. Mostly I rode behind them for 10 miles at between 24-26 mph before they pulled away. I kept them in sight for the rest of the ride. That became the goal. As they pulled away I thanked them for letting me ride with them. Yes, I’d been caught. And yes, they pulled away again. But that pressure to keep up drew me out of a malaise of riding the same pace every day.
Delusions of grandeur
It happens in running as well. We fall into habits that don’t help us get faster. We run out the door at some nutso pace and try to keep it the whole way through a run. Then we get home and look at Strava and say, “Shit! I did 7:53 per mile today. Last week I did 7:51. I suck!”
No, you don’t suck. You’re training methods suck.
It’s a basic fact. Instead of falling into bad habits like racing ourselves for average pace per mile on the same route, we instead need to “fall in” with faster runners in order to be pulled along to a better pace. Otherwise we face a lifetime of getting caught. Instead we’re caught in a cycle of self-perpetuating delusion that we’re getting faster by going hard all the time when we’re really not.
So choose your moments. Don’t be afraid to push when you get the opportunity. But don’t go out there trying everyday to beat your average pace. That’s not going to happen.
But when that day comes along and you sense someone behind you, use it as motivation to dial it up for a bit. Yes, there is always someone better who may catch you on the roads. But you become a better person when you vow, on occasion, not to let that happen. Latch on and roll to the best of your ability.