The game inside the game: Staying engaged in a race you can’t win

Fellow racers, competitors… or prey? It’s all fun and games until the competitive juices start to flow.

What do you do when you’re in a race that you know you won’t win, but the objective of just finishing is not really that much of a challenge?

I’m in that stage of running right now. I don’t do a lot of races, mostly because I already have a ton of T-shirts and the idea of a slow runner like me “racing” is actually kind of hilarious.

But entering a race with a group of friends – particularly an event that includes free grub and suds at the end – is a different story.

However, I find myself in that place in shorter races where I’m right in the middle of the pack of finishers. I won’t win – not even my age group.

But it’s still fun to make a game of it. In this case, a game akin to stalking prey.

I recently read the book “Born to Run” in which the author talks to researchers who told him that prehistoric humans routinely ran down their prey through exhaustion – continuing a long-distance chase that ultimately prey animals couldn’t endure.

That’s an interesting mindset. And that can make a race fun.

Stuck in the middle of the pack, I spied a few dudes whose pride was making sure they didn’t get passed by me, seeing as how they had already passed me up earlier. I stayed on their tail for most of the race, keeping an even pace and not being more than a hundred yards or so behind them.

Keeping them in sight, I also made sure I had enough in the tank for a kick at the end. I knew I’d be good here because I was always able to gain on them on the hills, then fall back on the downhills. (Kind of a backwards strategy, but it gave me an idea of how strong folks would be – and how strong I’d be – at the end.)

On the final quarter mile, they all fell, one by one. They were tired. I wasn’t. Picking up the pace, I could almost feel them wilt as I passed by, conceding defeat. It’s an enjoyable feeling.

Finally, the last 200 yards. One dude left to pick off. Picking it up to a sprint, I passed him. He sped up as we neared the finish. But I still had another gear.

“Thanks for giving me a little push at the end,” he said to me. “I just wish my wife would have told me someone was coming up behind me so close to the finish!”

When the race ended, I finished in the middle of my age group with an unspectacular time. I joined my friends, who had already finished (including two who won their age groups) in much better style than me.

But I enjoyed the race. And I enjoyed my little game. Competitive juices can still flow, even when you’re not competing for first place.

What do you do in a race to make it more interesting? Comment here and discuss!

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088


10 thoughts on “The game inside the game: Staying engaged in a race you can’t win

  1. I have a tendency to “stalk prey” even on the trails during training runs…especially if I see women about my age…and especially if those women are wearing running skirts. Something clicks within the depths of my competitive soul, and I refuse to let them win [insert evil laugh].

  2. LOL. This is me. I’m a middle of the pack guy but I still have that competitive instinct. I like to wear people down and pass them. I also like to chew people up on the hills. I thought I was a little twisted, but I guess I’m not alone!
    There’s nothing like running with someone 10 years younger than me and finally passing them. I’m not really out to “beat” anyone. It’s nothing personal or anything like that.
    People do it to me and I don’t get offended.

  3. Yes..I do this. I make a game after the middle of the race and see how many I can pass. Also if anyone tries to pass me they better be willing to push!! I often win in my AG because I’m so old 🙂

  4. I do the peek over and see how fast the person on the treadmill next to me is going and HAVE to go faster. I will do the same in an outdoor run to. Not even to compete per-say but to test my limits.

  5. I suck at racing – True Story, and I often wonder why I keep doing it. I’ve decided that pretending I’m the only one racing is the ticket, I challenge myself; try to set new PB’s. I feel good about setting them and well I’ve decided racing is better than sitting on the couch…not to mention it keeps me motivated to keep running. Great Post!

    • Good take, Heather. I think at first, it was about the challenge of finishing. Over time, new challenges have arisen. Setting PBs is an excellent motivator, and will be for me as well. I only see good things coming from challenging yourself, and also “challenging” others in-race by creating competitions in your mind. Thanks for reading!

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