Head starts for the youth-challenged

It never occurred to me before I started running that a person’s age, height and weight were key factors in determining pace. I’d always assumed that fitness was the sole determinant and it didn’t matter much if you were 19 or 62, tall or not. I regret that I didn’t track my running metrics back in the early 90’s when I was two decades younger. I know I ran relatively fast and a lot of that was due to my misunderstanding of the need to develop a good aerobic running method. I would literally run a mile or more at speed while dodging pedestrians and cars through the streets of NYC. With no baseline to use for monitoring progress and with less than ideal running conditions, it’s no wonder that I became discouraged and finally stopped. I did participate in a Corporate Challenge race in 1992 but I can’t recall my time or distance. I wish I could remember more about that because I likely have a PR that I’ll never know about.

In the current issue of Runner’s World there’s a piece about a race in Colorado Springs called “The Tortoise and the Hare 5K” where runners are weighed and measured prior to the start and are given head starts based upon factors like gender, age, height and weight. The writer is 37, female and 6′ 4″ tall (not a typo) and she described, due to her head start, how she was almost leading the race for a good period of time before the faster, lower handicapped runners caught up an began to pass her. It made me laugh to read that because in every race I’ve run I have encountered people who’ll jet past me in the middle or near the end of a race. I can hear always hear them coming but there isn’t much that I can do to hold them off. In the end it’s really about maintaining a pace that works me hard enough to build fitness but not so fast that I lose the joy of the experience. I may have been a miserable 7:00-something runner 20 years ago but I’m a happy as a 9:00-something runner today.

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