Thursday, March 12, 2009

What's more important--times or victories?

Sometimes we get a little too carried away with wanting fast times. There--I said it. The guy who keeps all the lists and records saying that times are over-emphasized... isn't that kind of like those beer commercials where they urge people to drink responsibly?

I just read a very nice article from the folks who put on the Midwest Distance Classic. Here it is. I think they did a fine job here, so I don't want to be critical. However, one tendency I see here is what I regularly see on Dyestat and other websites (my own included): the lust for fast times and records.

As coaches we need to remember that our stars need to be "able" to run certain times to win state titles, but it is equally important to know how to run a variety of races. I've seen generations of distance runners who are enslaved by a mindset that has them aiming at PRs constantly. When they get to the NCAA, they find themselves still aiming at qualifying times. While it's a necessary evil in the sport, the fact is it sometimes hampers the development of the complete competitor. And it has certainly hurt the United States in the Olympics and World Championships, where we regularly see our runners bounced out in the heats and semis because they can't master simple tactics.

A middle distance or distance runner needs to how to race, first and foremost. How to lead. How to kick from behind. How to draft. How to move with 600 to go and how to move with 60 go. Every different tactical weapon is another tool in the toolbox, and a runner must reach into that toolbox to react instinctively to rapidly changing race conditions and respond to challenges. They learn none of that when we tell them to go for time.

Some people think they see a great race when they see a record. Sure, it has its thrills. However, I think a great race is one that is exciting even if you left your stopwatch at home and don't know how fast they ran. So I sure hope that after the indoor nationals this weekend, folks are talking about great races and not just fast races. After all, winning's not everything--but for the winners it is.

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