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Last weekend I participated in my first race of the season, a lovely local 10k in conjunction with the Boulder Spring Half Marathon. I’ll admit I was struggling to run hard for six miles – I have a long way to go to be in real race shape. Yet while my pace was slow compared to runs I’ve done in the past, my body exhibited the signs of an all-out effort – especially my painfully labored breathing.
I have mild asthma and my breathing is always loud when I run, but it seemed particularly noticeable on race day. It wasn’t really a problem, except that it obviously indicated out loud to the other racers that my run was hardly a breeze. You know when you pass someone on the course and you can tell by their sloppy form or belabored breath that they’re having a rough day? That was me – an easy target for the other competitors.
At around mile four, a woman pulled up on my heels. I didn’t turn to look at her, but I could tell by the easy sound of her foot strike and the complete lack of panting that she was in much stronger form than me. Strategically, she sat on my feet for the better part of a mile, until she finally pulled ahead with a few smooth strides. The pass added perceived weight to my already heavy legs, and I failed to react, letting her gain a few precious yards.
Then I realized she was wearing headphones (apparently, this race allowed the use of iPods). Even though I’m sure I sounded as though I was gasping for my life’s final breaths, her music blocked out my audible agony, at least to her ears. Maybe I could flip-flop our roles, running up on her feet, the stealthy hunter stalking my own victim. Not that I felt strong or confident at all, but I knew she wouldn’t know better. I dredged up a final store of energy from somewhere deep inside my quads and caught up to my smooth-rockin’ rival. I stayed tucked in her shadow until a final turn toward the finish chute, when one last burst allowed me to bolt forward, crossing the line before she had a chance to catch me again.
I love running with music myself, though I’m a bit undecided as to where I land in the racing with headphones debate. I’m mostly inclined to view it as a non-no, in part for safety and consideration concerns, and in part because I think disallowing them forces a more level playing field – one where every runner must race with only their raw thoughts for distraction. But I’ll tell you, in races where they are allowed, I’ll certainly use last weekend’s experience as a tip to gain ground on a rival who can’t hear me coming!
– Holly Bennett