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January 24, 2006

Big

Well, it only took one comment to figure out the other story I had in mind when looking at Saturday’s picture. Good eye, Rob – yes, everybody is drafting me. And it’s nothing new.

As marathoners go, I’m a pretty large fellow. I’m a shade over 6’2”, and typically range between 185 and 195 pounds, although I’ve seen the far side of 200 more than a few times in recent years. When I’m really in fighting shape I’ll get down to 180, but I can rarely stay at that weight for more than a few days after the event.

Considering that world-class marathon runners average a full foot shorter and 75 pounds less than me, it’s safe to say I wasn’t genetically selected for this particular event.

Yet I’m relatively fast for my size, and that poses some unique problems for me in many races.

While there are certainly taller and heavier runners in any given marathon field, most of them are further back in the pack than I tend to lurk. The vast majority of runners who run at my speed are significantly shorter and smaller than me.

So it’s natural that I constantly find people maneuvering to ride in my slipstream during a long race. I can’t say that I blame them: after all, if there were a 6’6”, 250-lb guy running at my speed, I’d ride his slipstream as long as possible.

The photo from my previous post reminded me of one year at the Big Sur Marathon (BSIM) that was particularly windy.

I should stipulate that headwinds at Big Sur are to be expected every year. Prevailing winds along our coastline almost always blow from north to south, and the BSIM course runs directly north up Highway 1. Veteran runners accept that wind is a standard part of the BSIM course, just another obstacle to overcome along with all the hills.

(Let’s just say there’s a reason that the high mark of the course is called Hurricane Point, and that the local training clinic dubs itself the “Into the Wind” club. That should give you the idea.)

During one race in the late 1990s. the headwinds were especially fierce. Sustained breezes were in the 15-20 mph range, with gusts up to 30-40 mph.

The first four miles of the course are sheltered by redwood trees, and I drifted among the packs of runners while establishing my desired pace. By time we emerged from the trees in mile 5, the packs were smaller, but still interspersed across the road.

Gradually over the next few miles, I saw fewer and fewer people around me. It didn’t strike me as odd until about mile 8, when I realized that I hadn’t heard or seen anybody around me for what seemed like 10 minutes.

Looking over my shoulder, I saw the biggest phalanx of runners I’ve ever seen in one pack in a marathon, all triangulated behind me so that I was at the front point. I must have been pulling 20 runners in my slipstream.

I decided to play a bit. I swerved to one side of the road, and the entire pack swerved with me. I came back across, and they followed suit. I faked left for a few steps, then galloped to the right to see if I could throw anyone off.

I probably ran about 27 miles during that marathon, factoring in all of the lateral movement I did during those miles.

Eventually I decided the easiest solution was to just slow down, and let the more anxious runners move past me to take their turn at the front. That seemed to do the trick, and I was even able to tuck into the pack for about a mile or so before the climb up Hurricane Point blew us all apart.

For some reason, I remember that day a lot, and seeing the picture from Saturday reminded me that things haven’t changed much. Over the years I’ve made peace with the idea that people are going to draft me, and it’s not really an issue for me.

After all, it’s perfectly legal. I practice it as much as I’m able to with my training group or during races. I have enough marathon experience by now that I can just about break even with the pushing and pulling over the course of a race.

But I’m still hopeful for that 6’6” guy who can run a 3-hour marathon to come along. If you know of one, please encourage him to come run Big Sur one of these years, and I’ll be sure to look for him.

3 comments:

jeff 1/24/06, 5:40 PM  

heh...wish i'd been there to watch you running that group all over. that's good clean fun, there!

when i spot goliath, i'll send him your way!

robtherunner 1/25/06, 8:10 PM  

I am not much of a drafter myself, but I see it all the time in races. The one nice thing about marathons that have pacers is that they tell you to tuck in behind them so in that case I do not feel guilty. I also draft off someone if they are being a real ass.

Kim 1/26/06, 1:41 PM  

Looking oh so forward the wind. But I'm preparing for it. I'm not avioding training in it...and trying to run into it where ever I can.

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