Racing strangers


I don’t run competitively.

No, actually – that is utter bullshit. It would be more accurate to say that I don’t take part in races; no pinning a number on my top and queuing with masses at portaloos. But I do compete.

Usually it’s just against myself, especially when the running feels hard and I am having to battle my tired legs and weak mind by every step. It’s the usual game of distracting yourself long enough to allow your legs to take you past that road that would be a shortcut home. You tell yourself that “it’s ok if you only do 10km today, or 15km” and you keep doing that until you hit the distance you should have been doing in the first place. And on the really bad days, just hauling your ass out there and facing up to the 2+ hours of running is a gold medal moment.

But then there is the “oh so casual” competing you do against the other runners out there. You set your eyes on someone plodding ahead of you and you tighten your pace just enough to start creeping up on them. The bugger is that once you have passed them you still have to keep it up long enough to make sure they don’t pass you – now that would be embarrassing… Special points are awarded for overtaking someone when running up a hill; you just have to make sure you are not panting too loudly as you do… After all, you need to look as if it’s all very effortless (cue asthmatic gasping as soon as you are out of their range of hearing).

I know I am not the only one playing this game as often when you are nearing your “target” they suddenly start running just that little bit faster; not quite fast enough to ostensibly race you but their pace gets picked up just enough for you to know they are trying to keep you back and you are having to fight for it. Your challenge has been accepted. And there you are; in the middle of a London pavement, engaged in a duel (that neither of you would ever admit to of course) with a perfect stranger but it feels like at that moment everything you are as a runner is hanging in the balance. Nothing else exists other than your desire to push past them. Just their cadence against yours. And those few seconds can feel like they stretch on forever, until one of you yields.

Sometimes you just have to let them go – not often mind you – and take your pleasure from the fact that as soon as they have gained a safe distance their pace slows down. But when you do claim another scalp and (seemingly effortlessly, don’t forget!) slide past this runner who has become your unwitting opponent, your reward is the brief rush of endorphins released into your system. Until of course you realise you will now have to keep this faster pace up for at least until you can take a turn where you know they won’t be following you – and you can finally gasp for air. And choose another target.



4 thoughts on “Racing strangers

  1. Well, I’m no stranger to the odd “asthmatic gasp” – because I have asthma! I’m competitive in that I hate being overtaken and made to feel like a loser when I’m merely out running and minding my own business. Yes I know I’m slow! Gambits to avoid being overtaken include: suddenly stopping to tie a shoelace/check my mobile, changing direction (if this is possible) – or even deploying the odd shock tactic. Doubtless I need to master the art of “anonymous running” in the future!


    1. Hey Emma! I actually wondered about whether I was genuinely developing exercise induced asthma this winter but the troubles seem to have passed. Out of curiosity; do you have to run with your inhaler or how do you manage it?
      I am very slow too; I justify it by the fact that I am doing longer distance and hence have to make sure I allocate my resources differently. But I do take part in these stupid sprints if it means I can overtake someone or avoid being overtaken
      … Sad but true. 🙂


      1. Yes I do take my inhaler out running, usually in my bumbag. Really I think only your doctor will be able to tell you if you have exercise induced asthma – and I hope you don’t! I have always felt under obligation to run longer distances because I’m slow but luckily for me I don’t get many people wanting to overtake me when I’m out – I don’t like being made to feel like a loser and running is often one of my coping strategies.


      2. Whenever people manage to overtake me I just tell myself that they are only doing a short run and/or have just started running (especially if I am further into my distance). So even when I “lose” I can usually spin it to myself. 🙂


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