Saturday, April 7, 2012

Running Rivals

It's a shirtless-douchebag showdown!

I have run well over a hundred races so far, and I see many of the same faces at the events and the same names on the results pages.

Most of us sign up with no hope of winning a race, or even placing in our age group. And those of us who have been doing it for many years have long exhausted any possibility of setting PRs. So why do we keep doing it?

Well, there is one motivation to race that we will always have: Rivalries.

Regardless of how fast or slow, young or old you are, you can still achieve a glorious victory in the local 5K just by kicking the ass of that one special person.

However, despite the the thousands of runners out there, finding a good "quality" rival can be difficult.
So I will present the 4 key ingredients that will help you identify and cultivate your running rivalries.

Married runners make good rivals.
Watch out if your spouse starts carrying a  fly swatter though. 

The history behind a rivalry is what adds weight to it. Obvious candidates are: an old friend, some jerk you went to high school with, that guy with the annoying blog, a spouse, or (better yet) an ex-spouse.
But the best place to look is race results. I use a website called Athlinks that catalogs results and will list rivals for you.

For example, I had a strong rivalry with a guy who I only knew as a name in results. We had done a dozen races together, competing for our age group, but I didn't even know what he looked like.
After each race I would check the results and usually be cursing because I lost by a few seconds to that rotten "Barton Bechard".

Evenly matched, but not for long.
The most important factor in a running rivalry is how equally matched you are in terms of ability.
The excitement and drama of a race is at its highest when there is no favorite and the outcome is completely unknown.
Yikes! Intense competition is good,
but don't get all crazy.
Sure, being a slight underdog can make a victory even sweeter, but don't pick a rival who is way out of your league. Constantly finishing a half hour behind your nemesis is bad for your self esteem.

In a traditional rivalry, the competitive feelings are mutually shared by your adversary, and this makes for a healthy and robust rivalry.
However, it is not absolutely required.
For example, Shannon has had many bitter and heated one-way rivalries that involved countless hours of cyber stalking.

In my opinion, a friendly, respectful, and polite rivalry is no rivalry at all.
Good competition should be lively and spirited, whether it is some lighthearted trash talking or better yet, a genuine burning animosity.

I recommend coming up with at least one good insult about your rivals mother that you can throw at them as they pass you in your next race.

Paul was a great trash talker

My First Rival: Paul
To demonstrate how to assess these qualities, I will deconstruct my very first running rivalry. For sake of privacy I will keep him anonymous, but let's call him Paul.

Familiarity: According to, Shannon and I ran 14 races where Paul was there. He was really hard to miss, because he reveled in being loud and obnoxious.

Vigor: Paul was a top-tier smart ass and motor mouth, and loved to talk trash with just about everybody at a race. In one race that he won, I was crossing the finish line in a distant second place, and he greeted me with "Congratulations, first female!"

Me showing Paul how to do a push-up
Equality: In terms of running talent, Paul was at another level and for years I finished well behind him. There really wasn't much of a rivalry.

Paul hated to lose and treated everyone as a rival.
One year at Raven Rock he showed up with a bad case of bronchitis, and could barely breathe. A mile into the race, I ran past him and he could not keep up.
After 10 straight losses, I had finally beaten him, using my patented strategy of not having bronchitis.

So humilated he was by this defeat, Paul quit racing altogether. He disappeared, running away and joining a strange cult called CrossFit*. He even legally changed his name to "CrossFit Paul".

[*If you have not heard of it, CrossFit is a shadowy group that was started by Larry Crossfit, a demented former middle-school gym teacher.  Larry subjects his poor misguided followers to long series of pushups, pullups, and squats until it breaks their spirit and they become brainwashed.]

Rivalry Stats
Total Races vs14
Record vs (W-L)2-12
Greatest Victory2009 Raven Rock (-1:45)
Worst Defeat2007 Umstead Marathon (+51:37)
Next RaceNone
Current StatusComplete victory

Next Up
I will review all of my current rivalries in a series of upcoming posts. Including:

  • Barefoot Josh
  • Shannon
  • Black Bart
  • My sister Monique
  • Many more...