Monday, November 12, 2012

How Does One Race a Phantom?

OK, let me start this post by stating this is not about sour grapes.  Really.  Well, maybe just a little.  I am usually not one to rant and I try not to come across as pessimistic.  Even so, I want to share an interesting experience from Surf the Murph 50M this year.
I am a competitive person, and I set personal race goals for motivation.  There really is no social aspect to running a 50 mile race for me; I have a set of goals and I try to achieve them.  My social scene is saved for before and after, usually racing from start to finish.  I am not particularly fast, but I don’t care about that.  This year at Surf the Murph my goals were twofold: under 9:30 and top-10.  Finishing well, I thought I achieved them both.

Leaving the last aid station (horse camp) on the last loop, I was 4.5 miles from the finish.  I was on pace for 9:10 and was told I was in 9th place; both goals easily within grasp.  It would take disaster to not achieve them.  Of course, this is where I say “and then disaster happened”, but it didn’t.  I ran a very strong finish, actually pushing hard to see if I could make ground on 8th place.  Who knew, number 8 could have been hurting.  In the last mile, there were straight sections that allowed about a 50-100 meter view ahead.  I was alone both in front and behind, and thus was not picking up or losing a spot.  I crossed the line in 9:12 and (supposedly) 9th place.  We wife told me that the previous racer crossed the line about 10 minutes prior; the next person crossed the line over 5 minutes after.  I really was racing alone.
I was surprised after seeing the published results a few days later:

·         9:06:52 9th

·         9:12:28 10th

·         9:12:54 11th (my time)

·         9:18:46 12th
That surprise eventually led to confusion regarding how this could be.  This did not deter from satisfaction with my performance or enjoyment of the race.  But still, I was perplexed.  I do remember people talking about some who were allowed to start later than the official 6:00 am start.  This race has timing mats that record one’s time when crossing at the start and finish, not gun time.  If so, this may provide a possible explanation.

I’ve allowed this question to simmer for a couple weeks now, and have ended up in a state a little less pleased than when I started.  It is not boiling over really, but it is not cool to the touch either.  Most larger races in which I’ve competed count only clock time for the first three places for male and female open divisions; after that, it’s chip time.  Is there a limit to how much after an official start someone is allowed onto a course?  In a race with timing mats, are cutoffs the only deterrence to the late starter?

And how does one strategize against a late starter?  Take, for instance, someone who might cross the starting mat 5 minutes after the official start.  In my point of view, they are at a competitive advantage.  They know they need to hold a position of no more than 5 minutes from the racer in front to maintain their position in the race.  The racer in front has no such competitive knowledge.  The front-runner, of course, is (wrongly) assuming that they need to maintain about a 10 second lead on the person behind (accounting for the mass start) in order to maintain their position.  If I’m that front-runner, I am running a strategic race, and I am at a strategic disadvantage; and I’m ahead!  In my last leg of Surf the Murph, if I saw a racer 26 seconds ahead, I would have busted my ass trying to hatch him/her.  How could I have done that when 10th place was a phantom?
Is this really no big deal?  Should I just shut up and be happy with my 11th place and quit being a crybaby?  Does anyone else even care about this?  Well, I guess I do.  Maybe races should have a period of time in which one may start in order to be listed among the ranked finishers; say 30 seconds for a race like Surf the Murph.  If you start after that timeframe, your time is listed as a finisher, but you are not ranked.  Might there be other possible options?
Please share your input in the comments section.  Thanks!

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