But it didn't quite turn out that way. It was hot and humid--low 70's and 70% humidity. At the starting line, E's friend was there and there was chatter about E pacing off of him. I had about 5 seconds to react and decided that if E should pace off of him, so should I! So, I did. We ran in a pack with 2-3 other women and about 4 dudes. Two of the other women were sort of playing games with each other ahead of us, but E and I kept our cool and let them wear themselves out. I was kind of disoriented because I had planned to run my own race, but at the same time it was nice to run with my buddy and it felt like we were finally working together in a race. At mile 4 I was in the middle of the pack and when we hit the water stop I got shut out of water. I said a bad word, but I rolled with it. What was I to do? Around this time we lost one of the women from our pack, so it was down to three of us: E, me and the "other woman," one who used to always just beat me!
Around mile 5 I got an itch to break away from the pack, but I knew at mile 6 the course starts to veer back downhill and my plan had me picking it up at 6, so I decided not to go. I should have gone.
Then around 5.5 I started taking a gu that mrp insisted I needed. It was a new flavor and I haven't been using gu in training and I have to say it didn't sit well. Just before the 6 mile mark, E's friend peeled off. Wha?! I realized he had just jumped in to pace E. Hmmm. Oh well, seems like a bunch of us used him so no biggee. I hit the water stop at 6 and needed a few seconds to let it settle before picking it up. However, E and the other woman started to inch away from me. Then the other woman started to gap E. "E, get up there!" I yelled. I really wanted me or E to win over the other woman. One of my goals this year has been to beat that other woman and if I couldn't do it I wanted E too! At that point I was still confident I was going to catch them, but just in case if E stuck with her it was a little insurance. (PS I like the other woman. This is race talk).
E did get up there and they got a good gap on me by 7, but I started the claw back. Every race lately, I come from behind and have to ungap myself. So, there has been a time in every race where I have to ask myself how bad I want it. Is it worth the effort it will take to close the gap and make the pass? It takes me a couple of minutes to resolve this inner conflict most races.
Just as I was going through this thought process I saw ahead that pacer friend jumped back in with E. Wha?! Great! I thought. There I was struggling with that inner dialogue and she had a friend to fill her head with positivity. And then pacer friend looked back. He looked back to see where I was! At that moment I felt like he was there just so E could finally beat me once and for all (I had come in ahead of her in every race to this point). Normally when I race someone and come from behind I watch them for cues that they are tired and then I use that mentally to go after them. This time I just saw the pacer friend--I was so distracted by that. I did not expect him to jump back in the race. If I would have known I could have decided to stay with E so I could use him too.
I know having someone setting the pace is very helpful late in the race and what is even more helpful is someone giving you encouragement the whole way. Mrp ran with me in a race once and he kept me so calm and encouraged me while hardly saying a word. Just having that kind of support helps tremendously. But here we were, three of us battling for first place and one of us had a clear advantage.
I made another mistake. In arbitrating my inner dialogue I said, "You know what, if she's going to have help what's the point. Screw it. She can have it." I take responsibility for this. I used the pacer friend as an excuse to back off. But. BUT! Would I have backed off if he wasn't there? Would we finally have raced each other to push each other to that big break through? We will never know.
Shortly after pacer friend jumped back in, he and E passed the other woman. Some time later up a small hill I passed the other woman too, who had seemed to have given up. I was just cruising at this point. Sort of numb by what was transpiring. Just when I had resigned myself to a second place disappointment, with about 1 mile to go a woman came blowing by me! It was my friend LM. Where'd she come from?! I let her go for a few seconds before gathering my wits back and then I fought to catch back up. I did with about 600 to go. At that point I was reengaged in the race and suddenly realized that I had bent over and given away a win that should have been hard fought. I saw E's coach and I felt him smirk to see E ahead of me (at least that's how it seemed at the time in my race-induced paranoid brain). I saw the owner of the shop I race for and I felt like I let him down. I suddenly felt the RACE bug bite me, but it was much too late. I saw pacer friend peel away. Then I saw E make the final turn alone. I pushed to the finish but E had already beaten me there by 13 seconds. I came in second with a 1:05:21.
It's really hard to compete against a very close friend. It's even harder when something like this happens. It's such a gray area. I wanted to be happy for her and feel like she beat me fair and square--I've been the first to say I'd be happy for her to beat me for a long time now! But, this victory left a bad taste in my mouth. Right after the race I still hadn't processed it or made sense of it. E joked she should be DQ'd and I said that's silly. I wasn't overjoyed for her like I wanted to be and I definitely felt very disappointed in my own race.
It really didn't start making sense until later in the day. I started to wonder what would have happened if pacer friend wasn't there. Would E have run as well as she did? Would I have given up the fight? Would we have both run faster? Would the other woman have run better too? Who knows. But I longed for the race between all of us girls. The way it should have been. The 4 top women were within 45 seconds of each other without one man in between us. That's very unusual. We were all very close. Was it a coincidence that the woman who came out on top had help while the rest of us didn't?
In the end I take the blame for not reaching my A goal or getting the win myself. I let myself off the hook and I was weak. I made a few tactical errors and let something bother me that I should have been strong enough to ignore.
Late last night while I was waiting out peanut's crying spell I wrote E and explained how I felt. I felt like we lost out on a chance to race fair and square and that the race was plagued with an asterisk. I wrote how I felt that she had an advantage, even if it was minor and it bugged me. She's my friend first and I didn't want to resent this.
Ultimately she chose to DQ herself. I really didn't want her to do that. That was not the point for telling her how I felt, but she felt that was the right thing to do for a variety of reasons and not solely because of me (not even mainly, it seems--I hope!) and I respect her decision and I love her for being the kind of friend that I can talk to about this kind of stuff and who I can look forward to beating the pants of me in many races in the future, but doing so with only her own talent and skill to rely on.
So, yes. The question of having a personal pacer. What do you think about that? Is it a DQ-worthy offense or perfectly acceptable? Am I just a whiner who took it too personally? Please, don't hold back!
To read E's take on this, go here.