What place?

“What place did you get?” I hear this question being shouted to each other by 8 to 11 year olds all around. It is their form of communication at the end of a day of cross-country racing. I see kids from different schools who know each other and haven’t seen each other in a while, and their standard greeting is “what place?” I cringe a little each time. I coach these kids and I don’t even ask them what place they came in. I cheer for them as they are racing and can see the level of effort they are putting in. I watch them finish and look down at the number on the little piece of paper they’ve been given. I can tell by their faces whether they are happy with their effort and the result it garnered or not. Then mostly I just say “great job, way to go, I’m proud of you” or in some cases “you were tough out there and you learned something for the next one”. Maybe they’re waiting for me to ask “what place?” I just can’t bring myself to do it because it feels like such a loaded question to me and I don’t have enough context. Some kids are thrilled with 88, others are in tears with 13. I have a friend whose son’s goal was to NOT advance to the third meet. So there’s no point in asking if I don’t know what it means.

But that’s one of the things I find so great and funny and refreshing about kids. To them, it’s not a loaded question at all: it’s a straight up objective number. In fact, to them it would probably seem rude and like you didn’t care if you didn’t ask. None of them asks, “how did it feel” or “are you happy with it” or “what was your goal”.  They just want the number. These are their social rules. I watch as the question gets flung around again and again, and no one seems put out by it at all. No one says “none of your business” or “I don’t want to tell”. Everyone shares openly and then goes and asks someone else.

 

Grade 3 is the first year they are given a place. Grades 1 and 2 compete, but aren’t yet ‘ranked’.

I’m not sure when this changes. Like most things it probably happens gradually. Kids learn that there are many layers behind what you see. Just as you shouldn’t ask someone how much money they make, your standard greeting after a race shouldn’t be “what place did you get?” Trying to explain this to a kid is hard. I’ll just go about my usual tactic of trying to lead by example and hoping they figure it out along the way.

A happy crew – and quite fine with each of their numbers.

My watch and I are getting to know each other

I came of age as a runner in my teens in the ’90’s. That’s when I learned how to run intervals, hills, tempos, long runs, and arguably, to race. I refined my knowledge and experience in my 20’s early in the new millennium. Then I had a couple of kids and ran haphazardly, but by the early 2010’s I was ready to see if I could match what I’d accomplished in my previous running years. One obvious difference between my earlier running years and my “come-back” was the technology. Specifically, gps pace/distance tracking capability. I had learned to run by going by time and feel. Apart from intervals on the track, everything was time and effort based, and an estimation of pace/mileage would suffice for log books.

Now you could have a watch which told you exactly how far you ran and give you your current pace at every glance. Great for newbies, I thought, but I already knew what I was doing.  I was now just trying to replicate what I’d already done, and I knew how to get there, so why did I need something new?

But every now and then I’d be curious about a hard effort I had to do, and I’d borrow my husband’s gps watch – just to make sure my mind and body were giving me the accurate information. Borrowing his watch once a week during a marathon build was enough for him to think I needed one of my own. So I am now the happy owner of a Garmin Fenix 5 – or as I call it: “the white and gold one”.

My new good looking “coach”

What has changed? Well, now I’m painfully aware of how slowly I actually run on recovery days – holy cow!!! Also, since it’s not as perfect about timing track intervals with recovery times (you just need a stopwatch) – I still use my trusty old Timex for those sessions. So now my watch thinks I’m a lot slower than I actually am. It’s constantly buzzing at me to “MOVE!” (even in the middle of a yoga class). Sometimes I hear a little buzz during a warm-up or recovery run and I look down to see: “Performance: -4. Fair”  Thanks for your input – Geesh! Its predictions for my race times are way slower than my actual race times. And I can’t help but notice that if I were concerned at all about calories then I wouldn’t be doing the right things to make myself fast. For instance, after a very tough interval workout (1600m, 1200m, 1000m, 800m, 600m) which left me proud and exhausted, it said I’d burned 200 calories. That’s ONE BEER! Almost not worth the effort. Then after a very humbling and slow slog of a recovery run the next day, it said I’d burned over 500 calories. I don’t track calories, and have no idea how many I burn or consume, but I think if they are viewed as a measure of effort put out then my watch is way off.

I’ve recently run 10K’s in the 37’s and a 5K in 17:59

The one thing I’ve become obsessed with however is my footsteps. Yes, it tracks these. And as I reach my daily goals, it raises them ever so slightly – to keep me on my game. Recently my daily footstep goal (as set by my ever-adapting watch) has been set to 14,000 steps. On days that I know I won’t hit it, I’m not ashamed to admit, I put the watch on one of my kids and get them to run around. That always does it. Two can play at this game Garmin Fenix 5!

So what’s the verdict? Will this fancy watch aid my training? I’m not sure. It definitely gives me more data, but whether that translates into faster running times is to be determined… Stay tuned!

(also, it IS pretty)

Listening to (or ignoring) your body

Listen to your body. That’s fairly common advice for recreational runners. I’ve even doled it out at times myself. But I hate it. It makes no sense. Let’s be honest: if you listened 100% to your body, you’d never get out for a run! Your body lies to you. It tells you it’s tired and that it would rather sit on the couch. Once it gets going, often enough it’ll start humming along, but a lot of running and training to get faster is your mind convincing your body it can keep going. I’ve learned that my body very often wants to slow down, or stop. It is lazy.

This mind/body dichotomy becomes even more pronounced when training for a marathon. Most human bodies are capable of running 5K, 10K or even a Half Marathon with little to no training (and I don’t mean run them fast – I mean they can just cover the distance.) But the marathon is outside the realm of what our bodies are naturally designed to do. That is why we have to train them. We do this with long runs which push the boundaries of what we’ve previously been capable of, and by running more miles than what feels naturally comfortable. To successfully train for a marathon, you have to do the opposite of listen to your body. You have to learn to tune out your body’s whines and complaints. The more success you have in doing that, the more success you will have in the marathon. UNLESS… Unless your body is telling you to slow down or stop because it is getting injured, or over-tired, or a little too stressed to be able to recover. Then, you’re supposed to start paying attention again. This is what I’ve found so hard about marathon training. We get good at it because we learn to over-ride our bodies’ complaints, but then when we get injured someone will invariably say, “Well, you should have listened to your body.” When exactly?? On that 30K run when it was trying to tell me to stop at 20K? At 5:00 a.m. on Wednesday when it said it wanted to sleep in instead of getting up to run intervals? After my 5th hill when it told me my legs were tired even though I had 9 on my plan? Of course not! I never listen to it in those instances.

“I’m not listening!”

Right now I am nearing my peak in my current marathon training build. My body is tired and creaky and cranky. Every week a different niggle seems to crop up. Maybe my body is telling me that if I won’t listen to one injury it’ll just rotate them around until I pay attention? But what can I do now? Suddenly start listening?? I’m not even sure what to pay attention to! I only know how to keep going and tuning it out and pushing towards my goal – even if it seems to be getting a little less achievable every day.

And this is where wise people will say, “Listen to your heart or your gut.” To be honest, I have even less chance of hearing these organs. So back to ignoring my body, and hoping everything works out for the best …

Running to stand still

I don’t mind running on my own on most days. I enjoy company if it works, but it’s usually easiest for me to address my own schedule and get out when I can for as long as I need to.  But one thing I need people around me for is for hard workout days. Once a week I run intervals, and I am so grateful for my group who show up with me and run just as hard back and forth along our marked route. Many of us have different paces, but knowing we’re all there, doing our best and cheering each other on is enough to keep me motivated and pushing my hardest.

Some of my amazing crew who I’m lucky to run with!

We have a range of paces within our group because we’re all coming from varying backgrounds, ages and running experience, and we’re often training for different races – from 5K’s to marathons. I love it when I see people of the same pace range who find each other and are able to work together on these interval days. Although having people running hard all around you is helpful, having one or two people running your exact pace is even better (at least personally). You can take turns sharing the lead and mental focus in different parts of the workout, and you’re more likely to get that little bit more out of yourself if you’re right with someone else doing the same. So I always find it an added bonus when I have someone to do workouts with who is running my pace. I use them shamelessly in order to get the most out of myself.

The thing I’ve started to notice however, is that people can become fit enough to reach my level of pacing, but they only stay there a short while before they sail right on by. As a woman in my 40’s who has been training fairly consistently for many years, I’m not expecting to make any huge gains or leaps in my times. I’m now training hard to continue to run as fast as I ever have. I will inevitably be soon starting the gradual slowing down of my times. There have been some men training with me who have started a bit behind me in fitness and ability, and gradually caught up as they became consistent with their training – I’ve enjoyed working well with them for a period of time. But then, they start to inch ahead. It starts almost imperceptibly at first. Maybe they’re just feeling strong one day, and I’m having a tough one. But that pattern becomes a little more consistent workout to workout. This morning, my training buddy was 3-4 seconds ahead of me in each of our 800m repeats (we did 8 of them with 60 seconds rest) until I couldn’t match his recovery times and we weren’t running together at all. I had a good workout though – I ran about as solidly as I could expect myself to. He is just stronger now. It makes sense – a man working at his top level should be faster than a woman doing the same. Younger women in my group will pass me soon too. I am totally fine with this – in fact I’m really excited for them and want them to achieve their best. I also like having people to look ahead to in workouts. It’s just funny watching and experiencing the conveyor belt of runners as they catch up to and then pass me.

Working as hard as I can to not slip backwards

I will always enjoy training with people, whether they’re faster or slower than me. When we’re all out there together we bring out the best in each other. And I won’t stop encouraging people to try to get fast enough to run with me – even if it is only for a short period of time before I’m seeing nothing but their tail ends.

 

Running to keep up (with my kids!)

I’ve heard people use the phrase “I workout so I can keep up with my kids.” I’ve always thought those were thoughts for older parents or really unfit people. As a competitive runner and enthusiast of many sports, I have never worried about being able to keep up with my kids. In fact it’s the opposite: I have always looked forward to the day when they would be able to keep up with me so we could go on athletic adventures together.

My kids are 9 (boy) and 7 (girl). They are generally active and athletic, but they don’t train formally for anything, so they aren’t specialists. Other than the monkeybars, they don’t do the same activity more than once a week. The result of this is that they are ok at most things, but neither of them are experts in any one sport. And I am in generally quite good shape as I run every day and am usually training for a race of any distance varying from 5K to the marathon. So I have always assumed it would be a long time before they’re waiting for me vs. me waiting for them.

But I am getting older, and they are growing quickly.

During our most recent family vacation, we decided to hike up the side of a mountain, for an adventure and to see the view. I wasn’t too worried about my 9 year old, but assumed there would be a lot of stopping and possibly even some complaining from my 7 year old. This is the guidebook’s summary of the trail:

SUMMARY:
This is a rugged and strenuous 5-mile trail from Maalaea to Ukumehame. This is an out-and-back hike with trailheads on either end. Both trailheads are close to sea level and the trail gains ~1600 ft. in 2.5 miles, then descends back toward sea level for another 2.5 miles. The Lahaina Pali Trail is rocky, and the uphill portions can be strenuous and slow-going. It will take a person in good physical condition ~3 hours one-way, including several short stops; give yourself 4-5 Hours if you are in a lesser state of conditioning or plan on taking longer breaks.

Sounded like fun to us! So we packed lots of water and set out.

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Setting out

My husband has very long legs (and is also quite fit), so I’m used to him walking ahead of me. My 9 year old skipped and ran alongside him to keep up. I figured I’d be the caboose with my daughter, and eventually with both kids. But I only ever saw the back of my son unless they were stopped and waiting for us. As I hiked up alongside my daughter, I realized it really was a tough climb. I was sweating and huffing and puffing. And she didn’t stop chatting once. She kept singing a song and asking me to sing it back to her. Honestly all my focus was on getting up the hill, so I kept forgetting the words. Finally she said “Mummy. It would sound better without all the hard breathing in between the words.” Touché. In my defense, I was the one carrying the pack with all of our water, but I still could not believe that both of my kids seemed to be outpacing me!

"Come ON Mummy! And don't stop singing."

“Come ON Mummy! And don’t stop singing.”

We finally caught up to my husband and son waiting for us 2/3 of the way up – an hour after we’d set out. Still not one complaint from either kid, but my husband and I decided that coming down would be tricky as well so we’d better turn around.

The view from our turnaround point

The view from our turnaround point

It turned out we were right. Coming down technical mountainous trails is very hard on your quads. And I was dead-last in our group. My daughter was very kind and waited for me, provided I continued to work on getting the words to the song correct. My husband and son were nowhere in sight.

So, I guess now I can add “so I can keep up with my kids” to my reasons when people ask me why I run. I really never thought it would come so quickly.

My new workout motivators: King and Queen of the hill

These dudes: providing me with yet another reason to keep running …

Sometimes you just need a medal

I’d been having what you’d call “A DAY”. Just trudging forward all day, through many chores, tasks, and obligations – expected but unrecognized.

It had started at 5 a.m. with a running workout (yay! The only thing for me and which energized me for the first bit of the day) but once in the door it was immediately into the tasks of making breakfasts and lunches and making sure one of my kids got his homework project finished. Such fun at 7:00 a.m.

Not the most relaxing start to the day.

After I’d dropped my kids off at school it was straight off to a meeting, followed by another meeting, and trying to fit a bit of actual work in before having to pick up one kid for an appointment. I did some work during that appointment but then fell asleep in the waiting room (really hoping I didn’t drool), while sitting with my laptop on my lap. After the appointment I was faced with a very moody kid and the task of getting another errand done (his haircut). I then picked up the second kid from her after-school program, only to discover she’d injured herself and was in tears. But we had yet another appointment to get to so I struggled to get two unhappy kids there. I was smiling and cheering and being cheery the whole time, even though I felt physically off with the wrong time of month in play. And then I read some very sad news about a friend. I just wanted to pack it in there. I was done with this day. But I had to keep going and buy food and cook a healthy dinner, clean up lunches, and get homework started (my husband was out of town.)

It was when I started to unpack the lunch bags that I looked on the counter, and saw… my medal from a x-country race the weekend before.

Cue the sound of Angels Singing

Cue the sound of Angels Singing

I normally don’t put much stock in medals or hardware. In most races I decline them because my kids are no longer interested in them and I’m not one of those crafty people who make things out of them. Usually to me, they just represent junk in my house. But I looked at that medal at the exact moment that I needed a medal. And I felt it. I stopped and just looked at it and thought “Ya. That’s my medal. I earned that medal!” I remembered that I’m more than a mom, a friend, a volunteer, a business-person … I’m someone who worked for and earned a medal. Tangible recognition for something I’d done.

I restrained myself from putting it on and wearing it while cooking and serving dinner, but I was close. And it made me think that we should really have more medals in life. Because my God, we deserve them!

What do runners look like when they aren’t running? (don’t ask me…)

Many people say they have trouble remembering peoples’ names after they’ve been introduced. That’s a common problem but once you’re aware of it there are tricks you can use to compensate (for example, make a mental image of something which you associate with their name – such as a banana for someone named Hannah, or use their name a few times within your first conversation). But what if you have a hard time recognizing faces? This is an affliction which affects me, and it become even more pronounced when I see people out of context. More specifically, when I see them in any context other than running.

I have some good friends who I still struggle to identify if I see them in casual clothes or even worse – business clothes! It’s not uncommon for me to be walking down the street and hear “Hi Seanna!” If the speaker is in running clothes I identify them immediately. If not, I start to panic. I usually smile and wave, but depending on who it is (it could be someone I run with at least twice a week) that could be perceived as a somewhat cool response. Who is it, who is it? I try to take in height and facial features. But they just look SO different when they’re not in running tights and their hair in a ponytail! I now have some friends who very kindly accommodate my disability. My friend Meagan for instance whenever she sees me while she is not in running clothes says “Hi Seanna! It’s Meagan.” As if we were on the phone, not standing face to face, having just run together that morning.

All of this is compounded in the winter. My running group meets once a week at 5:30 a.m. in every type of weather. A few winters ago it was quite a brutal one, and you had to bundle up immensely in order to brave the cold. We had some new members join our crew for those 5:30 a.m. pitch dark, bundled up workouts. These workouts are quite a bonding experience, so you become close with your fellow crew members. We  encourage each other running up and down icy hills, or along windy stretches of path. We high-five and congratulate each other for completing tough workouts together. We even chat about non-running related things and know about each others’ families and work lives. But god help me if I had to recognize anyone who joined that winter without their signature blue jacket or red toque and face mask! Put us in business suits in an elevator together downtown and there would be absolutely no hope of any hint of recognition from me. And these are people I’d consider my good buddies!

I have no problem recognizing any of these people in this format.

I have no problem recognizing any of these people in this format.

I get the humour in my predicament, I really do. I just hope that no one takes it personally. I know there are many more awkward moments in my future, but I’m learning to roll with them. And my good friends are learning to understand that streetwear is a mystifying disguise for me – if they want to reveal their true identities they need to either spell it out, or wear their running jackets at all times.

Celebrating runners in all our differences

I’ve always said that I like and understand other runners because they tend to be “quirky” in ways that I am too. It’s hard to explain to a non-runner why you run almost every day. Waking up before dawn or heading out in the dark after the kids have gone to bed. Never missing a run due to cold, heat, rain, ice. And that’s because it really does defy reason. We do it because we love … something about it (not necessarily every minute of it). There is no purpose to it. It truly is a selfish pursuit. No one really cares how fast you run and no one really benefits from your running but you.

That’s why I think it’s so strange when runners react negatively to other runners who add an even quirkier element to what they do. For example, people who run races with a stroller, people who joggle (running while juggling), or even people who run Beer Miles. I have heard and read many negative reactions from “pure” runners towards all of these fringe events and their participants. Here is a link to Michal Kapral (the world record holder for running a marathon while juggling) reading the “mean tweets” from runners about his feat: Michal “The Joggler” Kapral Reads Internet Trolling.

It’s a pretty funny video because he obviously doesn’t care what they’re saying. I’m sure his skin has been thickened by years of running past people yelling “Run Forrest – Run!” Yes, we runners are on the receiving end of a lot of jokes and teasing. So why turn on each other? Why not celebrate our differences? If this pursuit really doesn’t matter to anyone but ourselves, then who cares how or with what flair someone decides to put their mark on it? I’m not sure where the negativity stems from – I’m assuming insecurity. Having dedicated so much time and effort to their sport, these people want to believe that running is meaningful and purposeful and pure in and of itself. Guess what: it isn’t. It only matters to you, the runner.

A few weeks ago my kids were running in the x-country city semi-finals. Halfway through the event there was a pause in the schedule of regular grade school races for a race of kids with various different physical disabilities. Some were completing the distance with the help of walkers, some with a guide and others in wheelchairs. All of the able-bodied kids surrounded the course and cheered just as loudly, if not louder for the athletes. It was completely normal that everyone should participate in the way that worked for them. It didn’t occur to the cheerers that anyone couldn’t or shouldn’t be able to participate because they were doing it differently. It also didn’t threaten or take one thing away from how any of the kids saw themselves as runners. They all understood that we’re all doing our own thing out there.

This is one of the things I love about running. It truly is a celebration if individuality and diversity. So whether you’re running in a batman costume or in your underwear or stopping to chug beer every lap or pushing a stroller or juggling balls, or using a walker or wheelchair, I will cheer you on just as loudly if not louder than for the winners of the race.

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Having some fun, doin' what we do.

Having some fun, doin’ what we do.

The trouble with racing ‘only’ 5K’s

There are many things I love about racing ‘shorter’ distances like 5K’s, 8K’s and 10K’s. I say ‘shorter’ because it seems everyone these days is training for a marathon or half marathon (not to mention those training for Half and full Ironmans!) These longer races are all amazing events and admirable goals to train for. I’ve been there and I’m sure I’ll come back to one or two. But these days they just require a bit too much time and structured training for my liking. You need to go with the flow of the stage you’re in, and right now my stage is “get everything done super quickly and efficiently and move on to the next thing” – which lends itself well to 5K training and racing.  So, to anyone who asks, I say I’m training for mostly 5K’s. However, I’ve discovered a serious flaw to my plan of “going with the flow” and jumping into 5K’s when they’re convenient. And that is that they never really are completely convenient and they often get re-prioritized! I have no one to blame for this but myself, but after a summer of saying I was racing 5K’s I only ended up starting two and finishing one (my DNF is another story…)

 

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Some non-regretted summer experiences I chose over racing a 5K

It does suit me right now to be flexible and to be able to re-prioritize on the go.  Imagine having to say ‘no’ to a kid’s birthday party (they come up more frequently than you’d think), or a bike ride excursion with kids and friends, an invite to a cottage or a camping weekend with the family, because “Mom’s racing a 5K this weekend”? I truly would not enjoy that – no matter how fast I ended up running. I keep myself fit enough that I could jump into a 5K on any weekend and be either pleasantly surprised (it did happen this Spring) or have a bad race and question my training and racing strategy (see DNF). I never know because my training is never focused on one particular race. Again, this generally suits  my life right now, but after a few missed 5K races for other things that came up (plus my DNF), I realized I wasn’t giving enough respect and commitment to my races because they were “just 5K’s”. For any of my longer distance races in the past – from Half Marathons and up, my weekends were blocked off and my family and social schedules adjusted. Why did I feel I could justify the prioritization for those races just because they’re longer? In fact, I’m one of those people who loudly defends the 5K as not ‘just’ a 5K, as it too is an Olympic event, and you would never say an Olympian runs ‘just’ the 5K. Focusing on going faster over a shorter distance is just as commendable as completing a longer distance.

So, I’ve learned a lesson. If I really do care about the results of a race, I will have to plan for it – regardless of distance. I now have a “season” of fall races penned in (thanks in large part to a new coach who is guiding me) and they are written in my calendar in pen. If a birthday party, a cool excursion or some other fun sounding option comes up, I will still prioritize my race. Plus, it’s only a 5K – it won’t take that long 😉

 

Some things I just don’t “get” in other runners

I’ve been a runner for a long time, sometimes competitively and sometimes recreationally. Having run through many different phases in life and many different mindsets of what I’m doing and why I’m out there, I think I have a pretty good understanding of why most other runners are doing what they do. But there are a few things that I see in other runners which make me think: “HUNH??? I just don’t get it!” Here are a few:

  1. Runners who get in the food line directly after a race. Every time I race I see it and I think “HOW??? How can these people eat right now?” The smell of anything makes me want to throw-up. I know you’re supposed to eat within a 30 minute window for optimum recovery, but I just can’t do it. I look at these people and think they must be aliens. Of course, give me 30-60 minutes and I’m ready to eat anything and everything. But respect and incredulity for those who can go straight from finish chute to post-race buffet line.

    Looks delish, but not yet, thanks! Credit: Luiz Rampelotto/EuropaNewswire

    Looks delish, but not yet, thanks!

  2. Runners who are all or nothing. I’ve seen people go from the most dedicated, disciplined training to a dead stop – like not even jogging 20 minutes a week. I’ve been the intermittent 20 minute jogger and the consistent disciplined trainer. I get how life situations can take you to both extremes. In some phases you have time and mental energy to devote to training, and sometimes you just know that mileage goals are out of the question and maybe the races need to be put on hold for a while. But to just stop altogether – cold turkey because you can’t train to your fullest capacity? I totally don’t get it.

    If I'm not training hard, I'm doin' nothing!

    If I’m not training hard, I’m doin’ nothing!

  3. Runners who carry everything with them. Ok, if you’re an ultra-runner or out there for a crazy amount of hours, maybe I get it. Admittedly I’m a bit of a minimalist, and I might be annoying to my running buddies when I take them up on their offers of water which they’ve been carrying around. I never have, but I might also take them up on toilet paper if required. But I draw the line at tissues. Ok, I do find it a bit cute and endearing in a quirky way when my friends carry tissue to blow their noses, but don’t we all assume we’re going to get sweaty and snotty while running? To me that’s the equivalent of carrying deodorant while running and re-applying it mid-run. I believe in embracing the sweat and snot while running and cleaning up after.

    You CAN leave home without these

    You CAN leave home without these

  4. Somewhat related to the last point: Runners who look and smell great while running. I totally don’t get this. And no, it’s not just women – I’ve seen it in men too. People who look and smell like they’ve just taken a shower, and then go for a run. Not a hair out of place, perfect makeup, fresh smelling clothes. I mean, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this, but it is just so the opposite of how I approach going for a run! If I am going to put any energy into my appearance (every now and then I try) I’m definitely not going to waste it on how I look on a run. But maybe some people just look like this all the time? I don’t know. I don’t get it.
Just heading out for my run...

Just heading out for my run…

Who knows – maybe, or more like probably, I’m the quirky one. It’s a good thing we’re not all the same. I just find it funny when I observe these differences in other runners. I know we’re all roughly of the same breed but boy – there really are some big differences in how we do things!