Run with Other People (The Battles of Pure Speed)

by Daniel Johnston

As is true for many of us, a lot of my experiences with running came from high school PE. There was one term where before every class, we would do a couple of warmup laps, stretch, and then go to a track to run about a third of a mile. It’s not a good idea to stretch before you run, but whatever.

These races proved to be very interesting, because there was another kid who was also a very fast sprinter. Although he couldn’t run much further than a quarter of mile, he sure could fly.

This guy wasn’t the gracious type who were humble about their skills or pretended to not be as good as they are. In fact, he was willing to do almost anything to be considered the best at anything. If he wasn’t, he would simply pretend that he was.

The past year, he had been faster than me, though. The first few times we did warmup laps, he beat me. But even though I wasn’t nearly as competitive as he was, I certainly wasn’t going to back down. I had just enough willpower to defeat him as he did to defeat me.

Unfortunately for him, though, I got faster. He continued to insist he was faster, but the race results were obvious. In once race, as I was about to overtake him near the end, he simply stopped and pretended that he had reached the finish line even though he had not. But we both knew what had happened.

The real point of this article, though, is the pure hell that were those 500 meter races. At that time I was not doing any training running, and he certainly was not. But it didn’t matter. We were running our hearts out, running at our absolutely maximum speed. There was no way I was going to lose because I wasn’t trying my hardest.

I can still remember the way my heart pounded racing against him. Every time we raced it was like running myself through a torture chamber. Yet I did it. Now I look back on it, almost yearning for the innocence of my running in those days.

It still amazes me how fast I was able to run in the mile races back then. Although I got beaten by the most talented runner I’ve ever known, I still finished in 6:17 in my first attempt (he got 6:03). For not training, that is fast!

The next mile run we did, I finished in 6:05. I cannot tell you how disappointed I was. I wanted to beat him so badly! Alas, it was never to happen.

A year later, when I was in great running shape (after running my first half-marathon), I was all set to best his record at a mile race. Unfortunately, though, I got a bad sinus infection right before and finished in only 6:10.

Although I know I could’ve gone way faster if I was feeling good (plus the track we were using was no good), it still amazed me that my time before I started training was faster than I had just done. I couldn’t believe it.

The truth is, it makes sense. When I raced against those kids, I didn’t think about pace or time. I didn’t have any limits upon myself. All I knew was that I was going to do the best I could to beat them, and I was going to go as fast as I could. I think we could all use a little less reliance on tracking.

All that being said, there is no question that running with other fast people is one of the best ways to enjoy running and increase your speed. If I had only been running on my own, I would’ve gone only a fraction of the speed I went running with these guys. Not only that, but they still inspire me in my running to this day.

I would try to become a part of a fast running group, even to the point you’re struggling to catch up. You don’t want to kill yourself, but despite the pains, I secretly enjoyed running like that. It’s the purest form of running I know.

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