After reading “That Pre Thing” in the latest “Runner’s World”, I had the inevitable response – I wanted to race. I wanted to push myself to see what my guts could get me that my training couldn’t. With no races on my schedule, I did the next best thing – I watched other people race on YouTube. I started with the David Rudisha 800m world record in London. I wasn’t watching Rudisha. I was watching Nick Symmonds. After reading the RW article, I wanted to see him overachieve and PR. I wasn’t a fan during the Olympics. The word “douche” was more likely than “idol” to come to mind. After reading the article, though, I have a lot of respect for him and what he is trying to do for competitive running in the US.
So after watching Symmonds come from last to finish fifth against the best in the world, I switched to my favorite race of the Olympics – Mo Farah’s win in the 10,000. After watching the last three laps as pure motivation and entertainment, I found another version with the full race and watched about the last 6-7 laps. That’s where I noticed something. I might not have noticed, but while I was browsing YouTube I found a video that talked about how slow the Olympic 10,000 was and specifically Galen Rupp’s silver medal time. The guy in the video was talking about how the strategy is different when you are racing to win and not necessarily trying to set a world record. So when I was watching more of the 10,000, I found myself watching Rupp and what he was doing. After a few laps it was very obvious – he wasn’t racing to win, he was racing to medal. From the time I started watching he was in fourth place – not third, not fifth. He was running as slow as he could without losing a shot at the bronze. Behind him, Mo Farah was racing to win. He was running his own race. With the field bunched up, he could pick his pace and his spot. Clearly he felt he could out kick the field. As Farah started his kick for the last 400m, I think he knew the race was his to lose. It was a 400m race he was going to run from the front. Rupp stayed in fourth. Don’t get me wrong, the lead pack was accelerating and so was Rupp. He was still in the shoulder of the third place runner, but he didn’t make a move until the last 200m. His tactics obviously paid off, he passed the would-be bronze and silver medalists as the field spread out across the finish.
So why do I think this was a perfect race for Rupp? I am sure he wanted to win as much as anyone and he didn’t win. Maybe he thought he could catch Farah in the last 200, but I doubt it. What his tactics said to me is, “Don’t come this far and not go home with a medal!” It was possibly the most disciplined race I have ever seen (granted I haven’t watched many races that closely). His challenge was also obvious – pass as many of the greatest runners in the world in the last 200m without letting any of them pass you. I’m not sure you can win a race without racing to win. I’m pretty sure you can fail to medal by trying to win. I think Rupp wanted a medal, any medal, and silver was the perfect result.