Zat Seminar #17: Not All Races Are Created Equal


Because there seems to be a consistent lack of understanding on this subject, I want to clarify a few things. Some may not like it, but it’s the truth (even if it’s unspoken) and it’s how the sport is set up.

Not all races are created equal, especially for pros. This is a uniquely American problem, because our scholastic seasons (HS and college) are completely out of kilter with the rest of the world, and the scholastic seasons drive the meet schedules in this country. We run cross September to November; the rest of the world runs it mainly in February and March. We run track from March to May or June; the rest of the world runs it mainly from June to August.

But once you’re a pro, it’s a whole new ballgame.

You have to match up to when the rest of the world runs. That can be a hard transition, because meets that used to be the highlights of your season in high school and college (Drake, Penn, etc.) are now basically exhibition or pre-season races that you are obligated to run because your sponsor needs the American fans to see you perform live. The good news is that they don’t have to see you perform at your best; you just have to perform okay, and sometimes not even okay.

Ditto the indoor season, which doesn’t count no matter what for pros. You could be an all-timer and never run a single indoor race in your entire career. Guys like Geb, Bekele and El G (ignoring the fact they prospered in the EPO era) would be at exactly the same place in history had they never run a single indoor race. But if you only ran indoor and never outdoor, you’d only be an asterisk, if that.

For pros, the actual season is June to August, with a few exceptions a month or so before and after that window. Anything else is basically the equivalent of the preseason in the NFL or the exhibition season in MLB. Sure it’s interesting and you always want to try to win or perform well anytime you race, but anything that happens during that time doesn’t really effect your season record. Also, races in that period can be used for purposes other than trying produce great performances; more on that later. Exceptions outside that window would be the 10,000 at Stanford (simply because so few are run every year) and the DL meets (Doha, Qatar; adidas GP and Pre Classic). Things pick up when the real season starts in June with USATFs, a few more DL meets and European meets.

The END of the U.S. scholastic season is the BEGINNING of the international pro season, and that can lead to some “abnormal” results. For example, a sharp collegian can beat a pro in, say, April, but once you hit the pro season, the collegian gets wiped out by the pro. But losing to that collegian in April has zero impact on the pro come world ranking or shoe contract renewal time because for all intents and purposes it was a preseason or exhibition race.

And not all preseason or exhibition races are run for the purpose of winning or even producing good results. This is especially true of underdistance races.

Underdistance races are usually run for one or a combination of the ways or for the following reasons, in no particular order:[LIST]
[]deliberately fatigued in order to achieve a specific stimulus to help with the primary event later (or the same event, but during the season) without regard for the actual quality of the performance;
]specifically trained for and prepared for in order to get faster downdistance to help the primary distance later (Rupp running the mile indoors and 800/1500 outdoors early in the season);
[]immediately or very shortly before a goal race during the prime season in order to sharpen
]as a “first race off the plane” rust buster;
[]out of sheer boredom and to break up the monotony of the interminable miles slogged through in nasty weather of base training and/or
]simply to meet public appearance obligations of sponsors in the U.S.[/LIST]That’s why context and timing of a performance is so crucial to understanding it. It also depends on a particular athlete’s event, skill set and/or training methods. Some guys have better basic speed and/or do more anaerobic work in their base so they may perform better during the indoor or exhibition season than someone with a different skill set and/or training methods and goals.

But whatever the skill set, event or training methods, everything is done to maximize performance in the primary events during the season. Everything else is just a means to that end and athletes just take different routes to get there. Sure, the meets are fun to watch, and people still compete intensely hard but that doesn’t change the fact that they are still preseason or exhibition races run for the primary purpose of helping one aspect or another of the athlete’s preparation leading up to the real season.

As with anything in life, one has to be careful not to look just with your eyes or listen just with your ears. You have to go below the surface of just what’s visible or audible to really understand what you’re seeing or hearing sometimes. Sometimes in a reading something or listening to someone, it’s what’s NOT said or written that is the most important.