The Better Way to Start a Run for a Better Finish

Every once in a while, maybe we shouldn’t start at the same time, but finish at the same time.

When you’re the cargo plane and your friends are jets, you typically don’t initiate a running date.

“Hey, you all want to run together on Saturday? It’ll be great. You’re gonna feel like you’re skipping through mud.”

Nonsense, said my friend Tim.

A few weeks back, he came up with a training date that would work for all of us: a staggered-start 5K. Sort of like a golf handicap, it would be a way for runners of different speeds to train at the same time without making the slowest one (raises hand) feel like the eternal slug.

The plan: we all say our approximate 5K times. Slowest one starts first, then each person starts X number of minutes after that – the X determined by the difference between 5K times. In theory, Tim said, we’d all be finishing right around the same time – on his killer hill at the end of the course.

One morning, five of us gathered at his place, and he drove us around the course. (He ven painted dots at the turns to make sure we didn’t miss them.) One odd thing: his course had three major uphills and none us could tell where the bloody downhills were.

I would start first, with two fast friends starting seven minutes later and two even-faster friends starting two minutes after that. It would be the first time I was ever at the front of the pack.

Even though Tim’s plan made sense in theory, I was sure that I would somehow blow it and be caught halfway through. As I plugged away after the start, I kept looking back, waiting for them to appear on my tail.

But halfway through, no sign. Three kilometres in, nobody nipping at my heels. When I got to the final hill – just as Tim predicted – the first group appeared. And then a few minutes later, the next two did. I didn’t have much of a final kick, but the other four raced that last stretch.

Tim had nailed it. Even though I went from first to last, it was a perfectly crafted plan. While some of these prediction runs with a staggered start pop up every now and then, wouldn’t it be great if we could design some small races like this more often?

Start with slower race paces first, then stagger starts every three or four minutes based on your predicted time. That way, the back-of-packers get the feel of a flurried finish.

I know that it would have to be a small race to work so there’s not a crazy log-jam at the end and so that the fast runners don’t get blockaded by the slower ones. But Tim’s invite makes me think he is onto something here.


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