fitness and nutrition

Keeping Pace

When I was growing up, July was all about the Tour de France. It was on TV for hours a day at my house. Before TiVO, my Dad would get up in what seemed like the middle of the night to watch. For the most part, I found it completely boring. Hours and hours of rolling along. The scenery was nice…French towns and the occasional sunflower field. I was mainly irritated that the TV was occupied for so many hours a day.

Inevitably, my Dad would try to explain some of the strategy to me. How the teams worked, drafting, and so on. After many years of boredom, I became sort of fascinated with the many roles on these teams. Most of the athletes were not there to win for themselves. No, most of the guys had specific jobs that served to ensure the team’s leading rider came out wearing the maillot jaune.

Imagine it: you’ve been chugging over kilometers by the hundreds, even the thousands. You’ve summited mountains, taken treacherous downhill curves at high speeds. You’ve churned your legs day after day, through training and trials, and it all comes down to the final mile of the day. It’s a sprint finish. Your team sets up, a few of you lurking toward the front of the pack, staying out of trouble and in good position. Watching…watching…as so many other teams are doing the exact same thing….then….

BOOM. Almost imperceptibly, there’s a nod and someone flies off the front of the pack, his trailing teammates sprinting to stay in a cluster. Over a few hundred yards the tip of the spear, then his right hand man eventually peel off, their work done, their legs spent. If all goes as it should, the team leader comes out the winner of the day. Wears the yellow. The leadout men, who did the heavy sprint lifting, are left to come in 18th, 20th, 40th, who cares. Wherever their spent legs will coast them in.

After years and years of watching, I came to appreciate the pacers and their role. The dedication to a leader. The special craft in that support. All the teams working and split second strategy did make it an exciting few seconds of sports.

Sometimes pacing isn’t so hectic. We ran a half marathon a little over a year ago. One of the surprises at the pre-race expo was learning about the pacers. There would be people in the race running while holding up signs with times. Fifteen minute increments…2:00, 2:15, 2:30 and so on. If you were trying to meet one of those finish times for your race, you could hang with that pacer. In my case, I found a pacer and kept them in my sight. She had a flock of people running with her. Interestingly, she would stop and walk every once in a while, I guess to be sure she was hitting her goal on the nose. I passed the pacer a few miles in and in my mind I knew if she was behind me I was doing ok. I later wondered, was she a professional pacer? Her whole job was to make sure people made that goal?

I’ve noticed this in other contexts. Hearing my daughter tell stories of running alongside her teammates to help them make their benchmarks. People in health and fitness challenges jumping in to pace others over their personal finish line. And then there are people I pace off of, in the gym and in other areas of life, who may not even know they’re playing that role for me. People who just work hard naturally and I use their example as a model to keep in my sights.

It’s not really keeping up with the Joneses. There will be people who have habits and lifestyles I admire but pacing off them doesn’t make sense. It’s more about knowing the path I am on…sometimes the path I want to or need to be on, and finding partners or examples to pace off of. They’re moving along that path, ideally a little bit faster than me. Hopefully they’re willing to let me draft off of them for a while to make the path easier. At some point, like in the Tour, it may be my turn to take the headwinds at the front.

I am a helper. Maybe that’s why the idea of pacing people to their goals fascinates and resonates with me. Being a part of them moving along. Helping on the way. I’m not often the leader but I like being on the team that helps a leader succeed.

Who is pacing you out in life? Who is on your team, explicitly or implicitly? Who is on your path, smoothing the way or lighting the direction? Lifting your cadence?

On the flip side, are you pacing someone else out? Maybe without even knowing it? What does that mean for the choices you make? What direction are you leading in?

Another little something to think about.