Starting Slow and Backing Off…Lessons Learned from my Son


My 8 year old son is a fast swimmer, but a slow starter. Since all his swim events are just 25 meters long, this is a problem. Much of the time a 25 meter race is won with a good start. Daniel doesn’t have a fast reaction to the buzzer, he performs this half dive, half plop into the pool, and has no acceleration. Although he is a strong swimmer and starts to catch the other swimmers about halfway down the pool, the race is over before his excellent stamina can even begin to help him out.

He’ll do much better once he turns 9 and has to race 50 meters. He has a good flip turn (something I’ve yet to master) and, because he doesn’t go out like a bat out of hell, actually has something left for the second half of the race.

You can tell where this is going, can’t you? Starting slow is key in long-distance running. The temptation to go faster than planned because you feel good is almost too great to resist. We’ve all done it, and we know what happens. You blow up. I’ve done it, and I’ve crashed and burned enough times to know better. These days I keep that speed well in check at the beginning of a race, and remind myself that it will pay off later. Believe me, flying past people late in a race feels really, really good.

Lesson learned from my son #1: Start slow.

Another thing that irritates me is that Daniel appears not to have a competitive bone in his body. While his competitors are sizing each other up and staring each other down pre-race, he’s off in la-la-land, chewing his goggles and not even thinking about the race. At least he doesn’t get nervous! And the good thing is that he doesn’t turn his head during the race to see where his competition is. He seems completely oblivious to them. I had to psych him up when he qualified for All Stars in backstroke last summer, to the point where I had him convinced he could win. (I also got him private instruction for that all-important start…) He won, of course. 🙂

This lesson may not be so obvious, but what Daniel has taught me is that I don’t have to be competitive all the time. I’m often competitive in training and can be overly competitive in races. So I’m working on relaxing a little more and saving the competitive streak for the really important races.

Lesson learned from my son #2: It doesn’t have to be a competition all the time.

This weekend I am running 20 miles…the first of several I will do for my 50K training. I break all my long runs into segments to make the distance more bearable. Last week I ran 17 miles. Since my running buddy Lisa was “only” running 14, I first ran 2 miles alone, then we ran an 8 mile out and back together, following it up with a different 6 mile loop which was actually half a mile too long, so I just had to run an extra 0.5 on my own.

For this run I’ll be doing 16 miles on the trail and the last 4 in a fun relay with my triathlon team. Talk about start slow, finish fast! I’ll also break the 16 miles into smaller parts. The trail I’m running is an out and back, and some of the people I’m running with are “only” running 10 miles, so we’ll go out for 5, back for 5, then I’ll go out in the other direction for another 3, and back for 3. While it’s 16 miles any way you look at it, I find that looking at it this way is just easier.

Lesson learned #3 (this one’s not from my son!): Break up a long run into lots of smaller runs.

OK, I think 3 lessons are sufficient for one week! Have fun starting slow, putting a brake on the competitive streak once in a while, and breaking up those long runs!

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About racingtales

Runner, triathlete, writer
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