So Vincenzo Nibali wins the Tour de France, a race he led for 18 days out of 21, and some people say it was only because Alberto Contador and Chris Frome weren’t there.
Why are victories seen to be compromised when the perceived rightful champions are absent from a race?
They shouldn’t be.
Even at amateur level, people sometimes get sniffy about age-category places. Usually, though, it’s in the context of how they could have done better. “I could’ve run faster than that!”. Or, “when I was in that age category I was much faster than that”. And here’s a beauty: “If I’d done that race I would’ve won [come second, third etc].”
Well, bully for you. Trouble, is, you didn’t run that race.
Two things: Firstly, the people who did enter that race and who got an age category place deserve praise. They were there on the day; and more importantly they were there on countless days beforehand, training hard, sacrificing their time and possibly even their chocolate intake.
These people had a goal, made a commitment to themselves and stuck to it. They turned up on race day and gave their best. A race is nothing like a training run, even a hard training run. But hopefully, because you've prepared properly, it's rewarding, fun even - once you've stopped and got your breath back. No matter where you come, it makes you feel better about yourself.
So a win or a category place is something to be proud of, because it's a measure of you against other people of same gender and age range on that day. No one can take that away from you.
Secondly, and ultimately, it's only significant to you, and that's the point. Racing is a way to measure your fitness for your own ends. It keeps you honest with yourself.
Challenge brings change. Preparation for a race and then doing it will bring change to your body and your mental wellbeing. If you want to change your body, you must challenge it.
Last week at the pre-race brunch for the 44th annual City2Surf event in Sydney, I asked the panel of esteemed guest Olympic athletes - including eventual men's winner Craig Mottram - for their tips for anyone undertaking their first running race. I also asked why it was a good idea to even enter a race, as compared with being a regular, routine jogger.
Robert de Castella: “Training and running on a regular basis with your mates is great, but every now and again you need to go to the start line and put it on the line. That’s why it’s important to have events that are open to the elite and everyone else who gets up in the morning and jogs around the park.”
Steve Moneghetti: “You build great camaraderie when training with like-minded people. A race keeps you focused in training, it gives you an outcome to work towards, and afterwards you have a good memory of a challenge. Anyone of any ability can turn up and do a race like the City2Surf."
Craig Mottram: "Races make you accountable. You go out there and you put it on the line. Before a race, keep it simple; don’t do anything you wouldn’t normally do; don’t change your routine; don’t go out drinking the night before."
Michael Shelley: "You’ve got to test yourself at some stage. You might as well come out and race with other people and that can spur you on to do things better than you thought you were able to do. My one piece of advice to first-time racers is to cut your toenails or it can make for a very painful run. Otherwise, enjoy the experience; you get the adrenaline rush to push yourself harder than you ever might have thought you could do."
Do you believe that racing should be part of a training program?