I am not a windbreak

This weekend’s training efforts was dominated by the wind – a strong, nasty, strength-sapping headwind. As previously noted, running into a headwind is not fun.

The wind hit me near the end of my regular Saturday morning Parkrun outing, and at various points on Sunday’s two-hour, 15.7-mile long run. That included a headwind all the way up one of Richmond Park’s long uphill sections. That was fun…

I didn’t spend as long running into the wind on Saturday – probably only a kilometre or so – but it did leave me pondering running etiquette. Yup, etiquette. Let’s talk manners.

My local Parkrun uses an out-and-back course along the towpath of the River Thames. Much of it has a line is shielded from the river winds by a line of trees, but there’s about a kilometre which is quite exposed. And it was there that I hit the headwind. I’ve written before about the frustration of running into a strong wind: it just saps your power. But there’s nothing you can do about it.

Actually, there is something. You can do what the guy behind me did.

After a short time in the headwind, another runner closed up behind me. And there he stayed. Now, having someone run close behind you can be quite off-putting. I didn’t want to hold anyone up, so I pulled over to the side of the road. And he followed. So I pulled to the other side of the road. He followed again. I eased up a bit to prompt him to go past. He eased up too. He was following me. He was using me as a windbreak.

Slipstreaming while running isn’t quite as effective as in cycling, but any shelter you can get from a headwind helps. I was doing the hard work battling the headwind, and he was coasting in the relative calm. It didn’t seem fair to me.

Now, slipstreaming another runner is like stealing your neighbour’s broadband: a sort of victimless crime. He wasn’t making my life harder (aside from distracting me) – he was just making his easier.

Still, his resolute refusal to go past me made me a bit angry. Especially when, at the moment we reached the next row of wind-shielding trees he pulled out from behind me, overtook and shot off up the road. I had nothing much left to try and keep up.

You could argue it was smart on his part, and he didn’t cost me any time. Both are true. It’s just… this wasn’t some competitive event or big race where positions count. This was a free Saturday morning Parkrun. And slipstreaming a fellow runner so obviously in a free Parkrun didn’t seem very… polite.

Polite? In a timed event? Yes. I’ve seen it in action – and in a headwind.


Compare and contrast

The last time I was used as a windbreak was as part of a ‘competitive’ run: the Weston-super-Mare Christmas Cracker 10k. As the name suggests, it took place on Weston-super-Mate beach in December. It was cold. It was wet. And it was ridiculously windy.

The course for that event went up-and-down the beach. In the direction with wind at my back, I was setting kilometre splits that were near my best. Going into the headwind… oh boy. It honestly felt like standing still. It just hit you, and kept on punching. And hitting. And punching. And… you get the idea.

I ended up in a pack of around ten runners, and something remarkable happened: without any conversation needed, we formed a peloton of sorts. We all took a turn at the front of the pack, battling the headwind, giving the other runners a bit of a break. And then someone else would hit the front. It kept cycling through, and it really eased the effort.

It was entirely unspoken – a truce of sorts, that lasted until we were on the return leg. It was brilliant – and evidence of the unspoken etiquette that I’ve found exists between entrants in a race.

I didn’t experience that same etiquette and sense of camaraderie in the Parkrun. Am I overthinking this? Probably. The other runner probably didn’t realise he was putting me off, or that I’d mind. More likely, I’m just a bit jealous. Running into a headwind hurts. Wouldn’t it be nice to shield yourself from the wind for a bit?



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