Obligatory intro – long time no post life busy blah blah blah.
So this past Thursday (also known as Thanksgiving), Josh and I ran the 11th annual Berbee Derby. This is one of my favorite races for a whole lot of reasons. It’s awesome to start out Thanksgiving morning with some activity and excitement. There are so many people racing (6,700 this year) that you always have someone to pass so it’s motivating. And, as the Derby organizers themselves say, “It’s like a Thanksgiving Day parade, only faster.” People wear costumes and turkey hats, everyone’s in a good mood, and it’s just all around a good time.
This year’s race was bitterly cold and pretty icy. It was about 18 degrees and windy at race time and the parts of the course that weren’t in direct sunlight were pretty slick. And it was in the middle of one of those stretches, along the Capital City bike trail, that I found myself stuck behind a bunch of runners who were going a little slower than I wanted to go, with ice on the bike path and snow on the edges of the path. And that’s when, as I do in almost every running race, I started thinking about Mario Kart. I haven’t even played in quite a while, but in my heyday I was pretty tough to beat, especially when I was driving Koopa Troopa on the Blue Falcon.
Sure, I could stay tucked in behind the folks in front of me, but is that what Koopa Troopa would do? No way. So, without further awkward introduction, here are three lessons from Mario Kart Wii that I genuinely apply to my own racing.
Move through a crowd
I might not be the fastest runner (spoiler alert: I’m not), but I can work my way through congestion. Playing Mario Kart taught me to shove my way into the smallest opening. In the game, as in real life, people don’t like to be crowded and they tend to open up a path for you to squeeze through.
Obviously anyone can say just to go wherever you see an opening, but I saw a lot of people who weren’t going for it. My hot tip: If you’re not feeling comfortable working your way through a crowd, pretend that you’re drafting off the kart (read: person) in front of you. Especially in a race like the Berbee Derby where there are so many people running, if you wait long enough, someone faster will come by, and you can follow the path they carve through the crowd.
Take the shortest line
This one can be summed up by another hot PowerPoint diagram:
I can’t tell you how many people I see running along the right hand lane of a course instead of taking the shortest line between two points. Obviously when you’re working with lots of congestion, you shouldn’t cut in front of people. But on the Berbee Derby course, once you’re off the bike path and onto the suburban streets, there’s plenty of room. Time you take running around corners is time wasted (and extra distance!). Playing Mario Kart, I learned to see the shortest line at a glance and not be afraid of driving in the gutter to take it. Driving on grass just slows you down, though, so pay attention to surface, too.
Know the course
Almost every course in Mario Kart gets easier the more you play it. Knowing where and when to turn, when to use your mushrooms, and what you can expect only speeds you up. If you don’t drive your bike and run courses before a race, you’re just asking for unpleasant surprises. Granted, sometimes it’s not great to know that you have a hill to run up between miles five and six (Berbee Derby, I’m looking at you), but wouldn’t you rather be prepared for it than have to react on the fly?
There is something to be said for the surprise of a course. Sometimes I purposefully don’t familiarize myself with a course ahead of time so that there are “interesting” surprises waiting for me. But I never perform my best when I do this. So I wouldn’t really advise it on a race you want to do well on. Also, honestly, it’s pretty unsafe, especially when you’re talking about a bike course. I’m thinking about the Couples Triathlon (fka Capital View) where there’s a 90-degree right hand turn at the bottom of a steep downhill. If you don’t know that’s coming and you don’t take the “Slow Down” signs seriously, there’s no doubt you’d crash, and probably take out a few other people with you.
Before I leave you, one more bonus tip. You know that level of Mario Kart where there are all the penguins and when you hit them they spin around? Well, it took me a while to master that one because every time you brake on the ice, your kart skids around like crazy and it takes a while to accelerate again. Well, if you find yourself running outside in, say, the Berbee Derby and you’re planting your foot on a sheet of ice on a bike trail, maybe don’t try to brake. It won’t end well for anyone. And don’t hit any penguins, either.