Does perfection exist? Runners debate

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Southridge's Casey Lamb, left, and Jayme Lindauer competed in the Tri-County Invitational last month at Huntingburg. Both will run in this evening's sectional at Vincennes University Jasper Campus, where athletes will continue tackling the idea of completing a perfect race

Herald Sports Writer

The question succeeded at sparking a debate.


Some say it’s absolutely possible. Others consider the notion a fallacy.

The discussion evoked about every available opinion and led to memories for coaches, who drew on experiences while running in high school and college.

Can it be done?

Is it possible to run a perfect race?

“You really can’t run a perfect race,” Jasper freshman standout Hannah Welsh said. “You can run as well as you want to, but there’s always going to be a bar where you’re going to set yourself higher and higher. That’s where I am.”

“You always get better and you can always improve,” agreed Southridge’s Aubrey Main. “You have to get to the point where you have to point certain things out to yourself. You can’t just have a perfect race.”

Then there’s the other side.

“I do think it’s possible,” Southridge coach Leslie Denu said. “Even if someone else doesn’t think you ran the best race, it’s possible. I think if you’re hurting that entire race and you feel at the end that you can’t run anymore, then you had the perfect race. Or if you felt good the entire time and were on what I would call a ‘runner’s high.’ I think it’s possible for a perfect race.”

After hearing opinions from both sides, it’s reasonable to ascertain everyone is answering the question in sort of the same way: Run the best race you possibly can, and consider the race a success. The only catch is, as Welsh and Main pointed out, runners never stop elevating the standards they set for themselves.

Athletes and coaches can continue the discussion during today’s sectional at Vincennes University Jasper Campus. The girls race will begin at 6 p.m., with the boys meet to follow at approximately 6:30.

Jasper’s Holden Weidenbenner shook his head and said "no" at the question, while Northeast Dubois’ Justin Kahle said, “It’s probably possible, if you have the right conditions and you feel good that day, but usually there’s something wrong with you.”

For Southridge freshman Casey Lamb, that means having side stitches. Also for her, running a perfect race means not only beating her personal-best time, but finishing first for her team.

There’s a few circumstances on which most people agree. Recording a great time requires amicable conditions. A cool breeze, even some mist, is welcomed. The thought of perfection floats away when the temperature begins inching upward of 75 or 80 degrees.

Even when the surroundings are picturesque, that doesn’t guarantee anything.

“I don’t think it’s ever aligned, but I’ve had perfect scenarios where I’ve had everything work out but I didn’t run as fast as I wanted,” said Forest Park coach Philip Wolf, a regular marathon runner. “Perfection is a hard thing to come by.”

Others have had near-misses.

Though Northeast Dubois coach Vic Betz hesitated in saying he believes in the idea of a perfect race, he recalled a near-flawless run he completed in an NCAA regional his senior year at Indiana University. The Jeep coach finished in the top 20 as participants ran through 6 to 8 inches of standing water in 30-degree weather in November, with Betz competing against one-sixth of the college runners in the country. Betz doesn’t remember his time, but that isn’t what made the meet special: That he ran the race he wanted to against superstar competitors is what made the performance memorable.

“I felt pretty good about that one,” he said.

The word “perfection” is tricky, however. It means something different to everyone, or even to the same person over time. Denu, who ran the Heartland Half Marathon in Jasper last month, laughed at how she compares her running performances now to when she was in high school.

“Oh, it’s completely different; it hurts now the next day,” Denu said, smiling. “I think I took it for granted in high school because it just came so easily, it came naturally to me. It was just fun to do it and now it’s fun but for different reasons — not necessarily competition, but as a hobby.”

There are other reasons why the question presents a conundrum. Heritage Hills coach Kurt Denning jumped into an answer. Then stopped. And came to a conclusion.

“To run a perfect race? Boy, that’s a good question,” Denning said, hesitating to think. “You can say you went out and ran your hardest, but then still, you might think, ‘Could have you attacked the hill a little bit more?’”

Another hesitation.

“I’ll say no, a perfect race is out of the question.”

Denning continued thinking. He eventually settled on a compromise of sorts. If a runner sets a personal goal, say to finish fourth, and does so, then Denning concluded that can be considered a perfect race, since the runner achieved the goal he or she set.

Denning then wondered aloud what Betz had to say on the matter. After hearing they were on the same side, he laughed a bit, though he agreed with Betz’s assessment that Galen Rupp’s silver-medal run in the 10,000 meters at this summer’s Olympics came about as close to perfection as imaginable.

Like other coaches, Denning said running a perfect race as a team is a completely different animal. All those variances that Denning said complicate running a perfect race as an individual multiply at a maddening pace.

That’s one reason why coaches abstain from talking to runners about running a mistake-free race. Stuff happens. Coaches know this. That’s why they employ a different prerace speech.

“I don’t think I ever thought about that as a runner,” Jasper coach Kevin Schipp said. “As a coach, I was just thinking about that the other week. It doesn’t matter what level you are, there’s never a point where you can be totally satisfied, I don’t think. You always have something more to strive for, another goal, a faster time.

“Even if you’re an Olympian, there’s always someone that’s going to run faster. I don’t know if you can say there’s a perfect race, but you can definitely give all your effort and know that you did everything you could do. And that’s what I talk to the kids about.”

Contact John Patishnock at


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