Back in March, I ran in The Shamrock Run in Hammond, LA. It was a beautiful day and a fun race. While I did not set any personal records, I did learn a valuable lesson... the hard way.
There were about 7 or 8 real runners who blew by me within the first half mile, and I would not see them again. There were about three of us who were far outpacing the rest of the pack, but too slow to catch the leaders. I trailed a 27-year-old by about 100 feet for most of the race. As we were less than a mile from the finish line, I kept pushing myself and kept focusing on his shirt up ahead.
Then it happened. I realized that he was stopping (obviously confused) to ask one of the race workers a question. As I approached, it was clear to me that he had missed a turn, and was off-track. I kept running ahead and asked another couple of race workers where I should go, and they were clueless about where I had been or where I should go. By this time, the younger guy I had been following was beside me, and we decided to just run toward the finish line. We were both very frustrated by the time we crossed the finish line and were nearly disqualified until we explained what happened to the race official.
The lesson is very simple: Be careful about who you are following.