The Hare and the Tortoise
(Translated by George Fyler Townsend, 1867)
A Hare one day ridiculed the short feet and slow pace of the Tortoise, who replied, laughing: “Though you be swift as the wind, I will beat you in a race.” The Hare, believing her assertion to be simply impossible, assented to the proposal; and they agreed that the Fox should choose the course and fix the goal. On the day appointed for the race the two started together. The Tortoise never for a moment stopped, but went on with a slow but steady pace straight to the end of the course. The Hare, lying down by the wayside, fell fast asleep. At last waking up, and moving as fast as he could, he saw the Tortoise had reached the goal, and was comfortably dozing after her fatigue.
Slow but steady wins the race.
Popular retelling of this centuries old tale has the Hare quickly establishing a daunting lead, then inexplicably stopping for a rest before the push to the finish. The translators have us believe that the cocky Hare, so certain of his running prowess, decided to nap for a time before hippity-hopping to a win. I’m not convinced. A competitor like the Hare would not stop before breaking the tape and having the laurel wreath placed upon his head. A competitor like the Hare would delight in a crushing victory; he would never allow the Tortoise time to catch up. I propose that the Hare went out way too fast, hit the wall three-quarters of the way though the race, and stopped not out of choice but necessity. Hare succumbed to crippling muscles spasms and overwhelming fatigue and collapsed in a heap by the wayside. The Hare is a sprinter, with no strategy for an endurance event, and he paid dearly for his lack of pacing. With rest he found renewed energy and although he tried to make up for lost time, it was too late.
The slow and steady Tortoise, with her sensibly even pacing, had won. After the race, to save face, Hare told a little white lie, pretending he opted to “sleep” away some of his lead, when in reality with his glycogen stores drained he had little choice but to nurse his leaden legs and hope for a quick recovery. Most runners know that when you charge out of the gate too quickly, legs freshly tapered and high on pre-race adrenaline, you rapidly deplete your energy stores and risk a magnificent flame-out in the final kilometres. The Hare learned this lesson the hard way. The wise Tortoise finished strong by maintaining her steady pace over the final quarter of the race and with a little kick left at the end she won the footrace and achieved what few runners can: the negative split.
Aesop. Est. 620–560 BC. The Hare and the Tortoise in Aesop’s Fables.
Townsend, G.F. 1867. Three Hundred Aesop’s Fables: Literally translated from the Greek.
Title Reference: Jefferson Airplane – White Rabbit. From the album Surrealistic Pillow. 1967.