I’m not a fast runner. In fact, I’m really slow by most people’s standards. My fastest mile in recent history was about 10 minutes, and that was on a brand new rubberized track, in cool, dry weather conditions, and when I was well rested and perfectly fueled and hydrated. And still, it took everything I had to give. Most days I run between 13-14 minute miles – And I take walk breaks. But you know what? I absolutely love being a slow runner. There’s a lot of joy in running at the proverbial (or sometimes literal) back of the pack. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Some people can’t relate to this. When I say I’m a runner one of the first questions I’m asked is some version of “How fast are you?” Ugh. I just hate this question. Almost any answer I give comes out sounding like I’m either ashamed of my pace or making excuses. Sure, pace is a measurable aspect of running, but why is speed the only thing that matters to people? There are a lot of reasons I run, and to finish as fast as possible is definitely not one of them. I get it, of course – we’re a competition-oriented society, one that places strong emphasis on winning as well as being better-faster-stronger than everyone else. I certainly don’t look like a typical runner, so perhaps it’s a natural question when I meet someone new, especially a non-runner. The general public seems to have this idea that all runners are skinny health nuts who eat kale for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and run marathons every weekend. I certainly don’t fit that mold, and I can understand the confusion. But pace is not the only defining characteristic of a runner! What about running form, breathing, mind-body connection, or distance – or even just sheer enjoyment? Nobody has ever asked me what my foot turnover rate is or whether I’m a heel or mid-foot striker or if I can do anything else while I run, like juggling (I can’t). Sure, I’ve noticed that I’ve gotten quicker over the years. And yes, it does make me smile me when I realize I’ve run a particular route faster than a year ago – but that’s because it means I’ve been working hard and training consistently, which makes me really proud. If I’m running slower, I truly don’t care. It’s not failure, it’s just a number. I’m more interested in how I feel when I run and whether or not I’m enjoying myself. In my mind, the worst possible thing would be for running to become less fun and more work. So I strive to keep it lighthearted, happy, and playful. That doesn’t mean I don’t try my absolute best and push myself hard. Quite the contrary. I often compete against myself and try to beat my last time or go a little farther than before. Right now I’m training for a half marathon, and I’ve challenged myself not to miss more than 2 training runs. But, first and foremost, I run for the sheer joy of it. I refuse to feel bad if I have a slow day, race, or even year. I refuse to feel like a failure if I’m the last one to cross the finish line. I refuse to beat myself up for running slower than someone else. What’s the point? The world is critical enough – why add your own voice to the negativity? One thing I know for sure is that feeling bad about your pace (or any other aspect of your performance) is optional. What others think about you is really none of your business. They’re going to form their own opinions based on their own experiences and personal beliefs, and you can’t control that. And really, is running faster just so someone ELSE will have a different opinion of you truly worth all that effort? Um…no. Instead, find ways that you can feel amazing about yourself that have nothing to do with the people around you, and everything to do with YOU. If you love to compete, that’s awesome! Just make sure it’s your own voice that’s spurring you on, not someone else’s. And don’t hang your happiness on getting faster. If you do, you’re kinda screwed. Taking the time to understand just what it is that you love about running is a valuable exercise, because it can help you feel great about every run, not just the fast ones. For example:
- The feeling I get when I’m in the car and one of my favorite running songs comes on the radio. I can feel my whole body just itching to get out and run.
- The moment (usually about 20 minutes in) when I release any anxious thoughts that might be bouncing around in my head, and my mind just relaxes.
- Running by myself in the rain.
- Realizing that my brain can solve difficult problems while my legs are busy running.
- Waving to my mailman and getting a double thumbs up from him every time (for some reason, this makes me ridiculously happy).
- How my body and mind feel after I’m done – completely blissed out and relaxed.
As you can see, this list has nothing to do with my speed or skill and everything to do with how running makes me feel. So, I challenge you: ask yourself why you run. What’s the feeling you want to have before, during, and after? Do you have to achieve a certain pace or distance to feel good, or is running itself more than enough? That’s for you to decide.
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