Reflections on “Slow” Running

I was a little hesitant to write this post. Not because I am embarrassed by my speed (or lack thereof) but more so because I don’t want anyone out there to feel like they are not a great runner based on their speed.  Also, I hate using the word slow (I really tried hard to find a better word for the title) and even more than that, I hate using the word to describe my own running pace, using it as a justification as to why I can’t run with someone or even worse, using it to dismiss and diminish an accomplishment.  What does slow mean anyway? Slow compared to what? Everyone is slow compared to someone else. But, everyone is also fast compared to someone else. More importantly, the majority of us are fast compared to when we started. I’m going to throw the word away. My speed shouldn’t come with negative connotations and it certainly shouldn’t define who I am as a runner. I’m taking back the negativity that I have put on myself for being “slow” and hope that in doing so, I can inspire others to do the same.

As a “slow” runner, I often have had a hard time even calling myself a runner at all. When people tell me they are impressed with what I do I often downplay it saying “ya, but I’m really slow”. The first time I ran a 5k in under 30mins and the first time I ran 10k in under an hour were significant events that I immediately brushed off once I realized how easy that is for some people.

I just want to clarify something; slow does not equal easy. Slow also does not equal unfit. I promise you, when I am out there running 5:45-6:00 minute kilometres, I am giving it my all. I know that I can say the same for many others, especially those who may not be able to pace alongside me.

I also don’t like the word “jog”. Once, when talking to a non-runner about a race they said to me “how long does it take you to run a half marathon?” and when I said “probably about 2 hours, 15 minutes” they responding by saying “oh, so you don’t really run then, you jog”. It took everything in me to not bluntly say “no you jerk, I run, and I run all out, that is just my pace”. (They admitted they had never run further than 5k so I cut them some slack.)

Last weekend when I finished the Sporting Like 10k race in 56:52, it was a huge personal best. I didn’t hit a single km over a 5:45 pace. Running doesn’t come easy for me. Or at least, there was a time not too long ago when it didn’t. I wasn’t one of those people who could just tie up my shoes and get out there for an after work 5k run. It took me some time to run 5k continuously. There was a time when I didn’t think I could ever run more than 5km and the thought of doubling that distance made my head spin. When I finished my first 10k run I honestly could not believe it, (see below) and I think it took me about 1 hour, 20 minutes. I also wasn’t sure if I could take another step or run 10k ever again. The first time I ran the Sporting Life 10k race a few weeks later, I remember thinking I just wanted to run a 6:45 pace. I was very happy when I finished in 1:06 because at the time, it was faster than I ever thought I could be. It made me feel like anything was possible, even at that speed. However, I couldn’t even imagine doubling THAT distance. But somehow I did, and over the last two years I have run 4 half-marathons. I honestly would have laughed in your face if you told me 3 years ago I would run that far and that I’d be training for a marathon in 2016. Yet, here I am. This is what I’m keeping in mind as I start my training for Chicago

First time I ran 10km!

First time I ran 10km!

I was inspired to write this post after reading this article a few weeks ago. It really spoke to me and made me realize that my negative self-talk about my running was only hurting my potential. It was time to reframe how I felt about my speed.

“From a pure performance perspective, thinking negatively can inhibit you from achieving your potential. While thinking you’re slow may seem harmless, every time you preface a statement with the phrase, “I know I am slow, but …” you condition your mind to believe that you can never be fast.

Countless research studies in sports psychology have proven the power of positive thinking and self-talk. Athletes who go into a workout or race with positive thoughts perform significantly better and more consistently than those who approach workouts and races with a negative attitude.

Reframing your belief in yourself starts before a workout or race. If you’re negative and lack self-confidence throughout your training, no amount of pre-race self-talk and mental preparation is going to undo weeks or months of self-deprecation. Positive thinking starts with how you frame every aspect of your running.”

This post is for all you runners out there who have ever felt left behind, who have ever been afraid to run with a group, or who have ever felt less proud of finishing a race based on your time. Perhaps, this is also a little pep talk to my internal self consciousness about my own speed.

You are not slow. You are running. You are doing something amazing for your body and your mind. You are not less of a runner because you can’t keep up with others. In fact, I’d argue that you are MORE of a runner because it takes all that much more determination to go on once everyone has left you in their dust. You will never be an elite runner, you may never run a Boston qualifier. But it doesn’t matter. Each and every time you get out there on the pavement you are winning. You are pushing yourself to be better, pushing yourself to keep going, tapping into your inner grit when everyone around you makes it look so easy.

When you start running with a friend who isn’t a runner and they quickly become faster than you, don’t be jealous, celebrate their success and the fact that they are teaching themselves that same perseverance that you have. When you run a race and the crowd is all gone by the time you finish, don’t be discouraged, be proud that you kept going for that much longer than everyone else.

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When the amazing runners in your club get shout outs for amazing PBs and running cool races, don’t feel ignored or invisible. Know that this keeps you humble and you don’t need the attention to know you have accomplished something amazing. There is always going to be someone who is faster than they are, much like there will always be those who are faster than you. Remind yourself that there will also always be someone who is not as fast as you. Encourage them, run with them, help them understand that they are still crushing it. When you talk about your running, don’t downplay it. Own it. Shout it to the world. You are a runner, you are a 10k finisher, a half marathon finisher, a marathon finisher and no one can take that away from you.

Perhaps one of the greatest things about this sport is that it has become accessible to everyone. You no longer have to be at the top. Besides the elites, we are all in for our own good and to compete against who we were yesterday. We aren’t going to the olympics and we aren’t winning National titles or breaking records. Even the elites face the same fears and challenges that the rest of us do and that makes us all in this together.

My greatest joy is convincing new runners that they too can run a race they once thought was not possible. It’s not about how fast you go, but about learning how to push yourself to do things you thought you weren’t capable of. It’s about the feeling of crossing the finish line, or simply getting up one day and having an amazing run with your crew, running buddy, or just by yourself with your thoughts.

I recently spoke with a pacer about how being a “slow” runner means we actually have to have more endurance- while some can run a half marathon in an hour and a half, we have to pound the pavement and keep going for over two hours. 

But let’s stop calling ourselves slow. We aren’t. We are fast. We are faster than we were last year. We are faster than we were last month. We ran a faster race than we did a few weeks ago. We are faster than when we started. We are fast.

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Get out there and be proud of your 30 minute or even 40 minute 5k, you’re still doing better than everyone else on the couch!

You are a runner, and you’re an amazing runner too.