Monday, November 28, 2011

Why Are Runners So Prickly About their Pace?

Well my last blog post caused a bit of a brouhaha when I posted it on Facebook. It seems everyone assumed I was harshing on the so called 'slow runners'. THAT was not the point of my last blog post. The point of my last post was that it doesn't serve anyone's interests to have runners running very different paces in fairly close quarters.

I was not commenting on 'slow' runners, but many self-professed back-of-the-packers/slow runners seemed hurt that I wasn't acknowledging their right to run. Alas, that was not what I was saying. I was saying exactly the opposite: Everyone has a right to run THEIR race when they sign up for an event.  I did say, at several points in that post, that whatever 'racing' meant to you you should be permitted to do it. The problem is when your choices or the way the race is organized (and that was my main issue) sometimes interferes with the aim of certain individuals.

Political philosophers take great pains to try to understand 'liberty' - what it is, what it allows and what its constraints may be. A general and somewhat uncontroversial definition of liberty goes something like this: Each individual is allowed to exercise a liberty to the extent that others make exercise like liberties.

So while that rules out certain behaviors, those behaviors were not the concern of that post.
But, I'll leave the running/racing etiquette issue for another post...

However, during the discussion a larger issue became apparent and I think it needs to be addressed - and that is the strange double-edged-sword mentality that many runners fall prey to:
1) Defensiveness about their pace. They seem to be concerned that they are 'slow', but at the same time they maintain that they have every right to be slow -  and yet they still seem defensive about their 'slowness'.
2) The belief that if someone isn't 'fast'- ie. running Olympic qualifying times - then they really have no business being concerned about their races? So, only those who are really fast have a right to worry about their race results and the rest of us slow pokes should just have fun.
I don't understand this juxtaposition. First, why are so many runners so defensive about the pace they run? Running is a personal challenge, and that's the beauty of it. I can't even race my younger self, never mind someone else. I'm racing ME. I have goals that are mine alone. Do I like to compete against other women my age? Sure, no doubt about it. But that's only because it helps me push myself. I would rather set a PR then win my age group any day. What I run may be slow or fast based on where you're at, but that shouldn't really matter to you or to me. So my comments about running with people who were running at a slower pace simply concerns how this creates a difficult situation for everyone and my primary concern is when races are organized to create just this situation.

However, self-professed slow/back-of-the-pack runners seem to succumb to self-denigrating feelings about how slow they are, while simultaneously getting all prickly about how they have a right to be slow. There's often a tone of apology, and some even refer to their running as 'waddling' - and I'm sure that John Bingham would be proud -  but there's often a tone of righteousness as well. According to many runners I'm slow. Should I feel bad about this and apologize for my relatively slow pace? No. Should I feel that somehow I don't measure up? No. Should I feel that I'm a sucky runner? No. Should I be telling myself and everyone around me that,  "Yeah, I suck and I have every right to suck, so there", or, "Yeah, I'm slow and damn proud of it".? Why is that even an issue? That doesn't do anything for anyone. As far as I'm concerned, anyone who is out there, by definition, doesn't suck and isn't 'slow' in any objective sense. We need to stop denigrating ourselves and judging ourselves based upon how we think others judge us - because it just ain't true.

On the other edge of the sword is the view that I shouldn't worry about my race times if I'm not world class. Somehow, race times only really matter if you're going for an Olympic qualifier. But this notion seems to run counter to the above claim, that being, that I have a right to run my race even if I'm slow. And yet these two views seem to be expressed by the same individuals.

In logic there is a thing called "double think" - where a person believes two things that are mutually exclusive. I believe  this is an instance of double think: 1) I have a right to run regardless of my pace, and 2) I really shouldn't be concerned about my race if I'm not really fast. Of course #2 pretty much applies to 99% of us.

I agree with #1 and I disagree with #2 - and I maintain, that you can't reasonably hold both views. Furthermore, I think we hold ourselves back and undermine our efforts by maintaining such irreconcilable beliefs.

According to #2,  I guess I'm just supposed to go out there and have fun and to-heck-with-it if I have a sucky race. Sure I train 6 days a week, 52 weeks a year, through rain and snow and heat and exhaustion...but it's all just about fun, right? I say that that is a big stinking pile of BS.

Most runners do it for fun AND for other reasons that may actually be more uplifting. For me it's not JUST about having fun. For me it's about the challenge, the exploration (of myself and my world), the discovery...and who knows what else...

Just run and let others do likewise.


  1. That was a long way of saying, live and let be.

  2. Thanks.. this is great commentary. I consider myself "slow" and I do sometimes get bound up in stressing over that fact. What I have to try to get back to is simply working on improving, and reminding myself that my slowest run is still a heck of a lot faster than sitting on the couch! I do enjoy it, and the health benefits as well as the challenge.

  3. @Read This - Funny comment given your name - but yes, I suppose - but I think I may have said a little more than that - But, I have no excuse. My training is in philosophy - verbosity comes naturally ;) but it's purpose is clarity, not just to hear myself 'speak'.
    And Jeff, yes, we all get sucked into that.
    I just don't like being accused of putting others down because they think they're slower than me.

  4. I missed the discssion but I see your points. :)

    As a slow runner I am concerned about my times so that I can track my ability to improve. With that I always try to line up in the area of where I think I will be running so not to get in the way of people who are faster then me. I call that beind respectful of my the people arond me.

    They way I see it if someone wants to put me down for being slow...thats on them. I can only be responsible for my actions. I will tell you that my 7 minute PR made me extremely proud this weekend - and in my book my value on myself is all that matters.

  5. Yeah, I would consider myself slow. My first marathon time was pretty fast in my eyes at 4 hours and 39 minutes ,but my last marathon in Richmond went kinda bad at 5 hours and 5 minutes because I had strained my hips during my last long training run. My PR in a 5k is only 23 minutes and 24 seconds and I'm actually pretty proud of that fact!!! I may never be a super elite female runner BUT....I weigh about 92 pounds less NOW than I did at the age of 18 when I weighed 240lbs! The fact that I've run 3 half marathons, 2 full marathons, and countless 5ks and other distances amazes me when I couldn't run a block when I was a teenager!!! Keep running is all I have to say!!! Do it for whatever reason you may have! But, just do it! ;-)

  6. To Jen and Running Puma - That's just my point.
    But Jen, another thing, it seems that self professed 'slow' runners often fall in the trap of putting themselves down. If others do it to you, then well, you can just walk away. But if you do it to yourself, that's bad for you and, I believe, for running too. Many people never get out the door because they're too embarrassed. I say; "To hell with that".

    Keep it up woman (and men ;)

  7. I love this and thanks. I am slow in comparison to others and in comparison to my dear hubby. It bugs me at times but you are right. It shouldn't. I just need to be the best me that I can be at that moment. So much goes into play with a running pace besides just speed.

  8. Thank you Caolan! I really enjoy reading your blog and you insight... I often get sucked into my own perceived "suckiness" and I appreciate the truthfulness of your words! I need to remember to run my race, and not what others are doing!

  9. Thank you Sandra! You just made my day :)

  10. When I run, I run for myself and no one else. I want to see what I can do. If I place that is totally awesome and will hold my head up high for that. I try to teach my son that as well. He runs cross country and is not the fastest on his team. He has improved ALOT (he just ran 3 miles in 18 something minutes averaging a 6 min mile), but I tell him as he improves so do everyone else. We do not let that get to us, we all go out there to run and race for ourselves. We have found ourselves improving with the times, which is cool..Though I can say my goal at the moment, is to beat my husband..he is like 30 sec to 1 min faster than me..but ONLY on races, during practices he is much slower. He is my push and drive, it works for me :)

  11. I don't worry about what others run--too much, and I hear where you're coming from.

    Several races I've been to, I get to mid to back of the pack, as I run a 11 minute mile or thereabouts. Yes, that's slow to many, but is' also fast to many. Almost NOTHING is more frustrating to me than to be in a race, being out several blocks into my run and have some SUPER.FAST.GUY sprint past me because he couldn't get to the start line in time. (and, yes, this has been a guy always, so far.

    I have acquaintances and friends who have started exercising and running, they seem to want to compete with me, and what to know what I've run my last mile, 5K, or 10miles in. . . and "is this a good time for them", and yet the person is never satisfied with the thinking "if it's a good time for you, then it's a good time."

  12. That is all so true about runners and their weird thoughts and defensiveness about our pace. I felt in the beginning of our Marathon Bar sponsorship as if I were too slow and wondered how I even got picked. After seeing lots of posts from the other members and seeing you and Richard at some races I changed how I felt. I realize nobody really cares about anyone's pace but their own. I am happy to have pushed myself to get faster as I get older, it gives me satisfaction. Mainly I have loved the great people I have met through running!


Any comments that could easily fall under the definition of "Cyber-Bullying" are promptly deleted.

Cyber-Bullying is a crime punishable under Federal Law and in some cases Individual State Laws. By posting a comment to this blog, you acknowledge that you understand and accept these laws and are aware that you will be prosecuted for offenses under the full extent of these laws. By posting a comment to this blog you also agree to waive your anonymity, and any rights associated with that anonymity, by having your computers I.P. Address tracked.

Everyone Seems to be Looking for "Motivation"...

  "Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going" ~ Jim Ryun It's January. For many of us that means cold...