The most frequently asked question in the Not Your Average Runner Facebook group is some version of “How fast do I need to be to call myself a real runner?”
Ugh. Why, oh why, are we so fucking concerned with speed and pace?
Spoiler alert—I’m gonna get a little rant-y in this post…
I’m not in it for the competition
I don’t spend hours figuring out how I can get faster. I’m not a competitive person. Hell, I don’t even compete with myself!
I know not everyone is like that. In fact, some of you can’t even fathom what life would be like without caring about winners and losers, or always setting a PR.
But, honestly, idgaf. I just like to have fun (which makes it awkward at baseball games when I cheer for the other team after a great play).
With running, I’m especially unconcerned with how I measure up to others, or even to myself in past years. I don’t race the person on the next treadmill at the gym, and I don’t try to pull ahead of other people in a race (unless staying behind them is messing up my rhythm).
Running is a way for me to connect with myself and feel good in my body. To work on my mind, my beliefs about myself, and to practice keeping commitments to myself. It’s self-care, entertainment, and meditation all rolled into one. And I don’t believe I have to run a certain pace to get those benefits.
Faster isn’t necessarily better
Now, yes, there are times when speed does matter. For example, if you’re signed up for a race that has a 15-minute-per-mile required pace and they advertise that anyone slower than that will be swept, you need to either be confident you can finish in the allotted time or make peace with the possibility you might not finish.
But otherwise, your pace is just data. It’s a neutral circumstance. You get to make it mean whatever you want. Thinking that you need to run a certain speed to be a real runner—or that you should be constantly striving to get faster so you can be proud of yourself—is limiting you from truly enjoying the sport.
Before you get all pissed off at me, I’m not saying that having a pace goal is a terrible idea or that you should ignore how fast you run.
I’m saying that tying all your good feelings to speed is limiting you. There are lots of other things to love about running, and if your singular focus is getting faster, if the only time you give yourself a pat on the back is after you’ve achieved a certain time, you’re missing out on the rest of it (and setting yourself up for quitting on yourself). And by the way, there will come a time when you’re tapped out on how fast you can go. If you always need to get faster to feel good about yourself, you’ll be screwed when that happens.
Using your pace to beat yourself up for not making progress feels terrible. And when you feel terrible, you’re much less likely to keep training. The result is you don’t get any faster and you double down on the beatings. It’s a vicious circle.
How I use my pace data for extra motivation
All that being said… just because I don’t give a fuck about getting faster doesn’t mean I don’t pay attention to my pace.
Case in point:
Last weekend I did the Philly Hot Chocolate 5K, my second 5K since I started running again in February. I’ve done this event (either the 5K or the 15K) a few times, I know the route well, and my plan (like always) was to show up and have fun. The race has a 15-minute/mile pace requirement, but I know from previous experience that they don’t enforce it. Good thing, because my 5K two weeks earlier was almost a 17-minute mile!
I started in the back, as I normally do, and purposefully held a slower pace for the first few intervals as the crowd thinned and my body warmed up. When there was more space, I allowed myself to settle into a comfortable rhythm, enjoying the views of the river and Boathouse Row.
At the first mile, Runkeeper told me that I was 15 minutes and 30 seconds in, which seemed surprising to me—I thought it must be a GPS glitch. At mile 2, I was a little over 31 minutes in and realized that I’d maintained that pace for two miles. So I decided to push myself a little for the last mile and sprint to the finish line—and finished mile 3 faster than miles 1 or 2. Negative splits achieved!
The only true failure is in giving up
I was really happy with my performance at this race. It was fun to see myself get stronger as I continue to train for the Philly Marathon in November. It’s going to be a hard road. The marathon has a 7-hour time limit, which means I’ll need to keep up a 16-minute pace or risk getting swept. And that means that my 5K pace will need to be closer to 13- to 14 minutes/mile to account for the natural slowdown that occurs over longer distances.
I’m gonna train my ass off and do my best to come in under that time limit. I know it’s possible and that I have it within me to do it. I’m already visualizing every mile of that race. Of hugging Andy after I cross the finish line. Of holding that medal in my hands. And, of course, the taste of that ice-cold, post-marathon beer.
BUT… I’m also OK with getting swept if I don’t make it.
What the fuck, Jill? Why would you decide right now that failure is an option?
Because I’m OK with giving my all to something and failing. I don’t make failure mean anything about me other than that I took a chance and did something.
The person I’ll need to become to complete all the necessary training for this race—that’s the reward I’m looking for. I’m evolving from someone who is currently a little (OK, a lot) anxious about how she’s going to do all that training to someone who believes so hard in herself that she doesn’t even consider the possibility of quitting.
The only way I will truly fail at this race is if I quit on myself.
The reward is in the journey
The race medal will be awesome. The accomplishment of crossing that finish line will be amazing. But those are just moments.
The months of training, knowing that I set a big, motherfucking, audacious goal and went after it like a boss—that is my reward. I’d much rather go down in flames, chasing down my dream, than to sit on the sidelines wondering what could have been. Failure doesn’t define us. Failure makes us stronger.
A medal is a reminder of that achievement. But I don’t need a medal to know I’m a badass.
I’d love to hear from you: What do you make failure mean about yourself? Would you rather try and fail, or not step up to the starting line at all?