As a runner, I’m on the slow side… hence the title of this blog. My most comfortable pace at the moment seems to be around the 11:20ish mark, and I’ve only had one race where I was able to maintain a sub-11-minute/mile pace for the whole thing.
When I first started running for running’s sake, I was comfortable enough with being slow. I had always preferred sprinting to running any kind of distance, likely because I’ve never had very good stamina. As I prepared to run my first-ever race, I set the very low bar of hoping that I’d finish the 5K within an hour, and was pleasantly surprised to find myself finishing in 37:38. I was super proud of myself for running the entire 3.1 miles – something I had never done before – and proud that my time was well under an hour, but I felt a bit like I was running through molasses for the whole race… I felt like I could have probably walked the race faster than I ran it (granted, I’m a fast walker). I assumed it would get easier, and I would get faster, with each subsequent race, and I excitedly signed up for more.
It would take 6 more races and 4 months before I really even came close to 37:38 again. My times seemed to get progressively worse: 40:08, 38:04, 42:17, 50:04, 49:18. Even though I knew deep down that those times reflected that I was running in increasing heat and humidity, and that I was running injured or recovering from said injury, and that one race involved an unavoidable bottleneck on the course that ate up several minutes, and that, you know, I was still very new to this whole thing, it was incredibly frustrating. Finally in late July I ran in cooler weather, and my race times went down below 40:00 again and started getting a bit more consistent.
Despite the fact that I’m still a running newbie who has a difficult time being arsed to run and train consistently, I find that I’m regularly frustrated by my race times. This has been on my mind especially since Sunday, when I ran a 5K feeling strong and quick only to be met by a 35:28 finishing time. I know that I’ll get faster the more I work at it – the more speed workouts I do with my run club, the more cross-training I do, the more I get out there and actually run – but there’s always this niggle in the back of my mind that I’m just too slow.
As I thought about this over the past few days, I think I’ve pinned down where this niggle came from – any other time I’ve been involved in sports, it’s been my speed that’s made me decent, or at least worthy of being kept on a team. Let’s take a stroll down Memory Lane, shall we?
For 3 or 4 years, I was part of my work’s softball team. I had played baseball growing up, and while I was arguably one of the better players on my team of 8-year-olds where the coaches pitched to us underhand, I wasn’t exactly an all-star on the grown-up, bordering-on-beer-league, intramural team I found myself on. I couldn’t hit very far; I was a little clumsy with the softball, which felt way too big in my hand; and, being a female, I was automatically relegated to either second base or right field every game, despite my lingering childhood dreams of being the next Nomar at shortstop.
The one thing that kept me from being That Girl, who was only on the team because the co-captains had to let everyone play, was my speed, as well as my ability to use that speed to surprise the other team. I bat lefty, and whenever I’d step up to the plate someone on the other team would invariably yell “Lefty!” and all the fielders would shift to my right, expecting me to pull the ball. Knowing I couldn’t hit very far, I’d swing wildly at the first decent pitch I saw and take off running pretty much as soon as I made contact, a technique one of my co-captains called “slap bunting.” The other team would be surprised as the ball dribbled down the 3rd base line, and by the time someone ran in to collect and throw to first, I was usually already there. I may have led my team in infield hits, and soon I was sporting the nickname “Speedy Gobzales.”
I started to get bored with softball a few years ago (so much standing around! endless games!) and eventually stopped playing. It didn’t help that opposing teams started remembering me and my tap-the-ball-and-run-like-hell method of getting on base, and once that technique was stymied I became That Girl. In addition to being frustrated myself, I could sense the suppressed groans whenever I came up to bat with 2 outs, and could feel the strain in the encouragement from certain teammates, and it just made sense to fade away. Anyway, I had my eye on other activities…
Running isn’t the only activity I came to later in life. I always loved the idea of soccer, but didn’t play on a team until college intramurals my sophomore year. Not long after I started dating Drew, he invited me to play on his indoor rec-league team, and so began a solid 5-year stretch of playing rec soccer all year ’round.
Having never really played before, I didn’t know what I was doing for the first few months. I kicked the ball with my toes and ran around like a chicken with its head cut off, not sure of where I should be. And doing whatever I’m doing in the above photo. But as I continued to play, and watch my teammates, and listen to Drew’s advice, and watch Premier League matches on TV, I began to understand the game better and my playing improved. I wasn’t great by a long shot, but at least I no longer sucked.
Again, my saving grace was that I had some speed. Though not the fastest on the team, I was fast enough to catch up to most people and defend when needed, and I made enough last-ditch blocks to earn a new nickname: Big D. I only had one full-field sprint in me most of the time, and would have to sub out immediately to catch my breath, but I could be fast when I needed to be. That seemed to make up for my general lack of skill, and I enjoyed sprinting around and frustrating opposing players until I started getting fouled too often and people started taking the games too seriously and all the fun drained out of it.
That brings us to the present, and to running. Though I’d struggled in the past with running anything farther than 200m without being severely winded and having to stop, I think I’ve subconsciously been expecting my speed to reappear and rescue me, to make me better at running distances, just like it made me better at softball and soccer. Clearly that’s not how this works! I need to retrain my brain so it understands that working harder will make me faster, little by little, and once I get that through my skull hopefully I’ll be more motivated to run more often, and farther, and to work at strengthening my core and honing my form and all the other things that will help make me better.
So what lessons have I learned from all this pondering and nostalgia? First, obviously, my speedy-but-short sprinting can’t always save me, as much as I wish it would. More importantly, perhaps: running is going to teach me patience and perseverance, whether I like it or not!