Speed ≠ Everything

“How can you tell if someone has run a marathon? – Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.”

It’s so true, isn’t it? Over the past month or so, whether they wanted to or not, my friends, family, acquaintances, co-workers, the mailman, my dentist, etc. have all been subjected to the details of my marathon escapades in Rome. Their responses predictably fell into one of two categories. The non-runners tried to make polite conversation by asking how long this marathon was, all while backing away slowly, of course. That one just never gets old, does it?

The runners’ response was somewhat more inviting, albeit just as predictable: “Cool. What was your time?” This prompted me to launch into a well-rehearsed monologue of explanations as to why I had decided take it easy in Rome, before – much like a catholic schoolgirl on Sunday mornings – all but confessing my finishing time of 3:48.

I know I can run faster than that. My running buddies, of course, are well aware of this, too. However, the point is that in Rome I made a conscious decision not to run all out, mostly because the race didn’t fit into my training and racing schedule at all. I still loved every second of it, and it actually taught me a lot about finishing a marathon feeling strong. The whole thing has made me think – are we, as runners, too hung up on speed sometimes? What’s that all about?

Friends who take up running often tell me how far they have run and how long it took them. Of course, quantifiable improvements in running performance are very nice, but why don’t they tell me how they felt, how much (or little) fun they had, or where they went or what they saw on the run?

Please don’t get me wrong, I too find it really fun to run really fast sometimes. I like it as much as the next person and like many other runners, I include workouts in my training which are specifically designed to improve my speed. However, this is certainly not my only goal in training, or running in general. It’s not even the most important one, not by a long shot.

Many runs (and sometimes even races) have a very different purpose. A prime example of this is the long run, of course. Not only is speed not important on these runs, it can actually be counter-productive in training. Yet, being hung up about pace on the long run and going too fast has got to be one of the most common rookie running mistakes that I see time and time again.

My easy runs and recovery runs are for the pure joy and relaxation of the sport. I must say that over time, these runs have become more important than ever to me. Some call them “junk miles”, but I couldn’t disagree more. On these runs I just relax and enjoy the scenery and my hard-earned fitness. Having fun on these runs is paramount to everything, and they are so important to keep the passion alive. I never really remember how fast I ran anything, and apart from a few meaningful personal bests, I don’t even recall the finishing times of the races I have done. I do, however, remember the places where I have run, the sights I have seen and the people that I have met.

auchintaple-loch(Auchintaple Loch: a place which I passed – slowly! – on a recent long run.)

As a long-time (and hopefully life-long) runner, I find that this constant focus on speed is just not sustainable. It’s not feasible to constantly hunt those personal bests, for my part, I’m certain that I’d get very, very frustrated before eventually burning out entirely. This is not to say that I don’t have goals in my running or racing, when I’m not focussing on speed and finishing times, I might work on my running form, make a conscious effort to improve my cadence, aim for a clean negative split, try to high-five at least 5 spectators per kilometre, or tweak my nutritional strategy in an effort to avoid those dreaded pit-stops (the seldom talked about arch nemesis of virtually every runner).

Running is so much more to me than simply moving fast. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that I’d almost depreciate what running means to me in my life if I were to quantify it only in numbers. When a fellow runner comes to tell me about a recent run or race, I’m making a point to ask them: “Awesome – how was it?” They might still only tell me about their speed and times, but at least I am keeping the doors wide open.

31 thoughts on “Speed ≠ Everything

  1. Kristin says:

    Great post!! And you’re right, running is more than just speeding through a race/workout, it’s about the journey along the way!! Thanks for the great reminder!! XOXO!!!

  2. Lily says:

    I remember the day it dawned on me that doing my long runs at a comfortable pace where I could hold a conversation was the pace I was supposed to be doing them. It was such a breakthrough! I looked forward to my long runs instead of dreading how hard they might be. I decided to run my last half marathon at that pace, and that’s what made it such an incredibly enjoyable experience! I will also do this at my first full marathon, whenever that may be.

    • That’s awesome, Lily! Like you, I love my long runs. It’s a chance to really enjoy my hobby and something that makes me happy for a few hours at a time! And I love to see how much ground I can cover and what I can see in the process. With that attitude, I’m sure you’ll really enjoy your first marathon!

  3. vttrailgirl says:

    Well said. Being a back-of-the-packer, I like to avoid talking about finishing times. The key was the finishing part…I love your question ‘how was it?’. I’ll be using that when talking about my most favoritest thing ever, running, with asking about other’s adventures!!

    • I had a conversation not long ago with someone who just ran her first 5km race. She was downright apologetic towards me, and putting herself down in comparison for “only” running such a short distance. I immediately told her that she’s as much of a runner as I am, and that distances and paces are absolutely relative – the only thing that matter it what it means to the individual.

  4. jaymeball13 says:

    I love this! I agree. I discovered at my race this weekend that speed isn’t everything. I just cruised and enjoyed my marathon a whole lot. Then again, I’m not really a fast runner anyway. I like being able to breathe. Haha

    • Breathing during races is definitely a bonus, I agree! 😀 But on a more serious note, I have also just “doddled” my way around marathons in the past at times, I have really loved it. It just depends where I’m at and how it fits in with my training. It’s a great way to run them – and shows yet again that speed really isn’t everything. 😀

  5. piratebobcat says:

    Oh yes, I do love to go fast, but I know running is so much more. I learn something about myself each time I lace em up!

    • That’s a great way of putting it! Like you, I enjoy running fast as well at times, and train specifically to improve my speed at times. But more importantly, running is part of my life, something that’s incredibly important to me, no matter how fast or slow!

  6. Great post Julia and a worthwhile point. Sometimes we get too hung up on times/pace and forget to enjoy ourselves. Running is meant to be fun after all!

    • That’s the spirit! I feel strongly that in order to keep the passion alive, it’s important to focus more on the fun and joy of running than the “numbers”. Sure, it can be fun to run fast, but it’s also not always possible and – in my books – a sure-fire way to get burned out before too long.

  7. Trails and Ultras says:

    I massively agree with this post. And I will fight anyone who says otherwise!!

  8. Angie says:

    I agree! I do like to try to go fast at races, but it is all about enjoying the event or the moment.

    • Dito! I do like to run fast as well – sometimes! It’s just that I feel quite strongly that it’s not all there is to running by a long shot. Mostly, I just enjoy it, no matter how long or fast (or slow!). =D

  9. I couldn’t agree more! I like how you articulated this- “junk miles” is a bit of a sad term. I train to get fit enough to enjoy more running! Races are just fun events and goal posts; the point is enjoying the running along the way.

  10. Love your photo. My travels may take me near Lerwick. If you are in this corner of Scotland, let me know.

  11. You’ve been officially Liebstered! (yeah its a real thing) For details of the nomination check out my blog http://theimprobablerunner.wordpress.com/. Nice job!

  12. Could not agree with this more. Running is so much more than a pace it’s a lifestyle, form of therapy, source of fun, etc.

  13. kylabee says:

    Great post Julia. I find after running in 8 races from Jan-April that I need to run for me and not time. I find it hard though to remove the competitiveness in me sometimes.

    The runs that I do on my own or with someone though are runs for me and my health. I am not the best at doing speed work solo so run club is where I get the push for doing that.

    Looks like you found a beautiful spot to stop and take a picture. I need to start running in the day time more and have a smaller phone to take with me on a run.

    • Thank you, Kyla! I’m so lucky to live in such a beautiful place, and it’s nice to be able to share some images. I enjoy my speedwork as well, but only as part of a larger running programme. I also get carried away at races sometimes, especially the shorter ones. Pacing is of course still extremely important, but that doesn’t stop me from taking off like a possessed windhound at the start, only to pay for it approximately 1km into the race… 😀

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