Those are the words I heard last might at dinner after being asked my marathon finish time. It was a work-related dinner and I was sitting next to someone I’ve known for years but don’t see often. She has recently lost about 30lbs and looks fantastic. I’m struggling to lose 10lbs. The conversation turned to diet and fitness and we were comparing stories. She runs recreationally (I think she’s run a few 5k races) and I’m training for my 2nd marathon. I was talking about my training and mentioned that I’m pretty slow. Then I was asked my marathon finish time (which, interestingly enough, is a question I’m seldom asked – apparently most people are properly impressed that I’ve started a marathon much less finished!). I told the truth – just under 6 hours. I was quite surprised by the response, “Wow! That IS slow!”
Let’s put aside for a moment the question of whether or not this is a polite or acceptable response to my marathon finish time. There is no question that the Olympic runners will finish a full marathon in less time than I run a half. And I’m currently in no danger of any age division prizes (unless the give a prize for biggest smile or best attitude!). However, I consider agreeing with someone’s assessment that he or she is a slow runner is somewhat akin to agreeing with someone’s comment that he or she looks fat. Whatever the intent behind the comment (and I’m willing to consider that this was not meant in a mean way at all), it gave me pause.
I’ve definitely talked before about my ambivalence about speed. The part of me that was a competitive gymnast, straight A student aspiring to go to an Ivy League school, and medical student applying for a super competitive residency wants desperately to be fast. Or at least faster. And obviously part of me signing up for ecoaching is wanting to achieve that. But trying to be faster has some serious downsides and I worry that the competitor in me will “ruin” running for me.
What are the positives to trying to run faster?
For me I like to have a goal. I’m not looking at a crazy “go from a 6 hours marathon to qualifying for Boston” goal. But I think having some realistic and achievable goals helps keep things interesting. I’d like to run a 2:30 half marathon. I think I can do it. Obviously not during the Donald but maybe in my October half marathon or next year’s More Magazine Half. I’ve started thinking about a 5:30 full marathon. I don’t know if I’ll have the juice during Goofy weekend but it’s definitely something that I think I could do. On those days when I feel tired or sore, having a definite goal gets me out the door! A new distance (Goofy for me) or new time challenge seem to work.
Running faster would shorten the amount of time it takes to train. My long runs – or maybe I should specify that they are long SLOW runs – take forever. Shaving time off my pace means I’m home sooner. Not a small issue with 3 kids worth of weekend activities!!!
And then there’s the worst reason I have for wanting to run faster – ego. I’m trying to avoid this one. It fits in so nicely with my personality. I competed in gymnastics for 12 or more years. I raced sailboats (most people think of sailing as relaxing with a drink in hand but the small boat racing that I did was all adrenaline rush – until the wind died). I played on varsity teams in high school. And, let’s face it, I’m a surgeon. I don’t think that needs further explaining. I consider running faster for pride to be a foolish path. Because it automatically means that you’re running against others instead of against yourself. And that takes all the fun out.
Why not go faster?
Worrying about time goals changes running from my escape to yet another source of stress. It all matters more, rather than being a fun side activity. Time goals require more time commitment and more risk of injury. Injuries are definitely NOT fun!
So what’s the answer?
For me it’s about balance. I guess I’m a true Libra after all. I’m running for fun and to finish as my primary goals. But I’m also keeping achievable time goals in the back of my mind. Not so I’m at risk for failure but so I can watch myself improve a little at a time,

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