Slow and Steady: What It’s Like To Be A Slow Runner in a Fast Runner’s World

slow running

The world of running is one synonymous with speed. To be a runner, even a recreational or amateur one, is to be associated with being fast. Names like Eliud Kipchoge, who ran the fastest marathon in just over 2 hours (2:01:39), or terms like “fastest mile” are often searched. (For the record it was Hicham El Guerrouj in 1999 who ran a mile in 3 minutes, 43.13 seconds (3:43.13)). 

But what if you are a slow runner in a fast runner’s world? 

A recent Runner’s World article reported that based on data from Strava in 2018, the average running pace across the world is 9 minutes and 48 seconds (9:48) per mile.  

While this may seem like a slow pace to many, there is a cohort that falls below this average. 

Including me. I am a slow runner. 

When I first started running, I was often embarrassed by my pace. I never felt comfortable running in big gyms or outside; instead, I ran indoors when I knew no one else would be around. I’d issue warnings to anyone who wanted to run with me about how slow I ran and usually used the term “light jogger” instead of runner to describe myself. I felt a sense of panic as other runners passed me, feeling this invisible pressure to pick up my pace or cut my walk break short. I was so concerned about my pace and what others thought that sometimes, the run became extra hard because of the lack of focus. Sometimes, I wouldn’t even get out if I felt like I was going to be judged (which more often than not turned out to be me judging myself). 

The truth is, most people don’t judge your pace. Most people just want to cheer you on and are more focused on their own performance. 

I’ve embraced being a slow runner.  It’s taken years to stop apologizing for being “slow” and to embrace the adage, if you run, you’re a runner. 

These days, I focus more on the feel of the run. I’ve found the slower corrals of races to be particularly enjoyable too. While it is breathtaking to watch elite runners cross the finish line, the back has just as much inspiration. The slower corrals are where you see parents running with their child for the first time and the joy on their faces in creating run memories together, the individual who has just beat cancer and is now conquering their first 10K, or the person who never saw themselves as an athlete but achieved a feat they thought impossible.

Despite the large number of individuals who run a mile in 9:48 or longer, slower runners are not often seen or showcased in the running community. For many who stick with running, their pace eventually increases. For others, pace is not important; they enjoy the scenery, the company, the reflection and peace that accompanies running. Still for others, there is a sentiment of embarrassment around pace and a level of attrition that occurs leaving mainly those who are faster to pursue the sport. 

For those who might be in the last category, here are some words of encouragement:
Embrace the Slow

The running community needs “slow” runners. The narratives, motives and stories of those who are at the back of the pack need to be heard and valued as much as those with faster times. Running should be a diverse and inclusive community and whatever your pace or motivations, you will find somewhere you will shine. Know that you are important and inspiring others even when you feel like you are not. 

Find Inspiration

Whether it is a non-judgemental running partner, inspirational quotes on social media, or daily affirmations in front of the mirror, find what moves you. Harness that energy and enjoy the run for exactly what it is. For more inspiration, check out these run routes

Find Confidence

Remember, your pace and skill is welcomed wherever you decide to run. Also, the definition of slow and fast is relative. If the focus is on pace relative to others, it will forever be a losing battle. Own your running identity.  It’s OK to start somewhere comfortable like a safe place and time-of-day to start running and gain confidence. That non-judgemental running partner might be that extra boost in your confidence too. 

Focus on You

Remind yourself of your why. Perhaps you decided to pick up running as a method of stress-relief or to accomplish a personal goal like running a half marathon. Maybe your why is feeling strong enough to run outside in subzero weather or in a crowded area with your head held high. Whatever your why, remember it when it gets tough. 

Enjoy the Run

There are so many other joys that running can bring without focusing on speed. Better sleep. Lower stress. Happier mood. Meeting new people.  Take in your surroundings and enjoy being in the moment!

If you’re still focused on your pace and getting faster is your goal, turn the lens on yourself, and create mini internal goals. You will get to where you want to be with some time and patience.

Running is for everyone, whatever your pace may be. This spring, enjoy your run. Whether it is a slow run, a fast run, or an average paced run, it is YOUR run.