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Speed.

5 August 2015

I have a complicated relationship with speed. I don’t really do speed work in my running. Sometimes I do tempo runs, where I just push a little harder and see how fast I can run between 3 and 7 miles. My personal record at the 10K distance (6.21 miles) is about 53 minutes, according to my GPS. But it reads a few percent long, so it’s probably really about 54. I’ve never run a 10K race, though that changes in three and a half weeks. I don’t know how fast I’ll go, but BB and I have planned to try to push for an up-tempo pace. Late August? Who knows what that will mean.

Last fall, when I was thinking about running a marathon, BB wasn’t convinced. She’s run a marathon before, and took about five and a half hours, and it was apparently a fairly miserable experience. She didn’t want to do that again. And after our 2:38 time at the Pittsburgh half, there was no way we could finish a full marathon in under five hours. She wanted to work on speed, at the half-marathon distance.

For that, I wasn’t convinced. First, I didn’t think I could. I’m 41. I’ve never been athletic. I’ve never been fast on my feet. I am overweight and a former smoker, and a former drunk. My body, even after running my first half-marathon, was like a balloon half-filled with Crisco. I wanted to keep up my slow, steady pace and go further and further, because I didn’t think I had the physical ability to go faster, but I felt confident I had the mental ability to go further. But I committed to BB’s course. She wanted to go faster and I love running with her. And we agreed that if our desired diverged, we’d find a way to make it work.

I discovered, as usual, that when I listened to BB it worked out. She’s remarkably thoughtful about fitness, and communicates in a gentle way when I’m being absurd. The first thing she did was get me into the gym. But fumbling through a few workouts a week, and then preparing more thoroughly, we took 21 minutes off our half marathon time without doing any speed work. Two months later, another half marathon, another 3 minutes off. The next one, in March, we took 8 more minutes off.

Now we sit with a personal record of 2:05:25. We did that at Virginia Beach, and we didn’t have a great first four miles because of a deplorable coffee situation. I don’t think we’d have gotten under two hours. But we might’ve shaved another minute or two off. But that gets me to the other thing about speed.

I don’t care.

I’m happy when I run faster. I run faster now that I ever imagined possible. When the weather is good (read: cold and dry) I can run for miles and miles at a sub-9 minute per mile pace. It’s exciting and outside the realm of what I thought was possible for me. But I don’t really care. I don’t run to run fast. I run to finish.

So many people I see obsess over reaching milestones for speed. They want to break 8 minutes per mile, or two hours in a half marathon. About two years ago I worked hard to try to run 10K in under an hour and I was really happy when I got there. But my heart was never really in the quest for a time goal. I do get a lot of satisfaction about distance goals though. And the reason I don’t care so much about time goals? I want to enjoy my runs.

I had a real epiphany after the Virginia Beach race, when someone I follow on twitter, who ran it much faster than I did, went on a long rant about how terrible a race it was because he’d missed his time goal and felt like crap. I couldn’t relate to that. More importantly, I don’t want to relate to that.

Coming from where I’m coming from, a suicide drunk and pack-a-day smoker, 65 pounds overweight, I find it thrilling and amazing to be where I am now: Seven and a half years sober, Almost six years without a cigarette, and now only about 10 pounds overweight. I’ve been on a three-quarter decade-long health drive that has had innumerable benefits and changed my life in huge and exciting ways. But one thing it hasn’t been is fast.

There’s an old saying in AA: “You want to know how to get 30 years sober? Don’t drink, every day, for 30 years.” There’s no shortcut. There are no shortcuts. Some of us are so driven to find an easier, softer way. There is no easier, softer way. Not for me. I work on my sobriety daily. I work on my fitness daily. Luckily, smoking has become something I rarely think about, and don’t need to put much effort into. But I think that that’s partly true because of the work I do on other things.

I am not interested in racing through life. I don’t have the energy. I don’t have the motivation. I’m not in a rush. I’m glad that my times have dropped, because it represents the work I’ve put in. But I’m not willing to sacrifice my joy and sense of accomplishment for an endless drive to be faster. I don’t want to define my accomplishments by what I’ve failed to do. I don’t want to make my successes rare and my failures frequent. Every time I go out to run, I ran. Every mile I put on my feet is another mile. It’s all success. It’s all progress. There is no perfection for me.

This week I’m running about 31 miles. None of them will be fast. It’s hot, and I’m stretching out my distance. So I’m going slower on purpose to extend my range. Maybe I’ll be faster again in the fall when it cools off. Maybe not. But whatever the case may be, I’ll be running. Because I’m running for my life.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. anon permalink
    6 August 2015 13:36

    Thanks for this, I just started out running and it can be frustrating to think about times and how other people are faster. You’ve reminded me to slow down and enjoy it 🙂

  2. Syd permalink
    13 August 2015 09:28

    I am slower than a snail with my jogs, but I am doing them in 90+ F heat. And I am enjoying the heck out of it again. Between jogging, riding, doing Cross Fit, and sailing, I stay very active. And none of it is about speed or beating someone–it is just about me on my journey.

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