Found on RunnersWorld.com and written by Jennifer Stahl
She’s coming to grips with her place in the not-so-fast lane.
I was running one of my favorite routes along the Hudson River recently, going faster than usual, and feeling great. Then a runner passed me. And then another. By the fifth one that flew by, I felt so defeated I almost gave up and started walking.
I’d thought I was having a good run. Yet it turned into one of those that make me wonder why I dedicate so many nights a week to running, spend hundreds of dollars in race fees, and put so much effort into something I have no talent for. Am I just wasting my time?
If I were to meet a stranger who was as big of a running nerd as I am, I’d assume they were at least somewhat fast. But I’m slower than almost every runner I know. My boyfriend who barely trains finishes marathons a full hour before me. I have to use my local running group’s “Monday Night Easy Run” as my weekly tempo workout, heaving at the back of the pack to keep up with their eight- to nine-minute miles.
When I first started running, I didn’t think about speed. I just wanted to run. I signed up for a marathon at my boyfriend’s suggestion because I loved heading outside for a casual five, or 12, or 16 miles. Trying to tackle the distance of a marathon made me feel like Superwoman. Then, while buying shoes, the clerk asked me about my goal for the race. When I told him it was just to finish, he replied, “So, you’re aiming for about four hours then?”
His utter incomprehension of my answer made me start to realize that most people don’t just run marathons, they race them. Even worse, his assumption that I could do it in four hours clarified just how far below average my pace was.
A couple months later I did finish, proudly. But my mindset had changed: I was disappointed that it took five hours and 17 minutes. Determined to at least beat five hours, I signed up for more races and trained harder. I took weekly classes, sought out local workshops, and joined group runs to push myself. I added speedwork, strength work, hill work, form work and plain old work until tendinitis in my left ankle, then my left hip, then my right hip forced me to back off. My knees gained a Jackson Pollack of scars from falling down because my feet would shuffle in exhaustion after more miles than they could handle.
Yet marathon after marathon, I couldn’t break that five-hour mark.
I’m not used to being so passionate about something I’m not good at. Usually, my pride would convince me to move on to another activity by this point. I’ll admit I get embarrassed when people I consider “real runners” find out my race results; I question if, in all my enthusiasm for the sport, I’m just foolishly pretending to be one of them. Nevertheless, I keep on running.
Finally, last month, I did it: I crossed the finish line of the Istanbul marathon in 4:54. My eyes started watering when, with five kilometers to go, I realized that unless anything went wrong, I would beat my goal.
The funny thing is though, when I think back on that race now, my 18-minute PR is one of the last things I remember. What stands out to me far more is the group of women in burqas I saw standing near kilometer 20 yelling “Bravo!” whenever a female runner passed by. I think about the stray dogs that excitedly darted along the course with us, the historic Byzantine-era city walls we passed and the children who gave me high fives while speaking a language I didn’t understand.
I’ll always work to get faster. But getting faster is not why I run. For me, it’s about those incomparable moments I experienced in Istanbul. It’s about the rush of splicing through air and speeding through neighborhoods, the feeling I get when my legs carry me so smoothly I can almost pretend I’m flying. I’ve come to realize that most of my favorite runs are the slowest ones. Sure, they may challenge my ego just as much as my legs and lungs. But as jealous as I may be of faster friends, I don’t enjoy running less than they do just because I take longer to reach the finish line.