The Slow Lane

The advantages of being a slow runner

A turtle in grass
Photo by Nathália Arantes on Unsplash

Unless I’m driving, I am not a quick person. No matter what I do or what I’ve tried, I’m just not a speed demon. But I’m a runner… just a slow one.

I have read dozens of books on running and subscribe to multiple magazines as well. I’ve read more blog posts, newsletters, and posts about running than I can count. Articles on getting faster, setting personal records, and how to find your anaerobic threshold (by going faster). Faster times, quicker foot turnover, speedier gaits, longer strides. Lighter shoes, frictionless clothing, pumpin’ music. Watches that measure speed, distance, and heart rate all while beeping, vibrating, and dare I say…judging?

Everything is about speed. Everything seems designed for getting faster and faster. But…what about those who don’t want to go faster? Or those who can’t go faster? I want to read an article entitled ‘Ten Tips and Tricks to Run Your Slowest Race!’ or ‘How to Add 4 Minutes to Your Next 5K.’ That is a running attitude that I can get behind. Enough with the idea everyone should go faster! Enough with the assumption that if you’re not fast, you need to get fast. And if you are fast, you need to get faster.

I think there may be more slow runners out there than the running industry realizes.

Slow Acceptance

I didn’t start running until I was in my thirties and had 3 kids. Definitely a late starter, but I’m glad it happened that way. If I had started running earlier, I’m sure I would have succumbed to the pressure to start fast, go faster, and finish fastest. Or at least I would have tried.

Even if I was able to figure out a way to be fast, I was running with 3 kids on their bikes. Which meant multiple stops to go potty, tie shoes, get a drink, and tighten helmet straps.

There is no ‘fast’ with kids.

My yardstick for progress couldn’t be speed under these circumstances. Instead, I had to measure progress by how far we got between stops. And I measured success by whether we went for the run at all; loading three bikes and three kids into the car was no small feat. Not to mention remembering helmets, snacks, and water bottles.

We did it though, and for years I ran mile after mile, slowly, with my kids.

A little girl on a bike.
Photo by Dave Kim on Unsplash

Start Slow

It’s better for new runners to start slow. Every time someone tells me they hate running I am sure it’s because they started out too fast. Running is a different kind of cardio; you need to ease into it by running slow, short distances at first. This is how we learn most things; imagine if we tried to teach kids to drive by starting them on the highway!

If you strap on running shoes for the first time and run a mile balls- to- the -wall of course you’re going to hate it. What’s to like about your heart beating out of your chest and not being able to catch your breath? What’s so great about getting a stitch in your side and pounding your feet and knees until they feel beaten up?

My kids, and some of their friends, ran with me for years. Invariably, the newbie would want to hit the ground at race-pace right away. I would try to run with any new person in the group to slow them down. I’d run with them and purposely go even slower than my normal slow pace. If they couldn’t hold a conversation with me, it was too fast. We’d run like that for weeks until they had a base built up and then we’d speed up to my regular slow pace.

Building a slow, careful foundation of running helped them stick with it. They were encouraged when they discovered they could run farther than they thought. Starting slow allowed them to build a sense of accomplishment and gave them a solid running base if they decided to go faster. Some got faster and some didn’t. But starting slow gave them all a chance to find out what they were capable of and what was possible.

We aren’t all built for speed.

A road with the word SLOW painted on it.
Photo by Morgane Le Breton on Unsplash

Slow Safety

I have to admit there were times I tried to be faster. I’d read about a sure-fire way to increase speed and set a PR (personal record). I’d get all motivated to be a speed queen…and get hurt. The only two running injuries I’ve suffered (not including my dog tripping me) were a hamstring injury and an achilles tendon injury. Both of which are common injuries in sprinters. Both happened because I trained with the idea of getting faster and then ran the 5Ks fast (for me). The speed didn’t agree with me despite proper training, and my body let me know.

All the running magazines and sports health websites emphasize the importance of starting slow to prevent muscle and tendon injuries. But none of them are content to let you stay slow. The idea sold to us is once you have a base, then you have to progress to faster and faster speeds from there. No one disputes slow is the safest way to start running. I’m just arguing that those of us who are naturally slow should be allowed to stay slow.

Slow needs to be as much of an acceptable way to run as fast is.

An added bonus: going slow means you’re much less likely to trip over rocks or roots when running trails. And if you do, the wipeout isn’t nearly as dramatic.

Slow and Steady

I am not fast, but I can run forever. I have even out-distanced my 80-pound lab/retriever. He’s faster than me, of course, but I have taken him on long enough runs where he quits, and we have to walk back to the car.

A benefit of running slowly is I don’t burn out. Slow means we can tap into the slow-twitch muscle fibers, the ones that make a lot of energy…but over time. I can run a 25K race and feel fine, not even sore the next day. Plus, it feels so bad ass to run that far at age 50!

The Social Slow

The slow runners at the back-of-the-pack are like the kids on the back of the bus. Nicer, more relaxed, a little rowdier, and definitely more fun. There isn’t the intensity of the racers up front. The back-of-the-packers are more talkative. Sometimes we run into each other at multiple different races and get to know each other. I’ve run races with strangers who, by the time we finished, feel like we were always friends.

Even if we don’t know each other, we cheer each other on, encourage each other. It’s normal for strangers, running together in the back, to call out “don’t quit, keep going,” “you got this!” or “hallelujah! Look at that beautiful mile 10 marker!” During trail runs, people in the back have even been known to stop running for a minute and take a few photos of their experiences and the beautiful scenery. There is camaraderie in the back instead of competition.

Group of runners in a road race.
Photo by Miguel A. Amutio on Unsplash

Slow Schooling

Another benefit to my slow running is the example I’ve set for my kids. I’ve shown them you don’t have to be the best at something to love it. You don’t even have to be particularly good. You just need to find beauty and enjoyment in it.

I love running. I love the rhythm of my breathing and footsteps. I love the trails I run and the beauty I get to see every time I’m in nature. I love how powerful I feel after scrambling to the top of a steep bluff. I love the feeling of accomplishment after sweating through mile after mile. I love it even though I’m not trying to get faster. I love it even though the conventional take on it tells me being slow means I suck at running.

There are a lot of us out there. Slow runners who are just doin’ our thing. And loving it.

I think slow should be the new fast.

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Amy Torbenson

Amy Torbenson

Mom of two amazing sons and one amazing daughter, lifelong reader of anything and everything, (really) slow runner, and a terrible cook.