Yes, you read the headline right. While everyone else is out here trying to pick up the pace and set personal-bests, my ultimate goal is to run slower.
Let me explain.
I was introduced to running in a competitive setting. I didn’t go to cross country practice and run laps until I keeled over in protest every day just for my health. And if you’re already annoyed at me for writing what seems like a humble brag in the fifth sentence of my article, I assure you I was a very average runner — no gold medals here.
I showed up to practice every day because I’d gamified running.
I ran because I wanted to run faster. I wanted to run faster because that meant I was doing better. I wanted to do better because I wanted the dopamine hit that came with it.
In those moments when I was doubled over in practice, my hands on my knees, I daydreamed about beating my PR in my next race, passing the kid that had beaten me to the finish line last time, or even just getting a shoutout from the coach on the bus home.
Running was a game, and I was just happy to be playing it.
But that was high school; that was when I competed on the track and ran around in the woods with a singlet on.
I’m not that high schooler anymore. I’ve left the track behind me and I’m pretty sure we had to hand those singlets back to the school when we were done with them.
I’m not running to race anymore. Right now, I’m really just running to run, period. I’m trying to slow it down.
The problem is, it’s a lot harder to slow it down than I thought.
I’m surprised I didn’t see this issue coming. For someone who grew up on running as a competitive sport, it was never a recreational activity. Running was about racing, and when it wasn’t about racing, it was about enduring.
How could I expect myself to just throw out every competitive instinct I’d picked up over the years and go for a slow and tranquil jog in the park?
Let me give you an idea of how that “slow and tranquil jog” usually plays out these days:
- I get to the end of my workday and I’m ready to run off some steam.
- As I lace up my running shoes, I tell myself, ‘Ok, you’re going to take it slow this time. A good five-mile run in Central Park — and you shouldn’t be breathing so heavy at the end like last time …’
- The run starts ok, but I can feel myself gaining some speed. I take a breath and remind myself to slow it down.
- The runner behind me starts to overtake me. I imagine a grin on their face as they think, ‘He’s slow, isn’t he?’
- I tap my foot on the stoop in front of my apartment — the finish line. My hands are on my hips and my back is arched over, just like in track practice. Oh, and I’m also breathing heavy … I had one job.
Everyone always wants to talk about what it takes to run faster, but have you ever asked yourself what you want from running?
What I want from running is cathartic exercise, a release from stress, and a moment in my day where I can just let my mind go blank and leave my body to do the work.
I don’t want to run faster. Running faster, as addictive as the pursuit is, isn’t going to get me where I want to go right now.
I want to learn to run slow. I want that runner biting at my heels to pass me by, and for me to show enough self-control to keep my pace steady, my eyes level, and my mind at ease.
In fact, I want to give them a friendly smile as they leave me in their dust — because this isn’t a race, and I’m not running to win anything.