What is the hell is a slow runner?

The question I’ve been asked many times since publishing ‘Slow runners deserve some damn respect‘ is;

“What is a slow runner?’

‘How do you define a slow runner?’

“Who are you calling a slow runner?”

Which I suppose is a valid question to ask given I was asking for respect for myself and others who identify as slow runners. 

If speed is all relative then is anyone truly a slow runner?

I mean, if speed is all relative then is anyone truly a slow runner? If you’re not the world record holder then are you a slow runner? If you’re not 1st, 2nd or 3rd, are you a slow runner? Is double digit minute miles the indicator of a slow runner? Is it average race completion times that make someone a slow runner?

Personally, I’ve always identified myself as a slow runner and I don’t see it as a bad thing. I’ve had many people show pity and offer support, to not worry about it and to just keep running. And I’ve said, I don’t worry about it. And I don’t care.

I self identify as a slow runner. It’s not a title I’ve adopted as I feel bad for myself. It’s a title I’ve adopted because I feel like I’m part of a perhaps unseen, unheard and unknown of community. Unless you too identify as a slow runner. So for me, a slow runner isn’t defined by paces and times, it’s a feeling.

A feeling of turning up to Parkrun and seeing everyone sprint off at the start line knowing I won’t see 75% of them until they lap me.

A feeling of not worrying about not seeing them again and sharing a knowing smile with the other slow runners beside me.

A feeling of entering races and instinctively scrolling to the bottom of the ‘estimated finish time’ box, which usually is in a ‘time+’ format, as if any time after that doesn’t really matter.

A feeling of researching every race to see how big the field is, as if it’s too small I won’t enter out of fear of being dead last.

A feeling of knowing that someone has to come last but I still don’t want it to be me.

A feeling or not being able to enter some races because I know I’d come in after the cut off time.

A feeling of having to justify my 5K/10k/half marathon/marathon times to people who have laughed in my face and said “must of been a bad day” when in fact I’d run my heart out.

A feeling of being judged because of your body. Of people looking you up and down and saying “I don’t think you’ll make it” when you explain you’re training for a marathon.

A feeling of being in the amazing back-of-the-pack group at races. Seeing some familiar faces from other race and knowing you’re all working hard to finish at the best time we’re capable of.

A feeling of learning your fellow slow runner life stories during races. Sharing your tales and secrets with runners to keep your mind off the pace/heat/pain or next hill.

A feeling of constantly alternating between pride and embarrassment of your running pace and race times.

A feeling of questioning yourself on the bad days, the days when it hurts and your legs won’t move and your heart isn’t in it, ‘Am I really a runner?’

A feeling of waking up the next morning and putting on your trainers and putting in the miles despite the self doubt as you are a runner and you will prove that to yourself and no one else.

A feeling of celebrating every PB you achieve like you’ve won the gold medal in the Olympics. That 12 minute mile was your Everest and you did it through sheer grit and determination.

A feeling of spotting someone on TwitterInstagram/ Strava who runs at a similar pace and having to follow them as you identify with them immediately.

A feeling of rolling your eyes when someone questions your self-bestowed title of slow runner when they run at a pace that you can’t even believe.

A feeling of finishing races not to an amass of hundreds of people cheering but to just your friends and family and a handful of others as everyone else finished hours ago and has gone home.

A feeling of getting to aid stations on races to find no water left. Learning from this and always taking water with you for future races.

A feeling of not always believing in yourself and feeling inferior to other runners.

A feeling of crying at most (every) finish lines because you did it. You weren’t the winner, you weren’t middle ground, in fact you spent a lot of the race alone but you stuck it out and finished.

I’m part of an unknown club, unless you’re in it. And it’s probably the most welcoming and supportive club you’d ever be privileged to experience.

So for all the feelings above; some my own, some which have been shared with me by other slow runners, is why I identify as a slow runner. It’s a title I’m proud of for all the reasons in this blog post. I’m not putting myself down by calling myself a slow runner. I don’t see it as a negative. It’s a reality and it’s my reality. It’s the reality I experience with many others. I’m part of an unknown club, unless you’re in it. And it’s probably the most welcoming and supportive club you’d ever be privileged to experience.

So let me know – Do you identify as a slow runner? Have you experienced any of the above? Do you have any other feelings to add to the list?

13 Comments

  1. Richard Sexton

    Yet another blog with which I mostly agree, Cat! I’d add another feeling / expectation which happens in longer races (ie. not Parkrun) is when folks peel off into the distance, some are quick and look good doing it. Some start quickly and it’s amazing how many I see again when they are leaning against a fence or sitting by the roadside, utterly spent. So, yes: some come past as they lap me, but others just expire not having the stamina which you acquire by running 12-minute or more miles.

    I’d also suggest that your comparators for ‘fast’ or ‘slow’ should be your own performance, not that of others. Sometimes you feel great or you want especially to tear off down the road. But then, you are running fast by your own standards. On other occasions you aim to run further or there are more hills or, for whatever reason, you just aren’t ‘feeling it’ today. So you ease off the gas and just trot along gently.

    What do you think?

    Like

  2. Donald Box

    I fully agree with almost everything above, only I would like to add, that on a park run what a fabulous job is done by the tail walker, as he keeps me company, helps me to keep going, prevents me from just dropping out and makes me feel as if I am in the same event as everyone else.

    Like

  3. Angela Stickels

    I’ve come in one race with all the volunteers standing around and laughing, not noticing I’ve finished, with no water or t-shirts noticeable. They only looked around when some of the Moms with strollers were walking up and cheering, and by then, I was already walking to my car. One of the vols who knew me from work ran after me to give me a t-shirt. Another race I was struggling to finish and heard cheering; but it was for the elderly speed walker who was catching up to pass me. It’s rough to do any races when you have no family and no friends who come out.

    Like

  4. Helen

    Love this, I confirm I am a slow runner. I am nearly always back of the group, bringing up the rear as I like to say. I’ve learnt not to be bothered, I’m out there doing it, slow or not. It takes guts and determination to be that ‘slow’ runner, you are still doing the same milage! In fact it takes more, to keep going when you feel like you are last. We are stronger more determined runners that those at the front.

    Like

  5. Alice Owens

    I had tears reading this! I have felt almost every single thing feeling you listed. I actually don’t know anyone who runs as slow as I do. I am working on getting faster (losing weight is helping) but my shot knees from years of softball at catcher will never allow me to be really fast for long! Still…it is a feeling that is like none other and only other slow runners will know. One thing that always bothers me, and not sure it is a feeling but because I am slow and because I am near the back, I always get the race volunteers telling me “you’re almost done” and “you can do it, just a little more” when I know I still have 2 miles to go or its almost condescending like I have never ran before…happens more on 5Ks and 10Ks than on my halfs and 10 milers. Thank you for this.

    Like

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