We are runners and we evaluate ourselves numerically. We just do.
If you’re putting one foot in front of the other and training for an event of any kind, whether you consider yourself fast or slow, it’s really hard not to think about the minutes you’re logging, the distance you’re covering, and your pace.
Sarah recently posted an excellent reflection on our collective habit of comparing ourselves with one another. And while she is totally correct that, rationally, this is a waste of brain space, we all know we’re going to keep doing it anyway. And we’re going to talk about our workouts and races.
So let’s talk about how to do it without being a total asshat. Because it’s an easy trap to fall into. Are you one of these people? Do you know one of these people?
A) The perspective-lacking whiner
This person will never admit to running anything but “super slow” or, on a good day, “just okay.” In spite of the fact that they obviously run much faster than the person they are talking to or, more broadly, their audience. They inadvertently make others feel like shit by describing someone else’s dream race pace as a granny crawl.
B) The hopeless optimist
This person is constantly about fifteen steps ahead of their game. But it’s good to have lofty goals, right? There’s just one problem. Everyone is going to have to watch and listen as they fail. Which can be a cringe-worthy process.
C) The mind-numbing detail enthusiast
This person puts others to sleep with detailed descriptions of each and every step. How they felt, how their time compared to the goal and what sort of far-reaching consequences all of this has for next year’s racing schedule and the prospect of world peace. In short, this person cannot see the forest through the trees. And perhaps even obsesses on particular pinecones.
D) The abstainer
This person is just obnoxious. Perhaps there are a handful of people in the world who run seriously and don’t have a care or a clue about their distance or pace. Of course, ditching the Garmin and running by feel is fun sometimes! But most runners need some sort of anchor in the numerical world, and anyone who claims otherwise is rather suspect in my book.
So before you accuse me of being a total bitch, know that I am all four of these people. I am guilty of each and every behavior described above. Which is why I want to talk about this. Because it’s really difficult to have an honest and meaningful discussion about training, or write a race report, without using numbers.
I do know one thing. No matter who you are, there is always going to be someone who is faster than you. And always someone who is slower. Running is one ginormous relative scale. So, should everyone just develop a thick skin? Become impervious to their position on that scale and just deal with it?
I know, that’s easier said than done.
So here are my proposed rules for talking about your pace without being a total asshat:
1. Avoid hyperbole.
So you ran slow. That is fine. You can say just that: “This was not as fast I had hoped it would be.” Or, if it was intentional: “I kept the pace mellow/relaxed/easy.” But there’s no need to skewer your X-minute pace by calling it a crawl and saying that it was soooooo slow, I was practically walking and my pet sloth could have covered the distance faster. In fact, avoid the S-word altogether. Because no matter what that pace is, there are people reading who would throw a party if they could move that quickly.
2. Be realistic.
I will admit that this is a hard one for me. I feel like I’m always failing because I set myself up with stretch goals. And then, when I run that 5K two minutes faster than I did two months ago but WOE IS ME I STILL DIDN’T BREAK XX MINUTES? I end up with a negative and shitty race report when really I should be celebrating. Progress is progress!
Look, I’m not saying that people shouldn’t set stiff goals. I think most of us know ourselves and our fitness levels well enough to pinpoint reasonable marks to shoot for. I’m just saying this: celebrate your PRs, even if they’re small! Be happy about improvements, even if you didn’t hit the high standards you set for yourself! Because it’s a lot easier to relate to and sympathize with someone who distinguishes realistically between the great, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
(And again, guess who’s a number-one offender here? ME! I always set ridiculous goals for myself and then bitch about it when I implode mid-race upon realizing that I’m not going to meet those goals. It doesn’t make for good running OR good writing. It’s something I’m working on.)
3. Remember the big picture.
I’m sure there are varying opinions on this, but personally? I love it when someone posts a great workout write-up that evaluates the session as a whole and how it fits in to their broader training goals. And although I think split-by-split breakdowns are useful, excessive rumination on how you missed your 800 interval goal by one second is overboard. And, more importantly, irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.
4. Don’t take it personally.
Running is a humbling activity. No matter how hard you train, there are still going to be people out there who make your jaw drop with their abilities and performances.
This was a tough pill for me to swallow when I joined CPTC last winter. I went from feeling pretty good about myself for being a front-half-of-the-pack runner to feeling like the slowest person on the planet among my new teammates. (Not that they did this intentionally; they are just a hard-working and talented bunch!)
But: I wouldn’t have lasted a day if I’d hated on everyone who ran faster than me. And believe me – it was a very appealing option, to stomp back on to the subway, feeling slow, angry and dejected, and never again throw myself into that very big, very fast pond. Instead, I chose to celebrate their amazing performances and set my sights on closing the gap as much as I could. (Which I did – a teeny tiny bit. )
So give them a good cheer, and then go run your own workout. Let them do their thing, and you do yours. Because at the end of the day, it’s you versus you, not you versus them. You want to go faster and farther; so does everyone else. Let’s create a community where we can all talk about it without any drama.
I mean…right? Am I totally off base here? What do you think about pace talk?
Winner winner, breakfast dinner!
Recipe: Apple Sausage Quiche (Gluten Free)
Today’s DRINK: This Napa River Chard started off super buttery…
…and I am okay with buttery. (Which I realize makes me not a real wine person, but I am okay with that, too.)
But then it turned sharp. This wine turned on me halfway through the sip! Not okay. Will not buy again.
Today’s RUN: I ran [__] miles in [__] minutes at a pace of [__].
Kidding. I’m following my own rules! I an 4.7 miles in 41 minutes which is an 8:45 pace and it was absolutely lovely.
Today’s QUESTION: How do you handle talking about your distance/pace? And I don’t think this is strictly a question for runners. Numbers permeate so many aspects of our life….whether we’re talking about body weight/composition, jeans size, pounds bench pressed or miles logged. I’d love to have a discussion here on how we can all talk about our own personal numbers in a mature, honest and productive way!