About pace talk

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?

Today’s EAT: Inspiration was this recipe from Kate at Clean Eating Machines.  Execution was based on what I had in my fridge.   Result was a fabulous breakfast-for-dinner quiche.

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!

57 Responses to About pace talk

  1. i love this post. especially your illustrations!!

    • Your illustrations are so funny! I am a new blogger but have been reading yours for awhile, I found this post very interesting! As a new blogger I am unsure what to post about my workouts, I am a trainer so I workout a lot but I also do not want to have a hardcore only running or only healthy living blog because thats not my whole life right now. I think I am going to avoid posting times and insane details about my workouts from the beginning and see if I can still recruit some readers!

  2. Woman, you brought it to 11. Nice.

    I think this is an incredibly hard thing to judge, and it depends entirely on to whom you are speaking. For instance: if I’m talking to a total non-runner, I’m not going to get into any specifics of my workout (should it come up in conversation). A run is a run to him, and although he might picture me jogging on the treadmill instead of what I actually did (thousand-mile tempo, or whatevs), that’s not of terrible importance to me. I think the hardest thing is how much to divulge when you’re talking to someone who DOES know what you’re saying. And while I might be really eager to brag about my 50-second 400 workout, I tend to think that I should keep my mouth shut until I race. You don’t toot your own horn on your practice quizzes, but you might get to pat yourself on the back when you prove it on the final. The same goes for running (unless you are running alongside me, in which case I think it’s appropriate to share your splits).

    Many apologies for the dissertation!

    • I think you make an excellent point about training versus racing. If you can run baller 400s all day long but can’t lay it down on race day, what’s the point? (I wish I was better at this – I’m the queen of having great workouts and then imploding as soon as I pin a bib on my shirt!)

      • I do want to add one thing: equally aggravating as the bragger person is the person who, when you grouse about your disappointing time, replies “I would kill to run that time! You should be happy!” No, no I shouldn’t. I won’t get into that here, but our standards are our own, and respect goes both ways.

      • Oooh, I’m guilty of that. Like, a lot. Reminds me of that guy in the wheelchair from There’s Something About Mary who’s making him carry the armoire up the stairs. “What I wouldn’t give to know what heavy feels like, you insensitive bastard!” Does anyone remember that part but me?

  3. Such good rules. Per your closing, I agree and think your categories relate to the dieter trying to lose pounds (or the perfect woman complaining about her weight) just as muc. As the runner.

    Truth be told, I think I fit all of your types at times. I’m SO guilty of hyperbole, but I’ve kind of quit doing that. Thanks to a comment from a smart gal (named Sweaty Kid :-)) a while back on my blog, I realized there is no need to belittle my own pace. Just because I’m slower than some of my readers, I’m still improving so much.

    Plus – if we’re not elites headed to the Olympics, who are we to judge? Also, it’s way easier to avoid turning into the perspective-lacking whiner and making runners I know who are slower than me feel badly if I just try and avoid sour comments about my running in general.

    I guess my philosophy is to talk about my
    runs ( and pace) and maybe even my height/weight or lifting capabilites if asked, but I
    try to think about others thoughts and feelings about what I say before I say it (or type it). Not to extreme, but just a quick perspective check. I’m not always successful.

    I think I’ve just written a book of a comment (like a mind-numbing detail enthusiast perhaps?) so
    hopefully it sparks the start of some discussion!

    • I think we all fit into those types at times! That’s why it’s a tricky thing to write about. :)

      Good thoughts, and I agree that the “perspective check” is a must!

  4. Good rules. Runners have a lot of time to think and overanalyze things during the solitude of a run. So hard not to spew all that into the blog. Especially the verbose details. A mile by mile recap of a 20 mile training run- no thanks.

    I also get turned off by running blogs that are constantly negative. Everyone has a good day at least now and then. Why else would you keep going? Even if you think there are some fasties out there scoffing at you, it’s okay to claim a personal victory every now and then.

    • I totally agree. As runners, it’s so hard not to constantly second-guess ourselves. Ever after a great performance, we think: maybe I could have run a second or two faster? Did I really give it my all? And I think it’s good and honest to share those emotions, but not to let them overshadow the accomplishment itself! Celebration is good. :)

  5. Well done, lady. Couldn’t have said it better. When I’m banging out a particularly banal blog post, I sometimes have to ask myself, “what is your point and why does it matter?”

    And, sometimes I do feel like people are just fishing for compliments when they say, “oh, I ran so slow and I just feel terrible because of it!” They’re secretly afraid of being judged so they put themselves down before anyone else has a chance to. I could be wrong, and that certainly doesn’t describe MOST people, but…there it is.

    Bottom line is, I think talking pace helps us gauge our own progress, we just have to remember it’s not always charming or even interesting to all people.

  6. Awesome post, funny pictures! My friend and I get especially annoyed at blogs where people are the perspective-lacking whiner. It makes us feel less happy about our own accomplishments and these people don’t seem to get the point of running. All very good examples here!

  7. I love this post. As I was reading, I started thinking, “uh oh…I think I’m all of those people!” Great reflection, and a good shot of perspective.

  8. I don’t like to talk about numbers, mainly b/c the majority of my friends are not runners and they REALLY don’t want to hear about me running 10 miles and burning a ton of calories that I will happily consume in bacon, mushroom and swiss cheese burgers with sweet potato fries dipped in garlic-bacon mayo. But to share: I’m about a 9:30 mile kid and I am THRILLED with that. Yes, I’d love to be faster and I’m working on it but I am happy. I run between 5-7 miles 3 days a week and long run on Saturday(this week is 12m) since I am training for a marathon. I can EAT and I do :) I’m 120, 5’8″ and a size 2…have been for at least 10 years. I don’t feel bad about it and I certainly don’t brag about it, if it weren’t for fluke genetics I’d be about 5’11″ and have DD’s. Yikes.

  9. Thank you! Nothing made my first 10 mile worse than being immediately proud of my 2:18 time but then having my friends who ran the same race complain about being “slow” with their 1:20 times. It made me want to crawl under a rock! I hope eventually all runners can abandon this language.

  10. great breakdown! love it!
    not sure which character i am. i try to stay positive and fun in relation to my running and am hopefully supportive of my peers. i might be a mind-numbing detail guy.

    I just tell people how far i ran. i only give them time and pace stats if they ask.

  11. Getting better on MY terms is what this is about…hearing people bitch about their sub-4 marathons is beyond discouraging. I’ve had to try to learn to tune it out, partly by realizing “hey, I started doing this at 38 and am where all the speedsters were in high school, but without the 15 y.o. body.” But I’ve also been that running bore, talking about my good or bad race to someone who would like to strangle me WITH my Garmin. Usually it’s the person I married, who politely acts like he cares.

  12. Awesome post! I’m definitely guilty of saying I’m “sooooo slow” because of my 10 minute pace. I’m intimidated by others’ faster paces, and really, I just have to brush it off and be happy that I have the ability to run marathons. One person’s slow is my fast, and my slow is someone else’s fast. I like to pretend that I never read anything about others’ pace times; after a run, am I happy with how I did? If yes, then who cares how quickly others can run? :)

  13. 1. Please tell me you were thinking of hipster voice for the last one.
    2. If I didn’t already love you, I’d be totally gay for you after this.
    3. You’re dead on. So. dead. on. I can think of all the shit I’ve been guilty of over the years and its really hard to not fall into these categories at some point. It just comes with the territory. I do my best to try and frame stuff in a *personal* way? But I’m never sure of how well it works.

  14. I’ve only been running for close to a year and the only goal I set for my first half marathon was to finish!! Yes, I would love to finish the next in less time, but finishing alone is an accomplishment I am proud to say I’ve earned!

  15. Great post! I’m guilty of most of these things, especially publicly getting down on myself about runs that I’m disappointed in. I should try to focus on writing posts that don’t have the potential to offend. (Well, at least not about pace anyway.)

  16. This post is made of win. It can be really hard for me to hang out with people who talk about running because most of them are WAY faster than I will probably ever be. But I try to compare with myself and celebrate accordingly. I also know that there are people who probably think that I’m fast compared to where they are. It’s a tricky game to play.

  17. Hahahaha. Where can I check in for the Mind-Numbing Detail Enthusiasts Anonymous meeting?

  18. I struggle with this A LOT. Especially upward comparison. Fact is, compared with most running bloggers, I’m slower. I’m faster than I used to be but still ass slow compared with them. I still am baffled at the idea of an “easy 4 miles.” I love running, but even at my slower-than-others-pace I’m still winded and it does not feel easy. Blogging is a narrow world however, and picking up the phone and calling mom and telling her I just ran 4 miles (or whatever) is always a great way to put things in perspective. I mean this is the woman who marveled when I took my first steps and most days, I run faster than those first steps. My partner also helps with this. She’s a the queen of running to exercise and have fun and if we do that in a race or in practice, then mission accomplished. If we get faster, great, if we go further, great, but we had better be enjoying the hell out of ourselves.

  19. I loooove this post! Did you make those pictures? Adorable! I really get annoyed when people post their amazing paces (which, by the way, I think anything below 10 min/miles is awesome!) x lots of miles, it just makes me feel like crud. I USED to be able to do that, but then I got old. Now I’m LUCKY to pull out some 10 minute miles and it’s probably more like 11 minute miles. But I’m okay with it! I just never talk about pace on my blog. The important thing is that I’m 1) doing it and 2) being sensitive to readers at all endurance levels.

  20. Great post! I can’t decide what I love more – the M.S. paint illustrations or the message.

    Just kidding, the message is the important part. I KNOW I’m guilty of most of the above (see my latest whiney post for evidence), but I think it will be better for me, my running, and my blog readers if I learn to put things in perspective every once in awhile :)

    • You and me both! It’s a fine line to walk and I’m sure I stray to the “shut up and stop being annoying” side of it sometimes.

      Aaaand I didn’t think your post was all that whiny. It sounded like the weather was horrible and whining about the weather is another subject entirely. :)

  21. To be honest, I don’t think any blogs involving running would be half as popular if you were super fast and an aspiring Olympian. I’d much rather read about 8-something minute paced runs and the “miles of trials and trials of miles” (+1 for those who can name that book!) who’s improving and putting in a lot of work with a family/career than 6-something minute paced runs. People like to relate to something and that’s why they read the blogs they do. Or maybe that’s just the competitor in me!

  22. because i’m no longer a legit runner at this point in my life, i’m gonna keep the comment brief. so i’m just wondering if i can put “pace is a construct of society” on a nike tech tee and sell it? i’ll give you… 10% of the profits. okay, maybe 20. whaddya say?

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  24. HA Shelby this was hilarious!!! I love those pictures.

  25. Guilty of being A and C (cant say I’m B since i’ve been told I underestimate my goals, if anything, and I am anti-Vibram so no D. Luv that drawing though!), moreso A. That said, part of it is because…well how could you not feel slow when you’re dropped by a group when you’re running 9-9:30 pace?

  26. OMG those cartoons were hilarious and so true. I try to not sound whiney, condescending, or braggy cause I know how annoying it is to be on the other end! Sometimes on the blogs though it’s easy to be mis-interpreted, unfortunately.

  27. This is really great and quite funny. I have to admit that I used to run in my 20′s and then I took a major hiatus because of knee issues. Now, I’m running again, and I can read running blogs without feeling like a poser. However, I’m a long way from calling myself a “runner” because I’m paranoid that I’ll jinx myself. How is that for craziness?

  28. Whoa whoa whoa… HOW did I miss this post?! I’m so happy Runshorts linked to you. What a fantastic and enjoyable bit of writing and illustrating. I am wickedly guilty of both A and B. D too, in a way. I think C might be the only one for which I’m not too huge a huge pain in the ass…

    And A+ for all the finely-captured hairstyle diversity. For some reason this made me giggle. Even the lankness of the hippie’s hair manages to shine through MSpaint! You should totally create cartoon MSpaint versions of actual run-bloggers, I bet they’d be lots of fun. Maybe for your next rotating blogroll…

  29. Pingback: A little neuroses never hurt anyone « Washington Ran Here

  30. I. Love. This.

    It took me the better part of two running seasons to stop beating myself up with each of my own self-imposed comparisons. I could lie and say “…to stop comparing myself to…” but come on. You’d know I was just full of crap. LOL. There will always be someone faster. There will always be someone slower. I think I’ve finally learned to embrace the fact that I’m OK with both of those statements.

  31. I’m The Abstainer (and I wear Vibrams, so I laughed at Illustration D). And… I’m not sure why you would find it obnoxious. I’ve tried and failed to get into running several times in the past, and this time it has actually stuck, because FiveFingers makes running comfortable, and refusing to think about it as “training” makes running fun. Focusing on numbers may be something that a lot of people lean toward, and it’s probably necessary for optimum training. But I think it’s at least worth observing that this culture is also really good at discouraging some people from running at all.

  32. I am definitely all of those people, too! Its really funny, looking back at my blog I have concrete examples of all of it. Your rules are good, though, and definitely put everything in perspective!

  33. I love this post! A running friend sent it to me this morning after I commented that my first track workout back was slow, even though I exceeded the goals I had set for myself. It’s been on my mind a lot lately, and reading this inspired a blog post of my own about it! http://welcome-boston.blogspot.com/2011/01/its-all-relative.html

  34. Great post! As I runner for too many years to count, I’ve been guilty of all these behaviors and heard all these behaviors. Thank you for sharing some good runners’ etiquette in a funny and helpful way!
    Robin

  35. I love this post and I love the cartoons! I definitely could identify with all of them to a certain extent. Oops…

    Great suggestions though!

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  37. Your illustrations are my favorite. I talk about my pace, but I don’t think my readers really care. It’s really just there for me. If I run faster than a 9 min mile, I want a record of it!

  38. LOVE this post. Found it through a link in the comments section on meganerds blog.

  39. I just started a running program for beginners. I am 23 years old and weigh 250 pounds. Right now I can barely run 1 minute at a time at a slow pace, but I plan on changing that. The goal of the program is to be able to run 2 miles at a slow comfortable pace. I’m working on the length of time I’m able to run. Once I do that, I’ll work on my speed. I’m jog at the local church’s parking lot because it’s very close to my house and gas prices are high. This morning while I was jogging there, a lady told me that she admires my persistence with my running program and that she feels like a convict because I remind her that she needs to exercise more too. The day before while I was on my way to the church parking lot I passed a guy in my neighborhood who was taking the trash out. I said hi and that I was going jogging, and he said that at least one of us exercises. Thought I’d share my jogging experiences. As for the fact that there’re always runners who are going to be faster, I think of them as goals to reach for. Here’s a good quote by Helen Keller that can be applied to running: ” One cannot consent to crawl when one feels an impulse to soar.”

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  41. I think I’m way at the other end of the spectrum when talking about this kind of stuff. I’m not very good at socialising with runners and I think that’s largely because I look up to so many of them as athletes. I’m just a jogger, you see…

    Even where there’s no direct social pressure (my blog, FB, twitter) I still tend to be focused on how I felt about the performance rather than the numbers. A lot of this is because I’m a beginner. And I’m not ashamed to come flat last at events (someone has to, right?) because I’m simply delighted to be a finisher.

    So actually, according to your post, I’m a model citizen because I lack confidence. Interesting. Well, at least I’m good at something. :)

  42. I never thought about buying that watch to keep track of my progress, but since I’m just back at running and I intend to improve, I’m gonna search for one tomorrow. Nice post, btw! Kind of fun!

  43. Jack Andrews

    Guess I’m suspect. I run and don’t record distance or time. I don’t follow a route. I also don’t run races even though I’m told I’d do well. Running isn’t a social activity for me, I don’t even like running with one person (but don’t say ‘no’ when a friend wants to join me). I run simply to get into that zen-like space where it feels I could run forever. And I don’t tell other runners I run because they are a bit obsessed about times and distance,and it feels like I have nothing in common with them.

  44. This is a great post. I am definitely guilty of the actions highlighted in the first cartoon. I would say however that it is healthy for a runner (regardless of experience/speed and overall ability) to have some understanding of where they fall in the broader community.

    I run a 19:35 5K. It doesn’t bother we when I slap the 5K race winner on the back (15:42 time) and listen to him speak about how he is nothing compared to a friend of his who runs a minute faster. We are all rooting for the elite runners, they are our heros and I don’t think they should change their humble (though it may be falsely humble) outlook on themselves just because we feel insecure about our ability (that’s me being a jerk again, lol. I have no reason feeling insecure about my ability running a 19:35 5K compared to 75% of other runners ability). If anything, this should inspire one to train harder, get stronger and run faster.