What’s Harder Than Going Faster? Answer: Slowing Down

This, my friends, is a story about running but it’s so much more. It’s an allegory for the ages.  Book mark this for your young children.

Running too fast

Running too fast

I’ve been running since December 1994 and through the years I’ve maintained a respectable, if not blazing, 10-minute per mile pace.  Not bad for a somewhat top heavy, non-natural athlete with a super long second toe and miniscule threshold for physical pain.

This past summer, for the first time ever, all of my runs felt awful.  I slogged 4.5 miles a few times a week, each time convinced that there had to be a good reason– El Nino, reality TV, lack of women in CEO positions– why it was so NOT FUN.  I upgraded my music and that helped a little bit.  By August, I still hated almost every step, but kept with it because running is a cheaper stress reliever than felony murder and also, I like ice cream.

In September, I started running on the lake front path where there are mile markers.  Fiddling with my stop watch and timing my laps seemed like a good distraction from the agonizing feeling in my body while I was running.  The first run I timed showed me running an 8-minute mile.  I assumed that I didn’t know how to work my stop watch.  The next time: same thing.  I passed each half mile marker at four minutes.  This time, I figured that the mile markers were spaced incorrectly.

I embarked on a research project to determine whether the official half-mile markers on the Chicago lakefront are accurate.  Turns out, they are, and just like that I am now an 8-minute miler, which is all good and badass, except, the runs were still sucking.  Hard.  And it wasn’t because of the dearth of women in positions of power in corporate American or because I was peri-menopausal.

It’s because I was running too fast.

Whew.  That’s a good problem.  That’s an easy-to-fix problem.  I mean, how hard is it to just run slower?  There would be more air for my deprived lungs, more joy in my lumbering legs, more mental space to dream up my next invention instead of cursing the pavement like a drunk pirate.

I set my stop watch and prepared for my first “slow” run.  As I approached the first mile marker, I was sure I had mastered the art of slowing down.  I was the picture of Zen running.  I was shocked to see that I’d actually picked up the pace, clocking that first half mile at 3:56.

Damn.

Slowing down was harder than I thought.  For the second half mile, I played a slow Willie Nelson song (Always On My Mind) and ruminated about lost loves and missed opportunities.  I shed a tear and clocked in at 4:01.

WTH.

All that effort to slow down and I added 1 measly second to my time.

Thing is, I want the joy and the ease of running a pace that makes my body happy.  The other thing is, I’m quite possibly am incapable of slowing down.  My mind and body conspire to keep me moving at a pace I can’t sustain, the cost of which is to rob me of the sublime high that comes from an enjoyable run.

I’ve been at it for several months now.  I’ve managed to add almost 22 seconds onto each half mile.  By spring, I’ll be up to a 9-minute mile.

Not many people I know are trying to add time to their pace.  But I am, and it’s one of the hardest things I’ve tried to do in a long time.

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23 thoughts on “What’s Harder Than Going Faster? Answer: Slowing Down

  1. I like this post. I’m a huge proponent of slowing down. (running and life) Although i wish I was an 8 minute miler, I do struggle keeping my long runs slow and steady each Saturday. I have a tendency to go out and run every run fast, instead of listening to my body or my training schedule. Good for you slowing down, maybe it will trickle into other areas of your life.

  2. What the fuck is wrong with you? Lol.

    Do you use the Runkeeper app or anything like that? I’m sure there’s one out there to motivate you to run slower…maybe a Fat Albert themed thing?? If you want my opinion, and it works for me, drink way too many beers the night before a run and you’ll drag your top heavy ass at a perfectly pathetic pace during your run. You’re welcome and best of luck!

  3. I’ll never get running.

    I have a grandfather that was a hardcore runner– ran every Lilac Bloomsday race in Spokane (where he lives) since it began, up until about recently. He’s 90 years old now. When I was trimmer, not so crippled, and reasonably in shape, I participated in the 1994 run. Walk/jog at best. Despite all of his pushing and encouraging, I could never like running. Sorry, Christie. I got nothing for you save buying a stability/float belt and running in the swimming pool, but that may make you “slog” harder and is more for injury recovery. Or some other form of cross-training.

  4. I love this–I’m a bit slower than you are, but I have a similar problem–when the runs suck, it’s usually because I’m going too fast. What I do to fix it is channel Tasha, who taught me how to run: I always hated running, but every so often I’d give it a go, since I, too, like ice cream. (And beer.) In 1998, I was taking a summer vacation from grad school, and I was living with a friend in San Francisco, right next to Golden Gate Park. My friend had a rotweiller named Tasha. I used to take her jogging in the park, and she *hated* it. She steadfastly refused to go any faster than a quick trot. You know those people you see running at full tilt, trying to keep up with their dogs that are flying along in a full-out gallop? We didn’t look anything like that. I had to adjust my gait since my pulling on the leash did nothing to make this 90-lb dog go any faster. The result: I realized that by slowing down, I could run farther, and I actually began to enjoy myself.

    So my advice to you is to imagine running with a slow and stubborn dog (or toddler…) at your side. Good luck!

  5. Lemme borrow some of that speed. I used to be an 8-minute-mile type, but since kids I have slowed to 9 minute pace without stroller, achingly slow with. Running with a jogging stroller slows me way down, mostly because I think I have to push, rather than imagining running through the stroller. So I’m working on that mindset. To get back down to 8s. Wanna trade?

  6. If I were running accidental 8s, I think I’d have to sign up for a miserable half marathon to log my coveted sub 2:00 time…which was in the realm a few years and a “few” pounds ago.
    Running buddies keep me at a good pace. I know it’s too fast when I can’t talk. Sometimes it’s good to bust out some fast-ness but I totally get what you’re saying. I have had the same problem, but not for months on end…I’d think why do I feel like crap and then look at my Garmin and see I was in the 8-something range. Alternatively, you could keep the pace and run shorter until you’re back to the distance you want. Also you could treat yourself to a Garmin and it will flag you when you’re sub-pace.

  7. I loved this post, although I can’t say I have this problem in my attempts to run. I was halfway through the couch to 5k app training schedule before seasonal allergies forced me back inside. If you were closer, I’d suggest running with me, and I could easily pace you at an 11 to 12 minute mile (I have to walk a lot).

  8. This is fascinating. I only experience the euphoria when I’m running fast. Maybe it’s because I hope I can outrun it all. Oh. Anyway, I hope you slow your ass down. Sounds like you’d like it more. If you figure it out, let me know, mkay? XO

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