When it comes to running, I am slow, always have been. Stamina and pacing I have in abundance. Raw speed, not so much.
Part of this, I’m discovering, has to do with my muscles. No matter how much I stretch or warm up beforehand, I’m never really loose until I’m a kilometer or two into a run. Even then, when I’m as limber as I get, my speed trails after the low end of average. Part of it may be that this is simply how my body is designed to move.
At this point in my life, I’m okay with that.
I wish, though, I’d come to this realization sooner. Near the beginning of my adolescence, when I started to look on running as a stand-alone sport (as opposed to something one did around the bases in T-ball or what one was not supposed to do indoors), there was a decided emphasis on fast speeds over relatively short distances. Races topped out at one and two miles (no cross country for me in junior high), where coach put all the slow kids — because no one watched or cared who won those races anyway.
It was easy to feel like I was a bad runner because I struggled with these distances. It would have been nice to have heard the possibility that one reason I struggled may simply have been that those distances were too short for me.
I’ve warmed up to running longer distances in no small part because here, it’s okay to be slow. Or rather, a good three mile pace is not the same as a good one mile or hundred meter pace. As it happens, a three mile pace — even for three and probably for more miles — is one that works a lot better for my body. I’m still slow, but I’m a lot closer to slow-average instead of notably slow.
As I run, I’m used to adding distance. Not that I don’t work for the increased stamina, but it builds in my body in a sense-making and predictable manner. If I start with X distance and then move to X + 1, the first time will be weird, the second time will be more familiar but harder, the third time will start to feel like maybe I can actually do this — until eventually X + 1 feels like my new normal.
It doesn’t work that way with me and speed. I try different runs: longer or shorter, intending to be faster or slower. The most predictable result is that, regardless of my brain’s intent at pacing, my time over any particular distance remains remarkably consistent. Even when I’m trying to improve it.
It’s a little tricky to stay in balance negotiating all of this. On one hand, I don’t want to, even unconsciously, use my body’s inclinations as an excuse for not challenging myself. That is, with most runs (save, “fuck it, I don’t really want to run today, but we’re going anyway because we said we would, dammit!” days), I consciously try to push my edge. On the other hand, though, neither do I want to get too frustrated when progress on this front doesn’t come as reliably as it does in other areas.
So I tell myself that what’s important is that I am running and I am pushing my edge while trying to let go of my attachment to the results. And 99% of the time, I believe that to be the truth.
But every once in a while, I have a run like I did last night, and that truth is hard to remember. Because being faster — and knowing I’m faster — feels so damn good.