How to make peace with being a slow runner.

Need for speed: “How I’ve made peace with being a slow runner – and you can too”

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Worried that you’re too slow to be a ‘runner’? Content plodder Victoria Stokes explains how she finally made peace with going at her own pace. 

I can vividly remember my first – and only – 10K race for charity. I’d signed up two months prior with little running experience and was determined to complete the race in under an hour. A gruelling eight weeks of short-lived sprints and slow jogs ensued but I pushed through, refusing to accept that I was painfully slow.

Come race day, I gave it my all – even attempting to sprint up a notorious incline known locally as ‘heart attack hill’. As I rounded the final bend of the race, I could see the finish line in my sights and decided to give it one last push. I didn’t feel well, my head was pounding and I could feel a creeping nausea in my stomach, but that one-hour goal was slipping out of my grasp. I needed to run faster so I broke into one final sprint.

As I hurtled towards a cheering crowd and the local newspaper’s photographer, I felt it: vomit, threatening to rise up from my stomach and out of my mouth. The headline ‘Local girl vomits after 10k race’ flashed across my mind.

I crossed the finish line at one hour and six minutes, gutted to have missed my target but thankful that I was able to dart out of sight to, erm, recover in private.

Since then, I’ve continued to have a tricky relationship with speed and it’s only recently that the way I feel about my pace has been completely transformed. I’ve always chased the numbers on the treadmill, compulsively checked how I’m doing on my Fitbit and pushed myself far beyond what feels comfortable.

I’ve celebrated when I’ve run faster and further than ever before and then felt crushingly disappointed in myself when my performance wasn’t up to par. I’ve been caught up in a self-imposed pressure to always be progressing.

Focusing on speed can kill our love of running

Dr Josephine Perry, sports psychologist and author of The 10 Pillars Of Success, says this pressure can have a demotivating effect over time. “It can be really motivating when we start out doing something new to see how much better we are getting at it,” she tells Stylist.

“The easy-to-measure metrics of speed, pace and distance can be a good way to see how we are doing and feel that progression. Each time we see we have run faster or gone further, we will get a rush of dopamine in our brain.”

Trouble is, it’s hard to maintain those early wins and in time our progress can slow. “Long term we will not be able to remain on that trajectory and will plateau, which tends to become demotivating,” says Dr Perry. “Even if we don’t plateau, we can end up fearing that we will, and every run starts to feel threatening because we fear we will stop improving.”

Understandably, pressuring yourself to pick up pace isn’t a good way to make running a sustainable habit you can stick to. “Feeling like we have failed a run (even if we have worked hard, had some great headspace and know we have improved our fitness) can suck all the joy out of our running,” Dr Perry points out.

“If something starts to feel like a threat, we will be less willing to try it and eventually find something else to do instead,” she explains.

How to be OK with being a slow runner

So, if you’re in the same boat, how can you embrace a healthier approach to running and ditch your need for speed? “If you can work out what you love about running and what you feel it gives you then you can design your own metrics for success around those elements – rather than the very easy-to-measure metrics we all fall victim to, like speed, pace, distance or race placing,” says Dr Perry.

“If running for you is about developing the headspace to be more creative then lookout for an inspiring photo to take on your run. If your run is about time to yourself, you could pick a subject to reflect on while you’re out and decide at the end of it you will make one ‘intention’ for the day to follow up on it,” she suggests.

Tracking less may be helpful too. “Obsessively tracking and monitoring our performance is completely unnecessary for almost all of us. Even some of the elite athletes I have spoken to have found that less data has actually helped improve their performance,” Dr Perry points out.

“It can be motivational to notice yourself getting faster or being able to run further, but we all tend to plateau after a while and then these types of metrics just start to make us miserable.”

Bottom line, Dr Perry says, is understand why you’re running. “Ask yourself what running gives you, and find ways to incorporate more of that,” she encourages.

Recently I’ve been embracing a new approach to running, one that feels energising, enjoyable and achievable. I don’t set unrealistic targets at the start of a run and I don’t compulsively check how fast I’m going or how far I’ve run either. I’ll stick on a really good song and run until the end of it and take it down a notch when I’m feeling tired instead of pushing through.

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Images: Getty

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