Running’s time problem

I recently read an article online about qualifying for the Boston Marathon. Not because the race interests me all that much (I’m far more interested in trail stuff these days) or that I could even manage to qualify for it. In fact, I was mostly reading this article while shaking my head at the way that running speed and time were being talked about here.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand there’s a breed of runner out there that is dedicated to speed, winning races. There’s lots of them. However, there’s a lot more people out there who never even try running because they believe that running is nothing but winning, placing, speed. For example, I will probably never place on a podium. I’m OK with that. I have a screwed up ankle, I have funky knees, I have a cardiovascular system ravaged by decades of “sure, I’ll just have one more”, whether that “one more” was a beer or a slice of pizza.

I am a runner who runs to run. The act, the activity draws me. The physical improvements to my body are, frankly, a very very nice bonus. I do races now and again primarily to challenge myself against myself. Against the course. A 3-legged goat would likely podium before I would, and I’m OK with that.

Trouble is, a lot of people see running through the lens of the speed junkies. Yes, improvement is HUGE and is a part of running, but it is a cog in the machine for me, not the goal. I averaged around a 10-11 minute mile when running my long runs, not because I was aiming for that, but because that was my pace. If anything was important for me, it was the total length of time I was running, not time mapped against distance. Oddly, that was just a happenstance. I ran for an hour, I covered 5 miles. Neat. I ran another hour and covered another 5 miles. SUPER.

Now some people might grab a calculator and start trying to figure out my pace. But I’ll have walked away by then, the metrics aren’t why I run. And maybe that’s why I enjoy it, I’m more focused on the moment, tempo, strides per minute, form. Any time I felt like I was pushing hard to make some kind of randomly assigned goal, I suddenly became less enamored of the exercise.

I think that is why a lot of people never give running a second look. They see the ripped skinny pros absolutely tearing through the coarse, look down at themselves, shake their head and walk off. If you’re excited about running a particular distance at a particular pace, awesome! Train, run, eat well and rock it. But it is just as personal and valid to want to run for 20 minutes a day, no matter the distance. Or an hour. Or do 3 miles, however long it takes. Or mess around on some barefoot wind-sprints in a grassy field. I’m not saying that training programs are bad, they’re awesome for people that want to go that direction. But sometimes when you enter the sport, you’re not ready. You want to play, and you should. Have fun. Read books and run and be a kid again.

And maybe, a year later, you’ll suddenly find yourself looking at those training programs with a wary eye, thinking “you know… that might be fun too. I wonder if I could run a 1/2 in under 2 hours”. Or you might just keep doing your thing, having fun, becoming more fit accidentally. If you’re a runner, you’re a runner. Even if you don’t know your PR on every distance.

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