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Slow is the New Fast

by Amy L. Marxkors

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Why am I so amazing at being dumb? Seriously. If there were such a thing as “Competitive Slow Learning,” I’d be a champion. 

“Amy, can you repeatedly make unwise training decisions?” 

Yes! 

“Can you brazenly disregard the anthology of running knowledge you’ve spent the past eight years amassing?” 

Yes! 

“Can you tell good judgment to go jump in a lake?” 

Yes! 

“Congratulations! You’ve just won a pair of worthless legs two weeks out from your goal race!” 

I’d like to take a moment to thank the Academy and my sponsor, Jello. 

Wait a minute, you may be saying if you’re the kind of person who talks out loud. I thought training was going great. Didn’t you just PR in a track meet last week? Hasn’t it been only a few days since you were skipping around on cloud nine surrounded by rainbows and bunnies? 

Yes. Yes, I am only a week removed from a 5K PR. But the endorphins must have intoxicated my senses, because ten hours after racing a 5K PR, I woke up early to run eighteen miles. Sure, not the smartest move in the world, but survivable. 

Except I did the same thing the week before after the track meet at SLU. 

And the week before that. 

We’re talking hours of recovery here. Three weeks in a row. To make matters worse, despite my best intentions, I hammered the long runs. I didn’t mean to. I planned on running slow and using the long miles as recovery. 

But, you see, it was crowded in Forest Park on Saturday morning, and recovery pace felt so painfully slow. It was torture passing packs of runners, clumped together in groups of three and four, knowing that each cluster was collectively judging my ability. I could feel their eyes burning holes in my Nike ProFit shirt. And then there were all those cars on Skinker! I had to pick up the pace, simply as a sign of respect. Plus, I’m pretty sure I knew a couple of people on the gravel path, and I didn’t want them to think I always ran that slow. 

I rationalized my impromptu progression run by telling myself I’d slow down once I hit Clayton. 

But, you see, downtown Clayton was packed with people, too. If all those cute couples and happy families saw me running up Forsyth at recovery pace, why, they would have a skewed perception of my regular running pace. And what about the hipsters on Delmar? What a shame if they saw me running a pace that in no way reflected my PR the night before! 

By the time I started sprinting past a pack of guys in split shorts (for the record, they didn’t know we were racing, and I’m pretty sure they were running their recovery pace), my easy long run was a lost cause. It goes without saying whose self worth hinged on reaching the Visitor’s Center first. 

I know. Someone’s ego is a little too big for her split shorts, isn’t it? 

Several hours later, I started coming down with a cold. The next day, my legs felt like tree trunks. 

That was twelve days ago. I’m still battling fatigue and the tree trunks. 

I’m as dead as disco, folks. My half marathon is in nine days. And it’s all my own glorious fault. 

Olympic marathoner Ryan Hall once said that he wasn’t confident enough to run slow. He prided himself in his relentless work ethic and competitiveness. He felt the pressure to prove himself and his ability with each run. He hammered every workout, every day. As a result, his body began to break down. Instead of improving, he became slower. It was ultimately frustration that forced Hall to swallow his pride. Rejecting the need to prove himself to others, or even himself, he made a deliberate commitment to keep his easy runs just that: easy. He stopped running recovery runs with the men’s team and began running his easy days with the women’s team on their easy days. “Having observed the best runners in the world,” Hall said, “I realize that those with the most confidence run their easy runs the easiest.” On April 18th, 2011, Hall clocked a 2:04:58 at the Boston Marathon, becoming the fastest American marathoner of all time. 

In other words, I shouldn't have given the cars on Skinker quite so much credit

I don’t know what it is about recovery runs, but there is something about an easy pace that brings out the latent egomaniac inside me. No sooner do my feet hit the pavement than the hubris begins. Do I look really slow? I feel slow. What if people think I run slow all the time? I think that guy over there thinks I’m really slow! 

And to make things even more ridiculous, my fast isn’t that fast in the grand scheme of things. I’m a recreational runner, for crying out loud. I don’t run for a living. Nike is not knocking at my door. I will never compete in the Olympics. Bob Costas isn’t going to narrate the epic saga of my career. (Note: If anyone knows Bob Costas, put in a good word for me. I would like him to narrate the epic saga of my career.) In fact, I once finished a half marathon only to be greeted by a man who asked if I was “Lola.” When I responded in the affirmative, he asked what my time was. I told him. His response? “Huh. I thought you’d be faster than that.” 

So, there you go. 

I will never be mistaken for Haile Gebrselassie, and yet every time I head out for a run, I feel this need to validate myself as a runner. It’s like I have to prove something. I know that ultimately pace doesn’t matter. I know I shouldn’t care what others think. I know the terms “fast” and “slow” are far too relative to mean anything anyway, and that there will always be people in front of me and there will always be people behind me. What then, exactly, am I trying to prove? 

If it’s that I can make stupid training decisions, I succeeded. 

Dr. George Sheehan, the legendary author of Running and Being, said, “Listen to your body. Do not be a blind and deaf tenant.” Unfortunately, over the past few weeks I failed in the former and excelled in the latter. 

The landlord was not happy. 

Don’t be too proud to run slow. Slow is good. Slow is necessary. Slow is what makes fast possible. As Coach Cary put it so succinctly after I sent him a semi-panicked (read: full panic) freak-out email earlier this week: Sometimes we just have to tell the “Type A” side of us to take a vacation. 

Sorry, Skinker.


Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious RunnerHer second book, Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Storywill be released in 2014.  Click here to receive Amy's weekly article via email.

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