Speed is relative, that we know. Unless you are in the top 1% of the best athletes on the field that day, or have aspirations of carrying home a trophy, an age group award or a moment of public recognition, there really is no incentive to try so hard to race your very best, when it’s obvious that there will always be someone who finishes ahead of you and behind you in every race, unless you’re striving for your own personal goal. From that perspective, comparative racing terms such as fast and slow really ought to have no meaning, if you’re really racing for your own sake. To put it in another way, if we were to enter a race with no other participants, and we ran in accordance with our own perceived effort with no garmins, watches, or digital clocks, would we know if we were running fast or slow that day?
I’m been thinking quite a bit about that the last couple of weeks after two new members in my running club was introduced to me earlier this month on a group run and as if on cue, the first words out of their mouths were “Oh wait, yeah I know you, you’re that really fast guy right. No I can’t run with you…” It was at least annoying if not bordering on the totally inaccurate. First of all, they can’t know me, since I don’t know them. Yes, they might have heard of me, but even if so, since when does hearing about someone (celebrities not withstanding) equate to knowing someone. Secondly, since fast is a relative label, how do you know I’m fast (much less really fast) without knowing the company I keep or people I race against? In my world, 2:50 marathoners are fast, 2:40 guys are really fast, 2:30 people are sub-elite, and 2:20s are the truly elite, and since I’m not even within striking distance of fast yet, I feel quite uncomfortable being associated with those guys. Finally, I resent the fact that just because I fit a certain stereotype because of an inaccurate perception that others have of me, I am ostracized because of my speed. Arrrgghh…this drives me crazy because it is so contrary to why I train myself to run fast in the first place.
If you cared to read over my list of “why I run”, the first reason I listed was to be athletic. And while it’s true that I get some personal satisfaction of being now considered a good athlete when I was always ordinary at best in every sport I’ve tried previously, that was really only a secondary endpoint. The primary reason I train so hard is to be fast enough to run with everyone else. Ever since I could remember, whether it was snowboarding, go-kart racing, or canoeing downstream with friends, if we were out there for long enough, I was always the one bringing up the rear. On some level, it was not only embarrassing but also somewhat dangerous because I’d at times fallen so far behind the pack that I’d get lost finding my own way back. Needless to say, this traumatized me to no end growing up, and to this day, I will not go camping or hiking with friends without having a set of directions on me at all times.
That is at least part of the reason I’m motivated to run fast. I just do not want to ever be forced to bring up the rear again. I want to keep up even if it’s a group of Kenyans (or those blazing Central Park Track Club guys) that I happen to be running with. But by the same token, I will always adapt to the slower runners because I’ve been there and can empathize very readily with the helpless feeling of not being able to keep up. This is always a tricky situation for me. I struggle with having the confidence of a good distance runner while at the same time hoping to never forget how to enjoy myself if I have to run a little slow either. It’s really an up and down, ebb and flow, kind of dynamic relationship with me and speed. But truthfully, for me, I wouldn’t really want it any other way.
After some thought this week, I think that’s the mindset I want to bring with me to Boston. I want to race fast enough and well enough to justify my training, “to keep up with the guys” so to speak, while at the same time, run slow enough as if I’m hanging with the back of the pack out on a long run to enjoy the excitement and the scenery. I don’t know if this is the right attitude to have as someone preparing to break 3 hours in a marathon, but in order not to psych myself out by making the race something bigger than what it already is (it’s Boston for god sakes!), I believe it’s the most appropriate one for me.