People tell me I run fast. Then I laugh.
Me? How could someone whose only form of running was once during elementary school recess games of tag be fast?
But apparently, I am. At least that’s what people tell me.
Among the runners in my current training group, I am among one of the fastest. This past weekend, I sped off on the SLR with the fastest pace group, those averaging a sub 8-min mile. Typically on my solo runs my pace ranges anywhere from 7:35 to 8:00 min/mi. Even in these weeks of summer, I have not found myself slowing down, despite the fact that runs in temperatures over 65 degrees can slow pace between 30 to 45 seconds. With it being my second summer in D.C. running, perhaps my body has acclimated to the weather to allow me to go full speed ahead.
Nevertheless, I still don’t view myself as fast. Shalane Flanagan, however, she is fast. Flanagan, who set out this year to become the first American woman since 1985 to win the Boston Marathon (but ultimately fell short), recently announced her goal of running a 2:21 marathon. A full 26.2 in under two and half hours; that’s an average pace of 5:22 min/mi! In my first marathon, I barely finished 13.1 miles in under two hours. So what then constitutes as fast?
I realize Shalane Flanagan is an Olympian and an official athlete, so any comparisons between her and me are essentially moot, but I still feel like an imposter. Part of it stems from never being a runner until about a year and a half ago, so how is it fair/possible that I can surpass people who have been running their whole lives?
My age maybe? Does being young and fit make me a more qualified candidate for being fast?
When I initially started running, I ran with a 10 mi/mile pace group. That training plan led me to a 1:59 half marathon finish, an average pace of 9:04 min/mi. Then in Providence for my second half I knocked about 6 minutes off my time to reach the end around 1:53, or 8:37 min/mi. And somehow in the midst of a less than consistent training plan (too many excuses led to a less than stable long run schedule), I finished my third and fourth marathons around 1:45, about an 8 min/mi.
Yet, even with the inconsistent training plan, this past winter and spring of running I began to realize that maybe I did have a need for speed. In prep for my third half marathon, I trained with a friend so we could have company on the long runs. Problem was that my speed was about two minutes faster per mile, which made it difficult for us to actually run together. Nevertheless, we ran, albeit with me running ahead then jogging in place as I waited to for my company to rejoin.
A similar thing occurred with another friend who I helped train for the Cherry Blossom 10-miler. But even as I struggled to slow down to run with them (after all, I did want to PR in my races), the self-consciousness about my own speed never left. Specifically, on some running dates I doubted whether I could set a comfortable pace; was I too fast or too slow? How could I enjoy the company without literally running away?
Adding to the mystery of my speed, how is it that me and my little legs can even manage my pace? I know an active runner, at least a foot taller than me, who can run a marathon in 3:15. The joke is that my stride is equal to more than two of his. But it’s true: the taller you are, the longer the stride and the more ground you cover with each step forward. If I can run a sub-8 now, who knows what I could do if I were only a few inches taller?
I have not been able to able answer any of these questions. Still I ask myself them often when someone remarks about my pace and inquires about how long I have run and what races I have completed. It is flattering to know that my new running coaches have enough confidence in me to send me out with fast crew. Now I just need to work on channeling that confidence in myself so when I run those 26.2 miles in October.