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Monday, January 28, 2013

My Fast is Your Slow

I would like to comment on a little debate that went on over at a couple of months ago. I haven't had the time to really return to it until now, but I think it's a really interesting topic.

On November 18, Athlinks sent out this message:

The past four years have seen an alarming decline in U.S. racing performances in distances across the board. 5K times are off by +1:17, that's a 4% decline! Average Ironman times have increased by +21:54, a nearly 3% decline. I ask you - How could we let this happen to this, the Swiftest of Nations?
I urge you to join us along with your fellow American road racers, trail runners, triathletes, cyclists, and swimmers in making a new commitment to restoring the speed to your own community.
The email included a table showing the average race finishing times in 2009 and the average race finishing times in 2012. A little bit of a debate erupted on Facebook, with many people pointing out the obvious: Race times have probably decreased because more people are participating, and those who are new the the sport are quite obviously slower. Plus, there has been an uptick in people joining up simply to have fun and participate, without any sort of time goal.

The Athlinks folks have a great rebuttal to this - why are you using Athlinks, a site which tracks your PRs and race times, if you don't care about your race times? I will answer this: Because there is a difference between "not caring" about speed and not wanting to know what your time was.

What bothers me more than anything about this whole debate is that there is an assumption made by the "fasts" - those that run traditionally fast racing times - that I can't stand. I consider you to be "traditionally fast" if you have a hope of qualifying for Boston someday, if you don't really have to worry about course time limits on any race that you choose to run, or really if you would run a marathon with proper training and reasonable race conditions and see yourself finishing in 4:30 or better (which is above the average in the Athlinks email). The assumption that is frequently made is that if you are slow, below average, worrying about course time limits, etc, then you must not care about your times.

Well, guess what? I do care about my times. I am slow. I have to watch out, especially in a marathon, for the course time limits. I've run 6 marathons and only two of them have been sub 6 hours. The "average" time of 4:33 is still a long way away for me, and I may never see it. I wouldn't expect to have a hope of qualifying for Boston until I am in my 70s. But, I do train. I train hard. I care about my times, and for the most part, I have improved. I've gotten a new PR pretty much every single year that I've been running. That doesn't mean that I'll suddenly be running that 4:33, but it does mean that my marathon time went from 6:35 in 2006 to 5:46 in 2011, and I'm very proud of that. I do realize that the 5:46 would be an embarrassment to some, but to me, that's my PR!

In some ways, I'm still just a "participant." I do have a friend who recently started training crazy-hard, doing multiple runs per day, multiple speed sessions per week, and seriously upping her mileage. Her times have improved drastically and I have no doubt that if I were to suddenly take that approach, I would also see some drastic time improvements. But, what's wrong with just training like I do, improving in small amounts, and seeing myself get better at a pace that is right for me - and keeps be from getting injured?

So, my apologies to the fasts if my poor race performance is getting your running tights in a bunch, but I do have one big rule - never compare yourself to others.

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James said...

I feel your anger on this topic. The increase in average times is definitely due to an increase in participation by a "slower" crowd, but frankly, I see that as one huge positive in the world of running. More people running races means more people taking taking an active role in their own health. It's fantastic!

As for my own running, yeah, I've increase speed of the last couple of years. It's a goal of mine, but not one of my running priorities. When searching for new races, time limit is one of the first things I look at. Can I run the race in a comfortable manner, that will let me finish strong, enjoy the race, and have fun? If not, then I doubt I'd consider it. Boston? Hell no! I have absolutely ZERO interest in running that course, let alone attempting to qualify. I enjoy my relatively slow butt moving down the course and enjoying every minute of it.

onelittletrigirl said...

I just love this. During my marathon training more than a few people would ask "why bother?" when they found out my goal was 5 hours. Whatever, really. I know that what I am doing is the very best I can personally do :)

lindsay said...

I agree! This is just ridiculous. To me the important part is that more people are getting out there. That's one of the Great things about running - everyone can do it!

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