We were standing in a parking lot, bibs pinned to our shirts, warming up, making final trips to the porta-potties, contemplating if we wanted to drop any last-minute layers off in our checked bags.
It was race morning of our latest greatest half marathon and there were about 12 of us, all Crossfit athletes, all in great shape. We were chatting race strategy, trying to take the edge off the pre-race nerves. “Ugh.” Said one of the guys, “It’s gonna be a slow day for me.”
“Oh yea? How slow?” I asked, thinking that maybe we could run together.
“I’m gonna have to find an old man to pace me!” He joked. I laughed, hesitantly, I’ve known some REALLY FAST old men. “Man, I’d be surprised if I ran 10 minute miles the whole way. I might even drop back to 10:30!”
I wasn’t sure what to say to that. The truth was, in my secret heart of hearts, I was planning to PR that day. I was nervous about the race because I wasn’t sure if I could keep up the necessary speed. My PR would be just under 2:30 and require me to run faster than 11:30 miles the whole way. The fastest mile I had ever run was a 9:11; it was going to be a tough race for me.
But in that moment, with a training companion laughing about his “slow” 10 minute miles, suddenly any shred of confidence I had about my performance went right out the window. Even if I ran my goal pace, I couldn’t hope to measure up to his “slow old man” pace. While running isn’t about comparing yourself to someone else (at least not from the back of the pack), this reality check was exactly the thing I didn’t need when I was already doubting my abilities to run a PR race.
He wasn’t targeting me of course, and I have every confidence that this comment was an off-the-cuff remark. Since our primary training regime was Crossfit, he wasn’t familiar with my running times and there’s no way he could have known that I was planning to PR (I hadn’t told anyone but my husband, and only in the privacy of our car with the caution not to mention it to anyone because I didn’t want to disappoint should I fail to hit the goal). Still, this by-the-by remark had a profound effect on my already fragile pre-race state.
Hey Fast Runners: Here’s What Your Slow Friends Wish You’d Stop Doing
It’s not an uncommon occurrence. I’ve encountered plenty of fast runners who laugh about how slow they are, then proceed to casually rattle off a “slow” pace that’s faster than anything I could manage. With how supportive the running community is, I can only imagine that these foibles are not meant to harm, but simply a way of runners engaging with each other. But you never know who might be listening and what your joke might mean to them.
Which is not to say that running should be a serious no-laughing matter, quite the contrary. Jokes about “how slow you’re going to go” are still funny. There’s nothing wrong with self-aggrandizing humor. You having a bad day on the course has nothing to do with me having a good day on the course. That said, once the mockery hits the realm of numbers it becomes a little too real for us back-of-packers. General comments about turtles and getting passed by children are still funny, just not when you assign a pace to said turtles.
This is for the exact reasons that my training companion might have considered before laughing about how his “slow old man” pace would beat my planned PR pace; we can all laugh about being outrun by something, but it’s hard to laugh when that “something” is running faster than one might ever achieve. Keep it general and we’ll probably laugh right along with you. Getting specific might be the nail in someone’s pre-race psychological coffin, and nobody wants to be “that guy.”
What’s more, your slow friends will probably never tell you that you’ve crushed their mojo this way. It’s embarrassing to have to admit that a PR race is going to be run slower than the proverbial old man pacer. The running community is a caring, supportive group of people; let’s consider that inclusiveness when we shoot the breeze together. If for no other reason than this: no matter how fast you run, someone will always run faster than you and someone will always run slower than you. Fast or slow, we’re all still runners together.