Let’s Talk About Pace Stigma

It’s three weeks away from race day, and I guess what? Instead of getting really excited about toeing the line and taking a tour of Chicago (my OG running home), I have gotten in to my head about pace. I have this demon on my shoulder who says “you are TOO SLOW to run a marathon” and “everyone will be waiting for you to finish. It will take too long.”

Why? WHY am I having these feelings, after six marathons? After two 50ks? After miles and miles and miles of running where I say “I don’t care about pace, I just want to have fun!”?!

Because no matter what, “what’s your pace?” is always out there. Fellow runners ask about time goals, it’s in their nature. Isn’t everyone trying to PR all the time? Don’t you want to get faster? Isn’t that the whole idea? But what do I do if that doesn’t happen? No one really likes to fail their goal, so what is the point? At group runs, I smile, introduce myself, and promptly end up as the last runner in the pack. “I’m doing my own thing, it’s fine! Have a great run!” I have been working on my positive spin for years! “PARTY IN THE BACK!” “MY PACE IS FORWARD!” “MY GOAL IS TO FINISH WITH A SMILE!”

But this week, as I am reflecting back on races past, I came across this graphic from the 2017 Columbus Marathon results. I was disappointed with my time, I’m not going to lie. I finished in 5:46:35, almost 20 minutes slower than my marathon PR on this same course two years earlier. But to add to my disappointment in myself is this little cartoon graphic at the bottom.

Do you see it? Do you see this silhouette? Do you see those curves? That wider body? Do you see those slim folks up front? Do you know what this says?  It says that pace is equivalent to size. Do you know what I say? BULLSHIT. Runners come in all sizes and by no means does size predict shape. Are some back-of-the-pack runners comparatively larger? Sure. Are all larger runners in the back of the pack? Absolutely not.

I spent the first ten miles of my most recent 20 mile training run listening to music, trying to slow down, focusing on nutrition, realizing how hot it was, and generally just cruising along. And then, I got in to a dark space in my head. I turned around and realized how far I had to get back to where I started. I realized that my pace was much slower than I wanted. That if *this* was my marathon pace, I might not even finish in 6 hours. And down and down and down in to the saddest head space I plummeted. But I the problem is, I didn’t even leave it on the course. I took it home with me. I wallowed in it. I complained about being old, about being slow, and that unspoken but true thought, about being FAT. Because that back-of-the-pack pace image is stuck in my head now.

After all that wallowing, I re-hydrated. I reflected. And I got a good night’s sleep. And when I woke up on Sunday morning, I remembered that this is MY RACE. Who cares if I’m slow? Who even remembers my finish time last year? Who wants running to be a punishment for diet, instead of a celebration of a strong body? NO ONE DOES. I am going to run for myself, and dammit, I am going do enjoy it. As a result of all this moping (obsessing?) about speed and pace, I bought myself this gift via 300 Pounds and Running. PARTY IN THE BACK? YOU’RE ABSOLUTELY EFFING RIGHT.