Don’t ask me How Fast I Run

I’m out on the local high school track at around 7:45 pm tonight; a little later than usual. The place was packed out with people doing everything from 100 meter sprints to just taking a stroll with the wife & kids. I’m there doing one mile repeats for interval work. That’s one of my favorite workouts so I’m out there rolling along, and I get to a cool down phase. There was one guy, who looked like he was running 1200-400m ladders at a pretty good pace. He hits his cool down the same time I did. While avoiding a walker i slide down to the lane next to his, and he takes the opportunity to ask, “How fast are you doing those?” I gave a quick number and he nodded an then I slid back into my original lane.

I’m cooling down before my last set when a girl leaning up on the track fence asks me the same question. I again gave her a quick answer. Her mouth kind of dropped a bit.

“Oh…wow that’s fast.” she said. I responded with a thank you, answered some more questions, took a last quick sip of water, and got back to the start.

I finish my las interval and I’m doing cool down stretches on the bleachers. A family of four walks up to me and the father says, “So how fast were you running? You were [expletive] hauling [expletive] out there.” This time I didn’t really answer. I gave a round-about answer of what I was training for, and then got bombarded by more questions from the mother and one of the daughters. I’m obliging them, but inside all I can think is, go..away. Please. 

You’ll see it everywhere in those “10 things to never ask a runner” articles, somewhere on those lists, one is always, “how fast are you?” or, “how fast do you run?”

Why are those always on there?

The truth is, there could be a variety of reasons. I can’t speak for anyone else, but my reason is pretty simple: I don’t want to be notice.

First off, it’s training. Training is fluid. If I really wanted to to a 6×1 mile workout all out full throttle, the timing would look a lot different. But in training, I work off a certain percent of my max and even that fluctuates. I got another 6×1 mile workout in 2 weeks, and I’ll be running that one differently. Training isn’t necessarily an indicator of how fast a person is. Personally, I’m training a little shorter and a little faster for this 10k than I did for my last 10k back in June.

Intensified training has been associated with improved running economy, and VO2 max. If you narrow it down to high intensity intervals, you see more positive adaptations. Many mechanisms for improvement exist, one that catches my eye as a runner includes a decreased respiratory load when dialing back to lower intensities. This is great for a number of reasons outside of race training too; it’s also been used as an effective method for treating COPD. So I always make sure to keep my intervals fast, but I also understand I need to have cycles where I do dial back a bit, hence my next 6×1 mile interval is slated to be slower.

The second reason I don’t like that question is when I run, I go into a box. I’ve never had a regular running buddy, I don’t like running with other people because -like a good portion of runners- that is my alone time. That is my time to retreat into myself and just have some fun focusing on one thing that I enjoy, but at the same time doesn’t mean a lot either. What do I really accomplish by beating myself up pounding out laps on a track? I have a goal obviously, but in the end I’m not a professional, this is not going to be my life, so the question is, what does training to finish a race well really mean in the grand scheme of things? I just like the competition. I like the race atmosphere, and I like gauging where I am, but I gauge against myself. I don’t know most of the people I race against. I don’t know their running background, or what’s normal for them, so it’s really of no benefit  for me to use them as a measuring stick.

Case in point my first marathon I beat out these two guys by two seconds. They passed me when I had stopped to dig a pebble out of my shoe. The stop proved costly as it took me while to get back up to speed. I passed them at the 26 mile mark and held on to the end. In talking to one of them, I learned he had only been training for three and a half weeks and was running with his friend for support. He himself, ran a 2:50 marathoner and ran in the Boston Marathon the year before. That was a formative moment for me. It was then that I realized that running for a good placing as an amateur, isn’t necessarily the best way to go about it, and times in the long run, can mean so little in the face of a more worthwhile goal. I realized what’s really going to make this worthwhile for me personally, just going into my box. Not a number on a clock, just my box. Sure everyone sees race results eventually, but could they really put my name to my face? Probably not. Even after a race, I tend to keep to myself. And I prefer that. I’m not hunting for outside recognition.

Which is why that question bugs me a little. It draws attention to what I am doing, at a time and place where I don’t particularly want to be singled out, even if it’s positive recognition. A friend of mine holds the opinion that my feelings on this have a bit of selfish pride at their root. I have trouble seeing it that way because my bottom line is, again, my box. Running makes me feel good by itself, and I don’t want to have any other feelings attached to it, including a senses of admiration from the outside. Everything in my box is my business, including my pace.


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