A friend was telling me about swimming with a parachute, seeing the bottom and feeling like she was barely moving. Then another friend told me about running pulling a tire “I was working as hard as I could, and it felt like I was going nowhere, everyone was passing me – it was literally soul crushing.”
Welcome to my world. Every workout. Every day.
Before I get into this, let me get some stuff clear. I do not intend to set up any kind of competition between slower and faster athletes, we each have our unique challenges, and we aren’t in competition with people (at least, not with people who haven’t given their permission to compete.) Please don’t try to comfort me with “you’re lapping people on the couch” or that I’m “better than people who never started” I’m not either, and these memes are really troubling.
This also isn’t a fat thing – there are thin people who are slower than me and fat people who faster. The fact is that slow athletes of all sizes face some unique challenges (none of which make us better or worse than faster athletes or those who don’t participate in athletics) and that’s what I want to talk about today, including some tips on how to deal with them that have helped me.
Are We There Yet?
It’s not your imagination, you are out there a long time. A friend of mine talks about finishing her marathon after they took down the finish line and everyone else had gone home, showered, come back, and was eating spaghetti dinner. My marathon took me so long that I finished it in a dark alley instead of in a stadium. If you’re in forums and Facebook groups then you’ve probably had the experience of reading someone talk about how they are “so slow” (perhaps going on at some length about how horrible it is) whose mile time is dramatically faster than yours.
That doesn’t just mean a longer finish time or slower splits. It means that to train the same distances you’ll need to sacrifice more time. It also means more of everything that can wear you down in an endurance event. More time on the course means more exposure to the weather, if you’re taking more footsteps it’s more pounding on the body, more opportunities to get blisters, a greater chance of chaffing, etc. Some events allow participants to keep progressing in the race, but tear down aid stations and port-a-potties meaning that there is more chance of not having enough nutrition or hydration, (or having to make some uncomfortable decisions about how to eliminate nutrition and hydration – I had the choice to hold it or pee in someone’s yard in one of the most expensive neighborhoods in Seattle. I held it.)
One piece of advice I received from a number of people was to prepare like people who do longer races. So if you are doing a marathon, look at how people prepare to do ultra marathons. Get equipment that’s meant to go farther than you actually plan to go, take extra care in blister and chaffing protection, take extra care to have what you need to deal with the elements. Often race officials re-open up roads and tear down aid stations and port-a-potties sooner than they said they would do on the race website, so unfortunately back-of-the-packers can’t count on race websites to plan our races.
Time Limits Got You Down?
Many races have time limits, if the website is clear about the time limits and we can’t keep up we get pulled off the course, and them’s the rules. One thing that should be pointed out is that these time limits exist because of money – road closures and permitting for these events is expensive and the longer it stays open the longer the more expensive it is so course time limits are a monetary decision based on the event location, not a value judgment of how fast someone should be able to complete a distance.
You can look for races that have longer time limits, or no time limits. If you’re doing marathons, for example, search “walker friendly marathons” or check out Mainly Marathons which have no time limit and are super slow-person friendly! You can also do races where they are simultaneously holding races longer than yours. For example, often a half marathon will also include a 10k and a 5k. The half might have a 3 hour time limit, but that will often be the same limit for the 5k and 10k so those doing the shorter races have 3 hours to complete them. Same with a triathlon that runs a super sprint, sprint, and Olympic distance. (Make sure to research the start times and such – usually they start the longer distances first so make sure that the time-limits will still work for you.)
Singing the “Everyone’s Passing Me” Blues?
In triathlon and running forums I read about how motivational it is to pass people, but I really wouldn’t know. Getting passed is a way of life for me so for those who feel motivated because they passed me, you’re welcome, I guess.
I’ve been involved in sports my whole life and I’ve only ever played to win so this was a major adjustment for me. Not only am I not going to win, the chances of me being dead last are truly excellent. That’s one of the reasons I chose this challenge, but it can still be demoralizing.
For me the secret is to try to completely run my own race – to set my goals based on my own performance and abilities and to let go of any kind of comparison with other people. I’ll admit it’s still tough sometimes, but that’s where the lessons are for me.
What is Wrong with These People?
Slow athletes often find ourselves the victims of poor treatment at the hands of insecure athletes who are trying to feel better about themselves by trying to make us feel worse about ourselves. Now, this didn’t work in Junior High and it’s not going to work now but they just keep trying.
A friend of mine who is a multiple-time IRONMAN finisher was saying how hard he laughs at people who say things like “If you can’t run a marathon in 5 hours, you’re not really a marathoner.” He pointed out that these people seem always to be including their own time in their limit, and that really only the winners have the right to do this (after all, if you’re not running 4-5 minute miles you’re never going to win so why bother amirite?) but of course they don’t do that because they aren’t trying to make up for some personal issue by creating a club that excludes people based on how much time it takes them to travel some distance under their own power.
This shouldn’t happen, it isn’t our fault, but it can become our problem. Each of us gets to choose how we deal with this and all of our choices are valid. To me what’s important to remember is that we aren’t the problem, those who mistreat us are. We should be allowed to exist in the fitness zeitgeist at our own pace without shaming, bullying or harassment regardless of our speed. For myself I think it’s important to speak out against this behavior since it hurts people and creates barriers for those who want to participate in fitness which, as an activist, I’m vehemently against. But I also try to find compassion and pity for those whose lives have led them to behavior like this.
I’m Slow, I Know, So What?
I saw this on a t-shirt one time and it made me smile. Our value as people is not based on our mile PR, or if we ever run a mile, or ever run one again. We are involved in these sports for our reasons and we have every right to be here. So chins up slow athletes, there’s no shame in our slow game. And if you see me out there, say hi, we’ll certainly have plenty of time!
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