By turning down her speed a few notches, Caitlyn Pilkington learned some valuable lessons about running.
Ferris Bueller said it right: Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around every once in a while, you could miss it. While there may not be time to hit the brakes completely, there is time in life—and in running—to slow down, breathe and enjoy the ride.
After my recent decision to quit Ironman training and mentally prepare for a January marathon, Bueller’s advice rang truer than ever before. In order to get faster in running—and in life—sometimes you have to throttle back and take a few extra breaths. Literally.
As much as I enjoy running myself ragged for 45 minutes every morning, I swallowed the jagged truth pill of, “Yes, I can hold that glorious 7:25 pace for six miles, but I cannot ramp into the double digits on the regular (at least not right away) clocking sub-8s.” Say it, hear it, accept it. The only way I can grab a BQ time successfully is to slow the heck down and enjoy a new, longer ride. While going fast makes me feel powerful, successful and even invincible, it wasn’t smart training; it wasn’t what my body needed in any way. So I started relaxing the competitive tendencies and adding seconds—even minutes—to the mile splits, and here’s what happened.
1. I Could Go Longer
OK, that’s a given. But for someone with a half-marathon-wired noggin, this was a great, new way of running. Ten-plus miles began to feel less labored and more enjoyable. While I don’t have my 26.2-mile pacing strategy nailed (at all), maintaining a BQ-worthy effort felt less intimidating as the miles started to come more easily.
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2. I Explored My Surroundings
Full disclosure: I’m not a waver when I run. I don’t have “fun” when I run, unless reveling in my screaming muscles is “fun” to anyone else. I don’t drool at the sunset along the coast when I step out after work. But when I set aside my ego and went beyond the usual 6-miler in the a.m., these things started happening. I enjoyed the rising sun, and I even hopped and spun off passing curbs and bumps in the road. I even smiled as I put one foot in front of the other, enough so that a friendly gesture followed suit: a wave at a passing runner.
3. I Could Run With Others, Including My Boyfriend
There’s probably a handful of times I truly revel in brutal honesty without a bruised ego—one being when someone says I’m too fast for them. But when your significant other declines a running invite based on that, the heart sinks even when the ego rises. Slow down and run with others—it’s good for your humility and it’s good for the soul. You don’t always have to go fast—I learned that from Women’s Running cover model contest winner Lindsey Hein, who put many other self-proclaimed run rules into place.
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4. I Felt More Accomplished
I used to think that if I wasn’t dripping in perspiration and completely exhausted at the end of a run, I didn’t get in a real workout. Wrong! The rational mind’s ability to overrule the competitive mind’s desires is extremely powerful; I experienced that internal tug-of-war with every slower step, but in the end, I felt more accomplished retraining the bod to be smart than I did clocking a 37-minute 5-miler on an “easy” day.
If you’re battling your own inner competitor, it’s important to remember that you’re still a runner even if you’re not passing people—or not passing your own expectations. The greatest runners in the world have slower days where mileage trumps speed in importance, and it’s vital for us age-groupers to do the same. I’m by no means a seasoned marathoner—the Carlsbad Marathon in January will be my first one!—but I do consider myself a seasoned runner who is still learning to rewrite her own definition of “competitive,” spelled S-M-A-R-T.