Marathon Update: Things Slow Runners Will Understand

Turtles through peanut butterBeing a slow runner/walker comes with its own set of unique circumstances and challenges, it’s not better or worse, just different.

Time on the Course

People who win marathons complete them in just over 2 hours.  They are averaging sub 5 minute miles.  It took me almost 13 hours to walk my marathon, that means almost 30 minute miles.  Even if my marathon hadn’t been an unmitigated disaster, my training was for an 8.5 hour marathon – so about 19.5 minutes per mile. Now I’m training to run/walk a marathon in 8 hours.  Slower runners spend a lot more time on the course: in the elements (sun, wind, rain whatever),  on our feet, which equals a lot more impacts over the course of a long event, and in the what, at least for me, is the relative boredom of running a long time to end up where I started just more sweaty and probably with blisters..  I’m not arguing that it’s harder than running faster, just that it’s a different type of event with its own challenges.

Time Out of Your Life

Training for a marathon requires logging some serious miles.  When you do those miles at 20 minutes per mile rather than, say 10 minutes per mile, that’s a lot of extra time.  If you’re logging 20 miles in a week (a conservative number), the 10 minutes per mile person is spending  a little over 3 hours putting one foot in front of the other each week.  The 20 minutes per mile person is spending over 6.5 hours away from home. Over a year of marathon training that’s about 165 extra hours of running that have to be carved out of a busy scheduled.

The Joy of Passing

When you are a slow runner you spend lots of your time being passed by people, so there is a particular sense of joy – perhaps not the most mature joy – when you become the passer instead of the pass-ee. This has nothing whatsoever do to with the person you are passing – no doubt they are a fellow slow runner with whom you have slow runner solidarity which includes an understanding that being faster than someone, whether in a particular moment of a particular run or in general, doesn’t make you better than them – it’s purely about the experience of passing someone.

Nutrition is a Serious Thing

This one goes hand in hand with the time on the course.  Exercising for two hours fueled by some water and Gatorade is one thing.. Exercising for 8 hours fueled by some water and Gatorade can lead to a hitting of the wall that is truly spectacular.  Also, many of the “walker friendly” marathons leave the course open for 8 or 9 hours but close the aid stations on a much faster pace – for example a rolling 6 hours.  That means that at some point in the race the water and Gatorade that the faster runners glibly grabbed on their way by the aid station aren’t available to you and if you want a drink of Gatorade you better be packing some Gatorade.

Jerks Who Think They Are the Decider of Running

These are sad people who aren’t able to be happy with their own path in running and choose to put someone else down to feel good about themselves, instead of dealing with their issues.  These people typically choose a time – though, of course, a time that’s slower than what they run – that is “too slow.”  So if they run a 6 hour marathon, they will likely say that anyone who takes 7 hours or more shouldn’t get to run or shouldn’t get to call themselves a marathoner or whatever, never mind the fact that a marathon is a distance, not a time, or that they are comfortable with taking three times longer than the people at the front of the marathon to finish and still calling themselves a marathoner.

Nobody has any obligation to run (or to engage in any kind of movement) but I think that everyone who wants to should have every option open to them and be welcomed with wide open arms.

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16 thoughts on “Marathon Update: Things Slow Runners Will Understand

  1. Hi.  I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed this post.  5 years ago I enjoyed doing 5Ks and inviting friends to do them with me.  I was ridiculed more than once, and one time I remember someone, a women older than me, telling me I was walking slower than her mother, who was also walking with her.  I probably shouldn’t have, but I felt compelled to tell her I was doing a great pace for 323 pounds.

    In a quite different scenario, at the pool at my gym wearing my two piece bikini.  When I got in the water and woman and her daughter were in the pool.  The woman told me she was so happy to see me get in the pool because I really needed to be there.  I inferred from what she said in that moment that she was making a judgement of my body and I told her I wish I knew her before I got in that pool.  She would know that I don’t struggle to get in a pool, that has a window out on to the general workout floor where women and men and pumping iron.  I told her I was proud of my body and I would never say to anyone what she said to me about needing to be  in that pool.

    I wish more people who feel compelled to open their mouths and judge my body loudly in public would proactively leave their lips closed and leave my body in public be.  But that is not the world where I live. 

    So I keep on walking and swimming.

    1. That stuff can be so freaking hurtful! I posted something on facebook recently about how my Netflix subscription was currently winning out over my gym membership (lol) and some girl I used to go to church with said something like, “Oh, but if you make working out a part of your life, you will be so happy you did!” Girl, I go to yoga every week…and you think that gym membership is just there because I like paying $84 for funsies? Yes, I’ve been slacking lately, but she made it sound like I’d never worked out in my life and should try it! No doubt she meant well, knowing her, but I’m sure it had something to do with my size. I don’t think she would’ve said that to a skinny person.

  2. Love this post. When I was training for an Alcatraz swim a few years ago, a friend made a great comment that I have always remembered. He said, “The training IS the marathon.” I swam in a pool and I practiced in a lake starting in May (53 degrees in May in Colorado) and by the time my swim came along, I had 2 goals—to swim it in under an hour (1.25 miles) and NOT be the last person out of the water. I met both goals and have to say it was one of the proudest moments of my life. I love that you’re going for a 2nd marathon and I hope you totally rock it! Good luck and happy training!

  3. Ragen, I think you can expect to have a kick-ass support network for this marathon, now that we know what’s needed. Gatorade and water and whatever up until midnight if you want. Just sorry my Maryland State Police buddies don’t reach that far. You’d have a security detail, even if they weren’t in uniform (they get body diversity with a smile, now that one of their critical incident docs is F.A.T.).

    I’m on the E. Coast, so I can’t physically be there, but I’d be happy to make a contribution to support someone who can.

  4. I don’t understand, but it doesn’t matter. What I do understand is the not giving up and the daring to do it in the first place. Both of which are traits of yours that inspire me greatly.

  5. Several elite marathon runners have been quoted over the years as saying that they admire and respect those who are out there working just as hard as *they* do, but for many hours longer.

    There are some runners – usually people who are nothing special themselves, just OK club runners who might occasionally win an age category prize if they’re choosy which events they enter – who are condescending or dismissive of people who can’t get round a marathon in whatever time they’ve personally decided is a reasonable maximum. They’re not worth taking note of. Nor are those who say things like, “Anybody can run a four-hour marathon if they want it enough and put in the work.” That’s bullshit. We’re all different and we don’t all have the same capacity for speed or endurance. It’s like saying that anyone, irrespective of their intellectual capacity, could get a top class degree if only they wanted it enough and put in the work.

    Ragen, are you planning to do any shorter races in preparation for your marathon? I’m just being nosy now 🙂

    1. I totally agree with you, thank you so much for this!  I may do some shorter events, I’ll definitely keep you posted 🙂



      1. Technosaurus, thanks for this. I cannot run, at all. A combination of congenitally flat feet (I don’t mean low arches, I mean FLAT) and the associated ferocious pronation have caused me so many ankle injuries in my life that I cannot/will not even run across a street when the light is changing. I have had my ankle suddenly give way beneath me and have fallen *hard* too many times now to ever risk that again. (And yes, I have custom orthotics, and no, they don’t help enough for me to run.)

        Add to that the congestive heart failure that causes severe shortness of breath and makes it dangerous for me to elevate my heart rate too much, and clearly I’m going to walk, not run, period. For someone to tell me that I could run a four-hour marathon if I just “put in the work” is about as ridiculous as for me to tell someone who’s genetically tone-deaf that they could become a great composer if they’d just try!

        Someday, I might like to try to walk a half-marathon. Maybe. But walk, not run!

        1. Elizabeth, absolutely spot on. Running’s a lovely simple sport if you’ve got the engine and the bodywork to cope with it, but there are lots of reasons why it’s not appropriate for everyone. It’s certainly not for someone with lots of previous ankle injuries and congestive cardiac failure.

      2. I’d very much recommend doing shorter races for some of your speed sessions. Practising for the race day experience is an important part of training, and a big sociable 10km or half marathon can be a 100% fun day out in the way that a marathon isn’t.

        Short distances can also be very much NOT fun days out too, of course, if you run them hard enough. My husband, who was a strong runner before an injury sent him scuttling for his bike, used to say he hated 10km races because they hurt so much. Being a one-pace pit-pony, I didn’t get that at all. Hurt? Whaddya mean? Marathons always hurt at some point. Half marathons hurt towards the end if you haven’t done the training. But 10km? If it hurts, slow down and walk and you’ll still finish within two hours.

        Like I said, we’re all different 🙂

  6. I am currently training to walk my twelfth half marathon. I know people who believe I haven’t really earned the 11 medals I have, simply because I didn’t run those courses. To see the truth put so simply – “a marathon is a distance, not a time” – is perfection. I’m going to use this forevermore. Thank you, Ragen, and good luck with your training!

  7. Hear hear, Ragen. “it’s a different type of event with its own challenges”.

    I think there should be timed events as well as distance events – you run for x hours, and your achievement is how far you went, in that time, and that you actually lasted that long. I would totally support that.

    I’d love to do a marathon, but the only one around here has a 5 HOUR limit before they close things and send you down the back streets to god knows where. And the finish line closes after 7 hours…. not very inclusive.

    1. (to clarify – it would be cool if more timed events existed, not that there is anything wrong about distance runs/walks. Both could exist and would be their own special reward)

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