Here’s my column from today’s Outdoors section:
One of the first questions someone asks, after you tell them you’re a runner, is, “How fast do you run?”
It’s a difficult one to answer.
Fast enough to get done before my lunch break is over? Fast enough to try to pass someone at the end of a race? Fast enough so someone can’t walk next to me, like my friend Christine did at one of my first post-partum runs after my son was born? (I punched her in the arm for that, she likes to remind me.)
Some people are so specific in their running and training – they hit goal paces in their runs, they do tempo runs, marathon-pace runs, easy runs.
Others just amble along, without a watch or a running log.
I fall somewhere in between. I run almost entirely by feel, and I’m always surprised that 5 miles at 7:40 pace can feel the same as 5 miles at 9:30 pace. It all depends on the day.
And, more importantly, on the conversation on the run.
Here’s sort of how it goes:
The Rage-Filled Run
The scene: Your spouse said something really annoying. Or did something really annoying. Nothing serious, just any number of typical marital frustrations. The more you think about it, the crankier you get. But you know you can’t say all the mean things you want to say – because they’re unfair, mean and come from a place of frustration, not love. You know who you can tell? Your running partner. And the more you tell, the more worked up you get. You pound up the hills, “And another thing,” you hiss, pushing the pace a bit. Eventually you realize your friend isn’t just listening, he’s gasping for air. That’s fine. You didn’t want any advice anyway. You just want to complain.
Average pace: 7:15
The Sleepy Run
The scene: It’s dark out. You’re barely awake. Your friends are barely awake. Everyone stands there, barely talking. “I guess we should go,” someone says. Everyone starts shuffling, making comments like, “I am so tired, I’m going to jog this one. Slow down, we’re jogging, remember?” It goes on like that, barely any conversation. But before you know it, you’re all awake, and laughing, and the sun comes up.
Average pace: 9:15
The scene: You’re standing in your office, staring out the window at the sun shining. Debating. Should I go and be a disgusting sweaty mess the rest of the day? Or should I sit here, surf the web and act like I’m going to get a bunch of work done? You have this argument with yourself up until the last minute. And then you rush to the gym. You stand outside, and watch as one by one, the random assortment of lunchtime runners forms downtown, and together you make your way to the bike path, catching up, talking about the weather and being grateful you made it. You’ll worry about your smeared eye makeup later.
Average pace: 8:00
The scene: A group of friends. One starts sharing an embarrassing story, usually involving some kind of involuntary bodily fluid loss along a running route. Then another friend shares a story about something that happened to “a friend” one time. We all know what that means. Another story. And another, each slightly more disgusting than the last. As the run goes on, it gets slower and slower, with more laughing each mile. “Oh my gosh,” you say, “That is so nasty,” as you envision your friend, washing her shorts out in a gas station bathroom along a marathon course (true story). At the end, people burst out in random laughter.
Average pace: Slows down to a 9:30, and includes people doubling over and making fun of each other.
The injured run
The scene: Your X hurts. Hamstring, pubic bone, shin, calf, IT band, foot, pride. The run starts easy, testing the injured area. You make a few comments about it. “It only hurts when I … run. Sit around. Don’t run. Cross-train. Don’t cross-train. Eat ice cream.” You answer all the questions. Did you rest? Ice? Take ibuprofen? Sacrifice your old running shoes to the running gods? Everyone gives advice. Shares their favorite massage therapist, sports doctor, home remedy and story. Nobody wants to push the injured runner. Then who would you run with?
Average pace: 10:00.
The Headphone Run
The scene: Every once in a while, you have to run alone. And when that happens, you bust out your 2008 ipod with the 2008 playlist, and the very few songs you’ve added since then. You cruise along to some old techno that no longer inspires you. Some old Elton John comes on (don’t judge me). You’re enjoying yourself. Oh wait, then some Justin Timberlake or LMFAO comes on. You pick it up. You can’t help it. You’re bringin’ sexy back. Look at that body. You work out. You refrain from shadowboxing at the stoplight. You sing out loud.
Average pace: 9:30, creeping to an 8:15 as your music moves up through the years
The Rainy Weather Run
The scene: Cloudy skies. A light rain. Or a chance of rain. You’re terrified of lightning, but it looks like it will be OK. So you head out. A rainy run can be a beautiful thing – as long as you remember a baseball hat because rain and glasses never works out. Then you notice something. Was that a streetlight flickering? Huh. Oh wait, there are no streetlights out here. At all. You look behind you. It’s a wall of lightning, chasing you down. You run the fastest mile of your life, crying, to the nearest gas station – over a mile away. And call your husband. True story.
Average pace: That one mile is somewhere near world-record mile pace, you’re sure of it.
The Competitive Run
The scene: You’re just out for a training run. It’s a beautiful day. A day to savor. You run into some friends, get to talking. Another friend shows up, someone you don’t know. They talk to you like you’ve never run before. It’s annoying. So you pick it up. They pick it up. You edge a little ahead. They move up. Before you know it, it’s a 10K-tempo run on your easy day. You try to not let on that you’re gasping for air, and you pray for a red light at the next intersection. This happens when you get passed by a random person on the bike path, too. Or when someone runs toward you, who just looks faster. Oops, time to look alive.
Average pace: It creeps up to whatever is too fast to be a good idea on an easy day.
And that, friends, is what happens out there.