Slow Runner? No problem.
It’s only natural that runners – and, indeed, all athletes – would want to perform their best. You set goals and devote huge amounts of time and effort in their pursuit, constantly pushing yourself. Which is great. That’s how stuff get’s done.
Unfortunately, it’s very easy to feel discouraged and frustrated when you aren’t able to perform at the level that you think you should have reached. For runners, the particular measure of performance that causes concern is speed. If you happen to be a relatively slow runner, though, does it actually matter? How important is speed, really?
Defining Your Goals
Just to be clear, speed describes the amount of time that it takes you to cover a given distance. Why does that matter? Because understanding this makes it clear that, depending on your goals, speed may not be all that influential when measuring your success.
For many running events, endurance is a much more important factor to think about. Truthfully, though, speed only matters if you’re competing with other people – which isn’t always the case.
Granted, this might sound a touch counterintuitive at first. Consider, though, that many runners – even those who compete in marathons and other events – are really just trying to beat themselves or accomplish one specific goal. Many runners are simply trying to finish a particularly trying event. And that’s it.
So, while speed might be an impressive and easy-to-measure factor of performance, it’s actually importance depends entirely on what you’re trying to accomplish.
Fast Doesn’t Mean Healthy
The other thing to think about in any discussion on the importance – or perceived importance – of speed, has to do with potential benefits. Does moving faster inherently offer some benefits that slower runners are missing out on?
Not according to science. In fact, one large 2014 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology followed a massive group of 50,000 adults for 15 years. During that time, information on the both the physical activities and health of the participants was collected.
At the end of the study, the team found that running at any length or speed reduced the risk of death from both cardiovascular disease and other related conditions. Those who ran faster or for longer durations did not reap any additional health benefits when compared to their slower counterparts.
The Sweet Spot
Interestingly, more recent research has taken these findings a step further. A 2015 study conducted in Copenhagen, for example, compared the lifespans and running habits of 5000 adults over a 12-year period. When the data was compiled, the researchers actually found that a distinct U-shape curve formed.
But, what exactly does that mean? Essentially, sedentary people and athletes who performed high-intensity workouts had the same predicted lifespans. Individuals who stuck to moderate-intensity activities, though, tended to outlive them both.
Injuries, Aches and Pains
Finally, it’s important to consider how an increase in speed could effect your joints. Regardless of how quickly you’re moving, the joints of your legs deal with a tremendous amount of stress each time your foot hits the ground.
As your running speed increases, though, those forces also rise. In fact, your knees along could handle impact forces up to four times your body weight with each step when you’re moving at full speed. Interestingly, though, that doesn’t mean that running is bad for your knees. In fact, plenty of solid research says that it isn’t.
Unfortunately, the same can’t necessarily be said for your ankles. Unless properly prepared and used, these comparatively smaller, weaker joints could face a higher risk of overuse injury as your speeds increase.
But there are tons of other health conditions and concerns that could have a bearing on your speed. Some of these might automatically slow you down on their own. Others, though, could simply mean that you need to be mindful of the amount of stress that you place on your legs.
Summing It Up
So, based on all of the above, does running speed actually matter all that much?
Maybe. But it depends entirely on what you’re trying to accomplish. If you take competing seriously and are interested in outperforming other runners then, yes, speed is going to be an important aspect of your training. Runners who are just interested in conquering an event – as opposed to other athletes – though, don’t have to think so much about their speed. Finishing is the goal.
Similarly, if you run for fun or for health, speed doesn’t really mean all that much. Jogging at moderate intensities could be better for your heart than regular high-speed, high-intensity runs and will also reduce your overall risk of suffering overuse and other injuries.
So, if you struggle with feeling like a slow runner, there’s a very strong chance that it doesn’t matter. Relax, enjoy your runs and pursue realistic goals that will keep you motivated.
- Running of any length or speed reduces risk of death, News, Jul 28, 2014 ,
- Dose of Jogging and Long-Term Mortality, Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Feb 01, 2015 ,
- Impact forces in running, Journal, Dec 01, 1997 ,