Words matter. And the word ‘slow’ doesn’t help anyone.

Do you want to go out for a run with me sometime? If I've had a big day at work, it'll probably be a slow one whereas if it's parkrun on a Saturday morning, it'll probably be fast. Here's the thing – those words, slow and fast, won't mean the same to you as they do to me. So, really, they're not at all helpful as a way of describing pace. Therefore I am proclaiming loudly from my soapbox today – please stop using them when it comes to describing pace.

This rant is the result of some training runs advertised as being at a 'slow' pace…of 5.40min/km to 6.40min/km. I have absolutely no problem with the pace being suggested and think it was hugely helpful to have that there. Knowing people will be running at that pace means it's not suitable for me which is fine. What I take issue with is advertising this as 'slow'.

To start with, that pace is not my idea of slow. There have been times when I've managed to run that pace but never for longer than a few minutes and never without being seriously oxygen deprived at the end. Plus it was possibly downhill. I also have some running friends for whom that pace is average. And some others who would find it not just slow but glacially so. So the continuum of pace descriptions really is a personal one and not a universal benchmark that we can all use to compare.

However, even worse than that – if that is somehow universally considered as 'slow', what do you call my pace? Or those who take longer than me to run a kilometre? Runners at the back of the pack like myself have to work hard to gain acceptance that comes quite easily to some others. I credit parkrun for helping open up the running community and ensuring it is inclusive for all regardless of shape, size, speed, running style or athletic background (or lack of). Putting labels on specific paces feels very much like a backwards step, like a 'you're just not trying hard enough' type of vibe. It probably didn't help that, when I drew attention to the non-slowness of the slow group, it was suggested I might like the beginners' running plan. It is true that I might however I'm not a beginner. I've just ticked off 8 half marathons, am training for my first full marathon and have been running consistently for 4 years. Yes, it is possible to have been running for that long and STILL be this pace.

And just to clarify, I'm not having a go at the fact this training run doesn't cater for me. I'm completely ok with that. I'm also completely ok with events having cutoff times that don't cater for all paces. I always look carefully at cutoff times and previous results before I enter anything and make sure the event is the right fit for me. I don't want to be out on the course alone any more than the event will want me there, keeping roads open and volunteers waiting around for a lonely runner. I stick to events where my pace is welcomed and the logistics have been organised accordingly. (Actually, while we're on the topic – saying 'no cutoff time' is not helpful either. Unless you actually, genuinely mean it. If you're happy to still be waiting for me 7 or 8 or 9 hours after the marathon started, great. If not, tell me that.)

In short, language matters. So let's all make a pact to stop using 'slow' or 'fast' to describe a run unless we quantify it by acknowledging that it's fast or slow 'for me'. And help re-educate the world by calling it out when we see others do it.

Ok, rant over. And, if anyone does feel like coming for a run, that's great – expect about 8.00min/km after a hard day at work and 7.00-7.30min/km on a Saturday morning. Unless it's downhill 🙂

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7 thoughts on “Words matter. And the word ‘slow’ doesn’t help anyone.

  1. Kirsty says:

    Could not love this more! I’ve just found your blog through my (amazing, supportive, uplifting) running club.. where words like ‘just’ (as in ‘I’m just doing five kms’) and ‘slow’ are not used. So glad to have come across you, will be following from now on!

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    • Thanks so much Kirsty – doesn’t it make a huge difference when you find your ‘people’?! Great to have you on board and hope more of it resonates with you in the future 🙂

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  2. Kate says:

    I’m fairly sure I know where you saw that – I saw it too and thought exactly the same. Like you, my definition of slow is much different to theirs and I too immediately thought, wow, here I was thinking I was improving but they wouldn’t even classify me as slow – talk about demoralising! It’s hard not to take it personally and judge yourself when paces are labelled in this way. It almost made me wonder if my having completed 6 marathons (5 of which I believe is where you saw this pace labelled) and who knows how many other various events, even counts if I’ve completed them in a pace that is deemed to be less than “slow”. Shouldn’t we be celebrating participation and pushing ourselves to achieve our own personal bests??

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    • Absolutely! What I love about parkrun is that we celebrate all finishers – 5km is 5km, regardless of how long it takes to complete it. I feel like I’m lucky that I saw their post at this stage of my journey, where I have a high enough running esteem to not flinch at their comments but what if I’d seen it when I was starting out? It was things like this that kept me from running for so long and I’d hate to think that their comments were stopping anyone else.

      Thanks so much for your comment – great to know there are people who feel the same 🙂

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  3. My sentiments exactly! Love this! I even had a good friend of mine, who also happens to be a ultramarathoner, tell me that she laughs at those who put 13.1 stickers on their cars…. I currently had one on mine at the time. People just do not realize the damage they can do with just a few words or how much more good they could do with a few encouraging words instead!

    Great post!

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    • Wow – that’s horrid! We all have such different stories, goals and reasons for running – I’d never laugh at anyone’s dreams or achievements. I was hearing about a woman the other day who has a big goal of finishing 5km in under an hour at parkrun – good on her!!! Hope I can be there to cheer her over the line when she does! And I’m equally happy to celebrate my ultra-marathoner friends. You’re definitely right – words have such power and we need to be so careful with how we use them 🙂

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