Runners Unite Against Speedism

The Tortoise and the Hare (film)
If these guys can do it, we can too! Image via Wikipedia.

Our running selves are made up of lots of things: our level of ambition; the amount of time we’re willing to commit to the sport; our life circumstances; our athletic history; our DNA; and even our finances determine who we are as runners.  With all these variables defining us, it’s no wonder we’re all so different and that there is about 5 hours between the winner and the last person to cross the finish line in most marathons.

In this light, our differences seem like no big deal. We’re all runners, right? But the reality is not so Kumbaya.  Speedism divides us.

It’s time we runners unite against speedism!

[pullquote]My desire to be faster is not related to my feelings about other people. My choices, goals and ambitions are my own. I don’t judge others who approach running differently than I do.[/pullquote]

How often have you seen a super fast person at a race and assumed they wouldn’t give you the time of day? How often, when talking to another runner, have you assumed they were bragging when they admitted to extremely high mileage and incredibly fast race times? How often have you seen those working their tails off in the back of the pack pitied them briefly and then never gave them another thought. How often have you talked to another runner and dismissed them after they told you their marathon time was 2 hours slower than yours?

Sure, it might be human nature to group people and pass judgment. But that doesn’t mean it’s something that contributes to our enjoyment of the sport. It doesn’t! It’s high time we unite against speedism!

By now I’m sure you have some idea what I’m talking about, but let’s discuss my definition of speedism:

Speedism (spēd’ – izm)  n. 1. The preconceived notion that a runner of a different ability than you is either a better or lesser person than you are. 2. The impulse to socially ostracize oneself from those of different running ability.

You might be shaking your head and thinking this doesn’t apply to you. But speedism is not necessarily a conscious belief, but rather one reflected in the way we treat and think about other runners.

And it’s not limited to the faster looking down on the slower as many people might assume. This definitely goes both ways and I’ve experienced it both ways! I am moderately successful recreational runner who loves training my butt off and pushing myself to be my best. I’ve experienced the “why is she cooling down with us” attitude of some faster runners and also the “I’m not worthy to be in your presence” weirdness or the “you’re such a braggy b*tch because you’re discussing how fast you are” from slower runners.

I don’t know about you, but when it comes to running I am passionate about it and LOVE to talk about it, especially with other runners. I am also the type of person who is in hot pursuit of excellence for myself. But that doesn’t mean I think I’m hot stuff or better than anyone finishing races after me or who are less ambitious than I am for whatever reason. Likewise, I am not trying to come after those who are currently faster than me – my desire to be faster is not related to my feelings about other people. My choices, goals and ambitions are my own. I don’t judge others who approach running differently than I do, but I often feel alone in this regard.

[pullquote]Salty Running is not a pace, it’s an attitude.[/pullquote]

Whether someone scoffs at slower runners or puts faster runners on a pedestal, it’s all the same: speedism. Let’s nip this trend in the bud and we’ll all be better runners, because speedism does not just lead to social awkwardness and hurt feelings. Speedism contributes to cattiness and being overly critical of ourselves. Being overly critical causes negative thinking which diminishes performance. Cheering for others, being happy for them whatever their accomplishments are and being open-minded about others leads to positive thinking, relaxation and improved performance!

Speedism prevents us from seeing the possibility of friendship in others who share the love of running. These friendships could lead to training relationships that could help both parties. I can’t tell you how grateful I am right now that I have friends of many different running abilities because otherwise, I’d have no one to run with now that I’m so pregnant and not as fast as I usually am! Not to mention the amazing friendships outside of running that I have with both slower and faster runners – that alone is well worth dropping the speedist judgments about people! Additionally, to make that leap to the next level of running, it helps to have friends who are faster to pull you along sometimes. Pepper, for instance, recently wrote about her formerly faster friends who helped her make that big breakthrough to really racing marathons.  Having a broad network of running friends will also make running much more enjoyable. What a great feeling to finish a race and head back out on the course and cheer for tons of friends still out there!

If Pepper and I were speedists we’d never be friends. When I met her I was faster. Now she’s faster. And we’ve helped each get better and had fun doing it all along the way!

Speedism does not just impact us at races or in training. Here’s another example from my own experience. I’ve heard of people who check out Salty Running and see us talking about “getting faster” and immediately tune us out because they’re not ‘fast’ and don’t want to be. Maybe we need to change the tag line for the site from “Women Who Love Running. Faster.”  to “Women Who Love Running. Better,” since it seems ‘fast’ is a loaded word and turns many people off. Perhaps I’m biased, but I think we have a lot of great information for runners of all abilities and it saddens me to think that one simple word, “faster,” is so unnecessarily offensive to some that they discount everything we say. Why is it such a crazy idea that women who are fast and women who are slow, but who all love to run could inhabit and enjoy the same community?

On the Salty Running twitter feed the other day I wrote: Salty Running is not a pace, it’s an attitude. And it’s true. It’s true of the vast majority of runners at any given race, regardless of finishing time. Whatever time we finish in we’re proud of our accomplishment or disappointed we didn’t meet our goal. Slow or fast, most of us want to improve. Whether in the front or the back of the pack, whether we invest 11 hours a week to running or 3, whether we rotate 4 pairs of trainers or one, most of us care about our performances and want to get better. It’s why we keep lining up again and again. And wouldn’t it be nice to line up with hundreds of comrades, rather than hundreds of those other “fast” or “slow” people?

Have you ever been a perpetrator or victim of speedism? What can we do to fight speedism?

Salty Running boss and mother of 3 little ones with PRs of 3:10:15 (26.2), 1:25:59 (13.1) and 18:15 (5k). I love to write about running culture, mental training, and fitting in a serious running habit with the rest of a busy life.

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19 comments

  1. I totally agree with this. We can learn so much and get so much support from other runners – no matter how fast or slow. I was just telling my Girls on the Run girls last night that we are all different and we all have different goals to set for race day, but our teammates will help us achieve those goals with their support and camaraderie. It is true whether you are an 8 year-old runner or an 80 year-old runner (or anywhere in between). 🙂

    1. It’s amazing that it’s easier to get this message across to little ones than to us adults! But racing and running in general are truly so much more fun when you cheer for all and don’t judge people based on speed. It’s such a simple thing, but for some reason speedism is quite pervasive. Maybe when your girls are all grown up the climate will be much better. Hope so!

  2. AMEN! I’ll fully admit I’m guilty of speedism (and passing judgements in about a thousand other ways) and it’s something I’m working on. When we learn to accept others as they are and where they are on their journeys, we all move forward.

    Three cheers for the end of speedism!

    1. Thanks, Leah! When we stop judging others we also tend to be kinder to ourselves which is often the key to our own better running performances. Also, it’s just a lot more fun to be kind to others and ourselves!

  3. THANK YOU for this post!!! After frequenting this page now for a few weeks, I started thinking… “Whoa… these girls are RUNNERS…. I’m just a runner….” and was wondering if I had wandered into a place I didn’t really belong. (I was being a speedist and didn’t know it!) So thank you for putting it all out there! I am training for my 6th half marathon and have ran for 5 years, but it wasn’t until the last year I really started to learn about running. Learn about the science of it, the art of it, the secrets only seasoned runners can tell you. Thank you for sharing all your insight!

    1. Diane, that’s why we’re here! To share our wealth of information and experience and to also learn from our readers. We don’t know it all and I can’t tell you how many times I learn something new from one of the bloggers or commenters that I didn’t know before. It’s awesome 🙂 Thanks so much for joining us!

  4. Even as a member of the Salty team, as a beginner, I have to admit to being intimidated by the “Women Who Love Running. Faster.” image of the site. Now, I haven’t had a race yet and I’m not sure where my pace tends to fall in the speed spectrum, but I read the posts of seasoned (HA!) runners on the blog and I think lesser of myself at times. So, that makes me guilty of speedism, too.

    1. You are where I was in about October 2004 as far as running goes. I knew a little about what I was doing from high school running and reading Runners World, but not that much. I think back to that time and how awesome it would have been to have Salty Running and someone like you to relate to and go through it with. You are our ambassador to those beginners – you’re the bridge for the women just getting started to the Clove and Pepper world of running!

      And yeah, quit being a speedist to yourself 🙂

  5. I see this kind of behaviour on Internet running forums. Comments like ‘why are you advising a runner like X?’, referring to the fact that X is very fast and I’m not as fast. What the heck has that got to do with my ability to give advice? Fact is I’ve not been running for very long, which is why I’m relatively ‘slow’. This doesn’t mean I don’t have some very good ideas to share about training and running in general. But besides that, speed is relative. I’m sure some of these ‘fast’ runners pale in comparison to the top elite runners.
    I just can’t stand speed snobs who look down their noses at slower runners!