Words I Hate: “Only,” “But,” and “SLOW”

World Athletics Championships 2007 in Osaka - ...
Catherine Ndereba is one of the greatest marathoners of all times and a real runner. News Flash: you're a real runner too. Image via Wikipedia.

This post is for you – and you already know who you are.  You’re the one reading this hoping to learn more about us “real runners.”  You might even be hoping to be one of us … someday.

I’ve met a lot of you already, some of you at pace team booths, some of you at parties, some of you when I used to work at the law firm.  I meet you on airplanes, at the gym, at church.  Honestly, it’s kind of like “The Sixth Sense.”  I find you everywhere.

But you’re embarrassed to talk about running with me, or it’s actually a mutual friend who tells me that you run, much to your chagrin.  And why?

Because you only run 5K’s.

Because you did a marathon once, but not nearly as many as I’ve done.

And worst of all – the cardinal sin – because you’re “slow.”

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I’m fed up with it.

Yes, I’ve run an obscene number of marathons.  And yes, I’ve run some of them pretty fast.  And yes, I run unfathomable distances.  You’re right.  I have and I did and I do.

When I started running, I could only run a single mile without choking on air.  During my first marathon, I stopped at mile 23, hugged a tree, and cried.  And even today, I show up for runs with the fast people and I’m terrified.

And I feel like I’m not fast enough, not good enough to run with them.  Like I don’t belong there.

If you’ve found yourself here, you’re probably familiar with Salty Running’s first “great debate” – the square-off  between Ginger and Salty on what constitutes “running” a marathon.  Guess what?  We’re not going back there.  But I do have a few things to say, and I shall say them now.

When we use pejorative words –  I “only” do this; I do this “but” I haven’t done it a lot; or I do this really awesome thing really “slow” – we immediately make our effort “less than” someone else’s.  So in spite of our challenges, our lifestyles, our own mental and emotional demons – all of those we have overcome to get “here” – we still hang on to this feeling that we still aren’t good enough or that we don’t belong.

I want you to imagine, for a moment, how ludicrous it would sound if someone were to say to me “Well, I’m not a real runner like you.  I only do marathons.”

Really? ONLY 26.2?

Or what about this?   “I just finished chemo three months ago, but I managed to run-walk Race for the Cure.”

These are real live statements.  This is what we do to ourselves.

Yep.  I run fast(ish) marathons and close to 100 miles a week and place in 100 milers.

But I’m not as fast as Krissy Moehl.  Or Nikki Kimball.  Or Ellie Greenwood.

And the times I placed it was only because the faster runners had to drop.

Doesn’t that sound awful?

I run fast(ish) marathons and close to 100 miles a week and place in 100 milers.  But you know what two of my favorite races were?  45 and 50 minute 5K’s.  One was with my friend Amy, who, like Salty’s friend Tim, had recently quit smoking.  Three months later, we lined up for the Jingle Bell 5K together.  Amy cried at the finish.  I would have too.

The other was with my mom.   My very overweight mother who had lost almost 100 pounds, and after years of traveling to marathons with me decided she would run-walk the companion 5K at the Mardi Gras Marathon.  I was so proud of her that I switched from the full marathon to the half marathon so I could do the 5K with her, then pick up the half marathon course at the start/finish line of the figure-8 course.

I’ve never fought the weight battle.  Sure, I dropped some lb’s (and my boobs) when I started running.  But that was just a bonus.

I don’t know what it’s like to balance training with a family.  Hubby and I don’t have to work around school and day care and quality time with the kids.  And he runs too, so if we feel like we’ve been disconnecting, we just schedule our runs at the same time, even if we run separately.

I haven’t experienced major illness.  I don’t know what it’s like to fight through three miles during chemotherapy, or how to make my body work again after cancer.  I pray I never have to learn these things, but other women do it every single day.

Work, family, illness, weight, depression, fear of failure.  Divorce, miscarriage, parental death.  Women are out there fighting these demons every single day.

And I dare any of them to say “but,” “only,” or “slow.”

Webster’s defines the verb “race” as follows:  “to go, move or function at top speed.”  You will note there is no mention of pace; of running or walking or combining the two; or even of specified distance.  It is merely “to go, move or function at top speed.”  It is a moving target.

So keep moving, move proudly, and most importantly, own it.

Have you ever tried to “race” while hanging your head?

It’s not easy, is it?

I finished Boston two weeks after I ran a 100 mile PR. BUT I didn't even manage to break 4 hours. (Sarcasm intended.)
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Trail and adventure enthusiast. Girl who swears like a sailor but not when she's teaching Sunday School. Survived infertility without a successful pregnancy. Self-employed, primarily working for Clif Bar and Company. Thirteen 100-mile race finishes with seven top 3 placements. An original Saltine.

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  1. Love this. And I’m sending it to all of my friends who run but don’t believe they are “runners!”

  2. This is awesome, I often do this in my head, but try not to do it out loud. I suppose that is a step in the right direction. Right now I am recovering from knee surgery, so I’m not running at all. It’s so hard to know that when I start back up in a few weeks that I will almost back to square one. . . but I know that I will still be a runner. Check out my progress at mainlyrunning.com!

  3. Thank you for this. I really needed this today–for so many other reasons than just my insecurities about running.

  4. I heart this post so much. So many of us at all levels deny ourselves from fully reveling in our accomplishments. We focus on the few tiny negatives and compare ourselves to all those who are faster, better or more experienced. I am admittedly guilty of this. I am terrible about nit-picking race performances and always looking for what went wrong and not celebrating the 99% that went right. Darn it. I’m sick of it of it too! Let’s start an appreciating ourselves revolution! Ok, you start 🙂

  5. Great post Clove! No matter how fast I get I have to remind myself not to engage in this sort of internal debate! There is always someone faster to compare ourselves to if we choose to go there. But I like the approach of patting ourselves on the back for the fabulous things we do no matter where that puts us in the whole racing line up and running universe.

  6. I hadn’t read this until today, but it’s awesome. It really and truly brought tears to my eyes, because of how transparently honest it is. Thank you for these words.