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Why Running Goals Shouldn't Just Be About Being Fast

Alison Feller

Four years ago, I was fast.

Fast, of course, is a relative term. I’ll never be an elite runner or even a feared age group competitor. But I was faster than I had ever been before, and it was awesome.

As a runner, I peaked in 2011.

It was fun and thrilling, and it’s easy to see why I loved running. That year, I PR'd in every race distance. And while it was never easy, I got faster simply by showing up and doing the workouts my coach prescribed. I remember blog readers asking how I improved my race times (from a 2:14 half-marathon to a 1:44 in two years), and my response was a very unhelpful, “I just ran more and tried harder.”

Now, it’s 2015, and all of my current personal records are from that “fast year” a lifetime ago. I have continued running more and trying harder, but I’m slower than I’ve been in years. My times today are nowhere near where they used to be, and it’s so hard not to compare Runner Ali Today to Runner Ali 2011.

Runner Ali 2011 was younger, peppier, lighter, leaner, and stronger. She ran, strength trained, and took pretty good care of herself. Runner Ali Today runs and tries to do some yoga, but she hasn’t picked up a heavy weight in weeks (except to move a set of dumbbells so I could sweep behind them) and, well, she’s got about 15 lbs on her former self. (Want to improve your strides? Read up on 7 Ways to Become a Better Runner Without Running.)

This past weekend, I ran the MORE/Fitness/SHAPE Half Marathon, and although it wasn’t an all-out race effort (saving that for the Brooklyn Half!), my pace was still slower than the pace at which I used to comfortably do my long runs. And I felt far more beat up afterward!

My body has been through the ringer since 2011. I have Crohn’s disease, and it’s given me the ultimate run for my money for the past few years. I’ve been hospitalized, I’ve gone on disability leave from work, and I’ve gone weeks without being able to leave my apartment (definitely no running). I’ve been in remission for about a year now, and I’m immensely proud of what my body can do considering all it’s been through. Forget being able to run marathons and half-marathons—I’m happy I can leave the apartment!

So it’s a process, but I’m learning to accept the runner I am today instead of constantly comparing myself to the runner I used to be. I sometimes worry that I’ll never run a 1:44:48 again! The comparison trap is a nasty game to get into, and despite my best efforts, I sometimes find myself playing. (I never win.)

My goal for the Brooklyn Half isn’t to PR. It isn’t to run a 1:44:47. My goal is to run strong, knowing that even though I may not be the runner I used to be, I’m still the same in one big way: I never, ever, ever stop trying. (Get more out of your runs with 10 Ways to Improve Your Running Technique.)

And who knows: Runner Ali 2015 or Runner Ali 2019 or Runner Ali 2048 may be lurking on the sidelines, ready to drop the hammer on some seriously speedy race times. I’m sticking around to find out.

Alison Feller is a writer and editor in New York City. She has completed five marathons, 11 half-marathons, and many shorter distance races. When she’s not writing or on the run, Alison can be found in the yoga studio, on a spin bike, or (on very rare occasions) cycling outdoors with her fiancé. Keep up with Alison on her blog, Ali On The Run, or on Instagram and Twitter @AliOnTheRun1.



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