When Slowest is Best

Some people assume that a runner’s best race is the one with the fastest finish time. That’s just not so. I experienced one of my best 5k races when I ran my slowest. The lessons that I learned from that race are priceless.

Not long after completing a half-marathon, I was feeling a little blue. I had spent months preparing for that race and I wasn’t sure how to proceed with my running once it was over. Although I was initially happy with my half-marathon results, a friend of mine who had run the race with little training had achieved a much faster time. Envy and discouragement set in. Why couldn’t I run faster?

Instead of just accepting the fact that I was a new runner and still improving, I became dissatisfied and impatient with my progress. So, I decided that my new goal should be to run faster. With my goal set, I began following a training plan that promised to improve my 5k time.

Initially, the plan was easy to follow and I felt better with something to focus on. The workouts were challenging but doable. Full of optimism, I registered for an upcoming race. However, about half-way through the plan, I began experiencing pain in my left calf. Determined to not let it stop me, I amped up my strength training. Maybe I just needed to strengthen my leg muscles.

Unfortunately, the more that I tried to follow the running plan, the more pain I experienced. But, instead of stopping, I just ran through the pain. Filled with foolish stubbornness, I refused to give up on my plan. Over time, my right knee also started to hurt when I ran, possibly because my stride was thrown off from favoring my left side. When the pain in both legs became so bad that it was hurting just to walk, I knew I had to take a break.

With the race only a few weeks away, I didn’t want to rest too long. Despite my pain, I was still determined to run my fastest 5k. A week seemed like long enough, so I took a break from running and then tried again. I would just run a little to test my legs. At first, I felt good. There was no pain at all. About ten minutes into the run my left calf seized up and my right knee began hurting. I hobbled home defeated knowing that my quest for a personal best was over. The race was two weeks away.

How could I have been so foolish? What was I thinking, running through the pain? Now, I had to decide if I should rest for two weeks and then try to run or walk the race or just skip it altogether. Since I had convinced a friend to register with me, I didn’t want to skip it. I spent the next two weeks resting, elevating, compressing, and icing my legs. When race day came, the pain seemed to be gone. However, I didn’t know if I could run without pain. I prayed that the pain would not resurface.

Thankfully, that prayer was answered. Not knowing what my legs were capable of, I forced myself to go slow. Instead of pushing my body, I focused on just enjoying the race. Every step along the way that I didn’t feel pain was a little victory. As I neared the finish line, my heart was full of thankfulness. The time on the clock didn’t matter. My injury was gone.

The post-race party was especially sweet that day. Even though my prideful obstinance had led me into unhealthy behavior, I was healed and I had learned my lesson. No longer would I compare myself to another runner. No longer would I run through an injury. No longer would I be so focused on a goal that I ignored my body’s warning signs. Even though I ran my slowest time that day, it was the best time just because I was able to run it.