Three Things to Consider and One to Do When You See a Slow Runner


You're going along, walking the dog, running by yourself, driving by, or maybe zooming by on a bike, and you see a slow runner. They could be old, they might be young. They might be small or large or even huge. They may have the most f'ing awful stride or move with the grace of a ballerina. They may be fashionably sporty, practically dressed, or running in jeans and flip flops.

I do not want your thoughts to be, "Ha, beginner!"
I do not want your thoughts to be, "Why do they bother? They are so slow!"
I do not want your thoughts to be, "Get out of the way, slow ass MF."


photo looking down at my feet in black running shoes, standing on a sidewalk

Consider This

If it is clear they are running for exercise and not out of fear or from danger, I want the first thought you think when you see this runner to be one of three thoughts:

1. Zone 2

You have your maximum heart rate and your resting heart rate. The non-measured maximum heart rate you have heard of 220 - your age is a formula distinctly geared towards 25 year old white men from the 1960s. It sucks. Your maximum heart rate will likely be different. I like the instructions and calculator. From those two values, maximum and resting, you can calculate five zones of aerobic exercise effort. Your Aerobic Threshold (AT) is at the top of your zone 2.

Barring all that nonsense, the fastest pace you can hold a conversation with is the top of your zone 2. You can figure out this top-of-zone-2 heart rate by going out with someone on a walk / jog / run and have a conversation, slowing down until you can actually HAVE that conversation. Or sing as you run. That conversation-having heart rate is in your zone 2 pace.

A runner builds up aerobic capacity by running in their zone 2 heart rate range. It is much slower than a race or elevated heart rate pace. That slow pace can sometimes look like a shuffle, just faster than a walk for some people. The movement is a weird near-jog. Or a zone 2 pace might be a quick jog. Or, in some high level athletes, that zone 2 is so fast that you likely wouldn't be able to keep up. We aren't talking those people, we're talking the slow people. Some zone 2 running is actually run for a bit, then walk for a bit, then run for a bit, then walk for a bit. All of this is fine.

That slow person might be in a Zone 2, aerobic capacity increasing workout. Go them!

2. Injury

There are some injuries that prevent a person from running full out or with a graceful stride. Knees are a common pain location. So are ankles and hips. Orrrrrrrrr, if you are me, your hamstring is killing you from that injury seventeen (17) f'ing years ago. Seriously, when I injured myself that day, I did not think this would be with me for a lifetime. I am unable to lift my knees my normal height when running. High knees in warmups are lessons in extreme pain endurance.

Some people just can't run at a faster pace because of injury.

3. None of Your Business

Why someone is running slowly is truly none of your f'ing business. They have their reasons. They are moving at that pace because they are moving at that pace. Maybe that's their race pace. Maybe they are old. Maybe they are just starting to run. Maybe they have no experience moving and this is an experiment to learn to move. Maybe that's their dead child's running pace and they are lost in a memory of running along side the small child who died years ago. Maybe they are obese and carrying far more weight than you can ever imagine, emotionally and physically. Maybe assholes mocking them as a child, as a teen, as a young adult, as a middle aged adult means every step outside is torture and they are dragging the decades of torment. Maybe this is the pace they want to go. NONE OF THAT MATTERS, because why they are moving at that pace is none of your business.

And do

Your first and only action when you see this runner, if you can and choose to interact with them, is to CHEER THEM ON. They are out running. They are DOING IT. They have overcome whatever inertia, injury, self-doubt, demons, gravitational force of that couch and are running. That is a fantastic thing to celebrate. Encourage that slow runner. Wave joyfully at them! Smile big and give two thumbs up! Celebrate they are improving themselves! Join in their joy of movement, because these bodies of ours are amazing.

These days, I am that slow runner. I want to punch Past Kitt in the face for all the times she didn't celebrate athletes of all shapes, sizes, abilities, and fitness levels. I have been and am pretty good at supporting others, but man, sometimes, I was a real asshole with my thoughts about other people and their paces. I'm grateful I wasn't an asshole out loud, but, come on Kitt, I wish you had learned to be gentle with yourself and others much, much sooner.

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