What to do when you can’t keep up with your peers

Yesterday I made my third attempt at reaching a specific time goal in the half marathon distance. I’ve been training for months to speed up my pace from an average of over eleven minutes per mile to a solid 10-minute mile. I want to finish a half marathon in under 2 hours and 15 minutes. Weekly I do speed work and train at my goal pace, increasing the distance I can do holding the 10-minute target speed.

In my first two attempts to meet my goal, I wore my Garmin GPS, which tells me my pace every step of the way. For yesterday’s race, I’d decided to leave both my GPS and my music at home. My running coach, Carol Frazey, (from The Fit School) had convinced me that my GPS was holding me back. “Feel it,” she told me. “Get to know it. Trust yourself.” I agreed to give it a try.

The problem was that without any information about how fast I going, I couldn’t gauge whether or not I needed to speed up or slow down. I don’t actually know my body at this new pace well enough to trust it yet. So, as I ran along listening to the footfalls of the runners around me, I tried to keep up with them. I couldn’t call up my training and hear the information my own body was giving me. And people were passing me. Left, right, left again. Whooshing past me from behind were dozens of runners who had started in the same corral with me because, ostensibly, they were roughly my pace.

Mind you, I’m a veteran runner who has prided herself in jogging to the beat of her own drum, but even so, I began to feel extremely disturbed. Normally, I have something to tell me if I’m on point—my GPS, the music in my ear, the familiarity of a slow pace I’ve run at for more than a decade. Suddenly, I was without reliable information. The only resources I had were these people who were supposed to be my pace group. Why were they passing me? Was I going too slow? But when I sped up, I felt I couldn’t sustain the quicker pace. My anxiety was intensifying by the minute.

Finally, I had to step to the side of the crowd and slow to a walk to gather my nerves. I gave myself a pep talk about deep listening and dug into my consciousness to find the inner wisdom that helps me remember I am my own person and not a reflection of those around me. When I started running again, I worked hard to close out the sound of other runners and the inner voice of comparison that was creating anxiety. Breathe, breathe, breath. Step, step, step. I found my pace. Whether or not I reached my final goal of 2:15, I knew I was where I needed to be in the moment.

This experience has got me thinking about a couple of women in my life who have lately told me about goals they are trying to reach. One wants to have a baby. Another wants to quit a bad habit and build a more positive lifestyle. Both of them are watching the people around them pass them by. They see age mates with the lives they want, people “finishing” the race ahead of them. And the anxiety gets out of control.

I started to wonder about how a person can really find her own pace/life—the one that fits only her—when the crowd she runs with is on a different schedule. It isn’t easy to watch your peers pass you by. It’s important to pull over, slow down even a little more, and dig for the inner wisdom that speaks ONLY TO YOU. Only you know what your pace/goal/need is. And inasmuch as it is informed by those around you, anxiety will have a foothold.

How do you slow down, though? How do you get out of the race just long enough to collect yourself and recalibrate? Running has taught me these strategies that I apply to my life. Maybe they’ll work for you, too:

1. Know your question. Are you asking yourself if you should go back to school? Have a baby? Give up alcohol? Get a puppy? Quit a job? If you don’t know the question, it will be hard to listen for the answer. Ask and then listen. And if you don’t get the answer right away, listen some more.

2. Bless those who pass you. When I jumped back in my race yesterday, I had to decide (and it wasn’t easy) to be encouraging and glad for the runners who passed me. “Good job,” I shouted. “You look strong.” Let’s face it; it’s all relative. Those in front of you might wish they were miles ahead of where they are. Everyone struggles with something. If you release your peers from serving as a point of comparison for you and let them run their best race, you can spend your energy on running yours—instead of on jealousy.

3. Remember that there is always another race to run. If you don’t make your goal or find your pace in the current race (I didn’t meet my time goal, yesterday, by the way—to see the whole story, you can look at my running blog), there WILL be a next time. Oh yes, it’s true that some opportunities will pass us by and we will have to grieve the loss of missed opportunities, but it is never too late to know and respect one’s own goals and way of being in the world.

Race well.

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