I Avoided Training For A 10k — Then I Embraced Slow Running

Photo Courtesy of Tanyel Mustafa.
I’ve never been “a runner”, whatever that is (presumably, a person who can run, which surely a lot of people are?). When it came to sports day at school and I was forced to take part, I always picked the relay. My thinking was: It’s a short run, where I slowed the team down, but the next person could pick up the pace and claw back time. I could feel my fellow classmates lamenting when it would be my turn. It was embarrassing and hardly encouraged a love of running. Except one year, as much to my own surprise as everyone else’s, I won my leg of the race. I remember the rush and feeling in my legs vividly, but the damage was already done: This was a fluke. 
Fast forward over a decade, I’m voluntarily running regularly with the goal of completing a 10k in the summer. And I’m doing it slowly. The race isn’t until August, so I’m taking my training at a gentle pace. This means training intuitively and listening to what my body can do each day, rather than following a rigid guide. Sometimes I’m not up for a long run, so settle on a slow 3k and am still glad I got up; other days I don’t want to run at all; and on some days I feel a surprising urge to take on a 5k with the aim of achieving a personal best. By training this way, I’ve managed to keep running an enjoyable activity, unlike the way I used to dread it at school. I’m undoing the narrative so many of us hold that in order to run, we have to be exceptional and “a natural” at the activity. Slow running is a big “f*ck you” to that. 
Sport, though more accessible to all in recent years through campaigning, has historically felt elitist and reserved for the fastest, fittest, strongest among us — I won’t be the only one who’s carried that mentality into adulthood after bad PE experiences as a child. Running stats prove the collective headspace around who can do this and how they do it (fast or slow) is changing for the better, though. Between 1986 and 2018, average running times stretched out. People are taking 12 minutes longer to do a 10k, because a wider spectrum of people are taking up the activity. For example, there’s a group in London called the Slow Running Club, which runs weekly, and has 4,000 followers. 
The exact average 5k running time for women varies on different sites, but lots put it at around 40 minutes. Meanwhile, 26 minutes is regularly cited as a “good” time to aim for. I can currently do it in 32 minutes, putting me somewhere in the middle. I’m learning that in order to hit longer distances, I need to run at a slower pace to sustain my energy: 6.28 minutes per kilometre to be exact. When I shave off 30 seconds from that time, I run out of steam by 3km, and my goal is to run further than I ever have before. 
There’s no shame in being slower, yet even though I know this logically I have felt put off when a dad speeds past me at Park Run. Going slower is often taken to mean a person isn’t good at something. Undoing the shame, and therefore deciding to be slow with intention has been vital for me. New research from ASICS found that lower self-belief in sports capability results in lower self-confidence, and then lower activity levels. I’m a prime example of this. It makes sense to me that 38% of those surveyed feel too intimidated to start a new sporty activity because of low self-confidence, and ASICS’ focus group of 187 people repeatedly raised this as a barrier to sport as an adult. 
On TikTok, I’m seeing loads of women embracing being slow runners (the term has 118 million views on the app) and fostering a supportive community. They’ve been proudly sharing their training for anything from a 5k to a marathon, and some have never taken up running before. Watching someone complete their first ever 3k is a reminder that running, no matter the distance or speed, is an achievement. Sometimes I think people forget what it’s like to be a total newbie and how challenging those first “smaller” milestones can be. I ran my first 7k last week in 46 minutes and the joy I felt in hitting a new milestone lifted me for the rest of the day — even if my feet were heavily blistered. 
@celinastephenson join me for the rollercoaster that is :::: running a half marathon by yourself (as a slower runner) 🥹🥹🥹 #slowrunner #runner #slowrunnersunite #marathontraining #halfmarathon #beginnerrunner #realisticrunning ♬ original sound - Celina Stephenson
Over time I’d like to build up momentum, but I’m talking over several months. The main thing for me is that I finish my race in the summer, and if I’m one of the last people to cross the line, that’s okay. When I’ve done Park Run, I’m usually in the final group of people to finish. My ego is humbled, but because of the endorphins released during exercise, the high I’m on overrides it.
So yes, you can go for that run if you’re getting an itch to do it, and no you don’t have to finish it in under a certain number of minutes, or go for a fixed number of miles. Every run you do is valid, and I’m learning this everytime I choose to go slower.

How to train for a 10k as a slow runner

Karen Guttridge, PT for ASICS, says slow running is good for allowing the body time to adapt to the stress running puts on it. If you need any convincing, she says there’s lots of benefits to training this way. “Tendons, ligaments, joints, and bones adapt best when challenged gradually rather than being overloaded by speed,” she tells Refinery29. “Similarly your heart, lungs and muscles respond best to a slow approach, gradually getting stronger and more efficient. Mitochondria are little powerhouses that live in your muscle cells. They convert the fuel into energy for your muscles to use. Long-slow runs increase the size and number of mitochondria. Slow running allows you to build endurance whilst reducing your risk of injury due to the lowered intensity.” Not only that, mentally you’ll practise having more patience too, she adds.
Get over everyone else
“It’s very easy to fall victim to measuring your success by your speed or distance covered but make sure to design your own metrics for success,” Guttridge says. “Ask yourself what running gives you and focus on that. Perhaps it’s relief from stress, time to yourself or a wonderful mood boost. “I think you’ll find the running community to be non-judgmental when it comes to pace; most are preoccupied with their own workouts anyway.”
Minutes not miles
For complete newbies, when deciding how long each session will be, think in minutes and not in miles. Guttridge says at the beginning of the process the distance is not important, while the time spent on your feet is. “I always advise complete beginners to start by incorporating some 30 minute walks into their week before starting to add a little running into those walks,” she says. “The idea is to gradually increase the amount of time you’re running and decrease the walk segments.”
Habit building
Create new running habits by setting targets that are easy, to help you get into the flow of running. “Setting yourself up for success is really important in the early stages of any new exercise plan,” Guttridge says. “As a suggestion, lace up your trainers and aim to go out for just five minutes. Your mind will present much less resistance to this idea than it would if faced with a 40-minute session. It’s extremely likely though, that once you’re out there, you’ll do more than five minutes. The thing to remember — and this is key — is that once you’ve done your five minutes then you’ve successfully achieved your task regardless of whether or not you go on to do more.”

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