The Girl Gang Defending Slow Runners
Documenting her journey from beginner runner to completing a marathon, Celina Stephenson has brought tens of thousands of slow runners together online and now in real life as well.
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Things to do in a fit of pique when you’re just getting into the routine of running regularly? Sign up for a marathon! That’s what Celina Stephenson did.
Despite only starting to run consistently in June of this year, Celina gave herself 268 days to train for the London Marathon. A very achievable target for someone who is young, fit and healthy.
What happened next is different, however. Gaining well over 20,000 followers on TikTok and almost 40,000 on Instagram suggests that the Irish national’s story was one worth listening to.
What’s her hook? She runs slowly. A sub-5hr marathon? Maybe. Time and speed are not really a priority, though.
Why do you run slowly?
“It's all I can do. It’s not a strategic thing for me. It's just what I can do right now.”
With a pace of 7:30 min/km (12 min/mile), her only real goal is distance. Having signed up to run the London Marathon on a whim, she just wants to cover the ground successfully.
When I spoke to Celina a few weeks ago, she’d just completed an 11km (6.8 miles) run and now, at the time of publishing, she’s up to 13km (8 miles). She’s got plenty of time to reach the 42.2km of a marathon, and she’s following a solid plan.
“When I used to try to run, I'd always be trying to run too fast and that's what would make me give up. The way that I can stay consistent with it is by going at a pace where I don't feel like dying. I need to enjoy it.”
“The majority of people aren't running for fun - they're running to lose weight or something. When you were young, you were running for fun. Can't we just meet ourselves halfway?”
It’s true. I’ve probably talked before about how our earliest memories of running - the memories we’re always trying to recapture in adulthood - are often of sprinting carefree around the school playground.
Getting out of breath wasn’t a problem that sitting down during science class couldn’t solve. That thing beating so hard in your chest? Whatever. It’s just a heart. It’ll slow down in time as well.
It’s just not reasonable to try and be like that now. As an Elder Millennial, I have a few years of cigarette smoke left over in my lungs, a slight beer gut that refuses to bid me farewell, grey hairs in my beard, and let’s not speak of the hair on top of my head - there is none. Maybe running slowly is a better idea now.
A great thing about my Gen Z jogging counterparts is that they seem much more willing to embrace a different path earlier in life. They’re more ready to listen and find a better way before it’s ‘too late.’ They want to fix their behavior before there’s a problem to solve.
Celina found this out in real-time as her social media presence ballooned.
Tell us about the Runners High run club
“There were people messaging me saying, ‘You're in London? I'm in London. Do you want to run together?’ One-on-one is a little bit personal, but I was getting those messages constantly. I thought of a run club. I was stewing on it, and then I talked myself out of it, but then I did it, and I'm so happy I did.”
While the maelstrom of social media can be disarming, while Celina says that she stewed on creating the run club, she’s only been running consistently for 4 months and posting about her journey for 3 months.
Someone working to run a marathon on a very similar timeframe and resonating with a similar audience of slow running women is Emily Shane, who I featured a few weeks ago. It fits that the next edition of the Runners High run club is a partnership between the two women.
Is the Runner’s High run club exclusively for women?
“I never said it's just for women, but I kind of like it that way. I think maybe because I often say ‘gals’ and ‘girls’ so men probably don't feel very welcome! But that's not on purpose.”
But if the run club is to inadvertently serve as a women-only space, it would be a welcome one. Having found an audience of like-minded people, giving them a place where they can be together without fear is important.
Even if the chances are 1 in 35,000 according to a 2017 Runner’s World study, high-profile attacks on solo female runners - by men - are all too common. It’s been reported that 60% of women have been harassed while running, so the fact that 92% of women are concerned about their safety while running is unsurprising.
It follows, then, that women might want a man-free place to exercise. This group might provide safety in numbers, at least.
What do you find the most difficult about running?
“For me, it's my heart rate. It goes very, very high when I run. That's one of the reasons I have always hated running up until this point in my life, because I find it so hard to get air in. I feel like I'm really struggling when I run and it’s taken me three months to not hate it as much. I've seen a lot of people in my comments feeling the same.”
“I thought I was alone with such a high heart rate, but we just have pretty high heart rates when we run because we don't have the cardio fitness yet.”
The cardio fitness is indeed aided by running at a low intensity. If that manifests as running slowly, so be it, but conditioning the body to understand that long-distance running is something that it does now and must adapt to is best done gently.
Additionally - and I’m no doctor - something else to consider here is Postural Tachycardia Syndrome or POTS. About 0.2% of the population suffers from the disorder, which results in dramatic changes in heart rate during transitional periods of physical activity. Standing up, for instance. 80% of those who suffer from POTS are women of child-bearing age.
The run club, as a collective of women, could be another place for them to share and parse all of this knowledge. A good thing.
What do you love about running?
“I go to the gym twice a week but I don't really enjoy it. Running is a whole different experience - I feel so good afterwards. I don't get that feeling from any other sport.”
We talk about the endorphins that come from running, but also about that runner’s high. The way your body creates a chemical similar to marijuana’s THC while you’re running and the stimulation of your vagus nerve helps to regulate other calming hormones in your body.
The ever-growing evidence suggests that there are multiple ways that your body uses running to relax you.
“It's so cool knowing that there's actual scientific research behind it!”
Science aside, thinking about running more simply, in terms of the feelings of accomplishment and achievement that you get can also be incredibly positive. Just knowing that you’ve completed a run is powerful.
What keeps you going as a slow runner?
“My progress is distance versus pace, and my pace is coming down a little bit. I find that very rewarding - more so than lifting a bit heavier in the gym. Saying I'm able to go out and run for two hours? That's incredible. It’s so exciting.”
“If you run in the morning, you're going to have a better day than if you slept in. That's such a nice feeling, and when you know that feeling's coming, it pushes you out the door.”
That motivation is going to be important over the next few months of marathon training - especially during those long winter runs - but with a priority on running for happiness, I suspect Celina will have few problems.
Add in the support of the legions following along on social media, twinned with regular running meetups with the real-life slow running community that Celina is building, and it’s a real recipe for success.
Ways of making Running Sucks less covered today:
Run for happiness
Run at a low intensity
Revel in the runner’s high
Commit to a goal (like a race)
Find like-minded people to run with
Share your problems - you might help someone
Running Sucks Haiku of the Week
I’m a running coach
I just got my first client
He’ll outrun me soon
I haven’t ever advertised my running coaching. I took my USATF certification primarily to help me get a better understanding of this activity that I spend so much time doing.
I’m coaching Phil remotely. If you’re interested in me coaching you, get in touch and we will work something out.
Also, I turned on paid subscriptions last week, so now I’m trying to think of ways to add even more value. I’d love to build a little community of people who like reading about *running, and Discord seems to be the place for that.
More info about POTS [NIH.gov]
Running Sucks on Instagram [IG]
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