If Running Fast is Hard, Try Running Slowly
Documenting her running journey from couch to marathon, Emily Shane AKA @RunsWithEmily has found her people on social media - a lot of people. Her hook? She runs slowly.
Running slowly? We’ve all done it. Taken a too-long break from running and gone too fast on your return? I’ve certainly done that. Got back into it and got really into it? That’s where Emily Shane is at.
After completing the Manchester half marathon in 2019, Emily took 3.5 years off from running. Now, however, she’s back, and she’s 5 months into being a consistent runner for the first time in her life, and is documenting her journey from zero to running the Brighton marathon in 2024.
The kicker? She runs reaaalllllly slowly.
Let’s take a moment to put that into context, though. What exactly does it mean to run slowly?
It’s generally accepted that a 13 min/mile pace (8 min/km) is the moment when fast walking turns into slow jogging. Is that running? Yes! The USA Track & Field and the Olympics state that as long as both feet are off the ground during this activity, you’re running. Hooray!
Back to Emily, now, where she’s telling me about her running journey thus far.
Why did you start running again?
“At first, it was to prove to myself that I could run a 5k without stopping. Then, when I started to run frequently - even though they were only short distances - I noticed that my mood changed. I felt a lot lighter and happier just from running for 20 minutes, three days a week. It’s a different sort of uplift than I get from going to the gym.”
“I've managed to stick to running about three times a week since April, and I have never in my life stuck to a plan for that long. I don't want to stop doing it now because it doesn't feel like a chore. It's a big thing to build a habit.”
Why did you start the @RunsWithEmily account?
“I was out in the countryside and I went out and I ran too hard and tired really quickly, but I thought why don't I just post it on TikTok?”
“It was a couple pictures of me running and my Strava screenshot of my pace and distance. I didn't really think much of it, but then I started getting comments. People were saying, ‘I'm so happy to see someone running at my pace.’”
“I think people are so used to seeing these amazing, inspiring runners, but it's also nice to see people in your ballpark and see that representation. That's why I continue to post - to find more people like me who find running quite intimidating and think they've got to run as fast as they can, otherwise they’re not a runner, so running isn't for them.”
If you go back to that USATF definition of running, you can put that kind of thinking to rest very easily.
“There's not a lot of people being super transparent about being sh*t at running.”
Emily Shane - @RunsWithEmily
It’s not all positive vibes, of course. Somehow, Emily’s running pace affects some people on the internet very badly.
Having achieved her goal of running a 5k without stopping, Emily did the classic of signing up for a marathon. With her meager training, her watch or Strava or whatever predicted a marathon time of 6h23m. That’s a 14:35/mile pace (9:00/km).
The result? Some people gave the IG comments section the reputation it’s got.
Unwelcome, misplaced criticism is one of the pitfalls of any level of fame. When I spoke to Emily she had 30k followers on Instagram. She has 60k now. I have no doubt she now gets even more comments like the above.
While she doesn’t understand the mindset of those griping on the internet to strangers, she also doesn’t give them too much thought because she’s rightly aware of the good she’s doing.
“When I was doing my half marathon training, I never once came across something that said your slow runs are more important than your quicker ones. I think if people hear that early on it changes how you feel about running.”
“I get a lot of people that ask me for advice, which I find crazy because I’m such a beginner myself, but sometimes it's good to get advice from a beginner because they're in the same stage.”
“A lot of these people are struggling to run 15-20 minutes without stopping. They're doing Couch to 5k where they do a lot of running and walking splits, but ask how I run for that long and what breathing techniques I use and I tell them I struggle with my breathing.”
The simplest breathing technique I suggest is Rhythmic Breathing. Basically, try an odd number of steps per inhale-exhale. For instance: take 3 steps on your inhale and 2 steps on your exhale, or 2 steps on your inhale and 1 step on your exhale. Try it!
The benefits are 1) you balance your body’s exertion (no side stitch!) by pushing off on a different foot each exhale, and 2) you might get so caught up in the counting that it helps you reach that meditative flow state and you find running easier that way.
Just a few months into her new life as a consistent runner, Emily tells me how slowing down and being able to run for 45 minutes finally gave her the confidence to accept to herself that she was, indeed, a runner.
“One of the slowest runs I did - the other day - was one of my favorite runs because I was just focused on how my body was feeling. It takes the pressure off. You can just focus on being present in the moment. I was able to think about other things other than, ‘Oh my god, this is really uncomfortable.’ I was actually enjoying it.”
How slow can we go, Emily?
“I say this to everyone: go slow to a point where it feels a bit weird. That's what I did. Normally I was running at 7:45/km (12:30/mile) and I did a 3k progression run at 8:30/km (13:45/mile) pace. I started off super slow and I honestly felt like I was jogging on the spot sometimes - like I’m not getting anywhere - but the more I kept going, the more it was actually enjoyable.”
I’ve written about this mindset previously. Removing the mental grind of striving to maintain a certain pace can bring joy into your running practice. It’s about thinking and living sustainably - you can click to read more on that below.
Running for your health - both physical and mental - is important, and, in my opinion, has more achievable but less quantifiable goals than running for speed, pace, or distance. It’s why I interview who I interview - confirmation bias!
Personally, I’ve spent 2023 trying desperately hard to run more slowly. I’m trying to look up and smell the roses, so to speak. Find that joy. Focus on elevating my mood. I find it difficult to slow down - it feels a bit weird - but I’m learning. Slowly…
I think it’s important to remember that there are other ways to find happiness than becoming a Local Legend on Strava. Let Jimmy Hackney and his Next%s have that one.
Unless you’re Tigst Assefa or Eliud Kipchoge, I’m afraid those marathon world records are going to elude you. Maybe the amazing and inspiring runner you should be looking to as a role model is more like Emily Shane.
Consider running slowly. Get weird with it.
Ways of making running suck less covered today:
Build a routine
Find your runners
Run for your health
Run even more slowly
Find that runner’s high
Forget about your pace
Learn Rhythmic Breathing
Running Sucks Haiku of the Week
Like it or not, I’m not going to stop with the poetry. Can’t stop, won’t stop, so you might as well join me in the comments.
Marathons? No thanks.
4hrs seems like too long.
Rather watch 2 films.
It’s true. It’s why I’ve never signed up to run a marathon. I get annoyed when a movie is over 2hrs long. I did one half marathon and was so thoroughly bored. There’s evidently just not enough rattling around in my head!