Anyone who knows me will have been bored to death by my recent journey into being ‘a runner’. Having been profoundly (almost aggressively) unathletic growing up it has been something of a revelation. It’s been hugely gratifying discovering that I don’t have a fundamentally broken body. It’s also been humbling realising how it does and doesn’t work when I push it.
That aside, one concept that stuck with me was that of “going slower to go faster”. It’s the idea that sometimes you’ve got to hold yourself back and consciously slow yourself down in order to ultimately go faster. It struck me this had a lot of parallels for work and for life.
So this is hopefully useful advice for running, or for work, or for life.
Stage 1: going slower to go faster as a beginner
When you first start, your tendency is to set off at full speed — because that’s all you know. Pelting off at ‘running for the bus’ speed. You end up red, throat burning and lungs gasping. Beating yourself up you decide that perhaps running isn’t for you.
The only way to get beyond the stage where you feel like your chest is exploding and you can’t go further than a couple of minutes is to slow down. Allowing your body to adapt. Going fast stops you from going further (or even going at all).
Slow yourself down and learn to work at a sustainable pace. You will naturally get faster over time.
Stage 2: going slower to go faster as you develop your skills
Then, later, when you start hitting your stride literally and metaphorically, the enthusiasm takes over. You sign up for any race going. You set off for training runs but end up racing ahead faster than you’re supposed to — carried away with the challenge, the enjoyment of going fast.
The problem is that you need to train different elements of your body. You need a mix of slow, easy, sustainable endurance building runs and serious, good quality and high-intensity training runs. Instead, by pushing ourselves to do everything it’s common for runners to burn themselves out. Picking up injuries, having too little energy for everyday life or the high-effort training sessions. This means you tend to get stuck in a rut — not improving your form and picking up bad habits. Going faster stops you from going better.
Slow yourself down and learn that improvement comes at a mix of paces. You can learn more about how you work, and how to develop.
Stage 3: going slower to go faster as you mature
Lastly, you reach a plateau. You hit a couple of personal bests and feel unstoppable. But then you find you simply can’t go faster. Age and life catches up. Your body doesn’t work like it used to. Times that were easy start to slip away. Finding time to train starts to feel like a chore, or you have different things in life you want to focus on. And you struggle to see the point in running if you’re getting not getting faster.
However, it’s simply not possible to always get faster. Slowing down is inevitable. Eventually going faster stops you from enjoying running.
Slow down and redirect your focus. Maybe it wasn’t all about going faster in the first place?
Find what you enjoyed about running in the first place and reframe your goals around that. In running that can mean working around age-graded times, switching it up (different distances, trail running), but most importantly understanding the qualitative enjoyment of running in the first place.
It struck me that life is like this. Our drive to get faster holds us back. It does this by pushing us too fast too quickly early on and we end up burning out or losing confidence. It does this by making us focus on the wrong things so we don’t learn what we actually need to to go faster. And by giving us the wrong thing to focus us, stopping us from enjoying the ride.
Life isn’t simply a race to the finish. You need to figure out where you want to get to, but even more importantly you need to learn to enjoy the run along the way. And sometimes you need to go slower to go faster.