Thursday, July 9, 2015

Embracing Your Speed Ceiling

Free photo courtesy of KC Running Company
from the 2015 Stars & Stripes 5K
It's always refreshing to encounter someone who has recently taken up running.  There's an enthusiasm in their voice as they share details of their longest runs, or new shoes, or plans for their first 5K.  And if they know I'm a runner as well, we can spend hours trading experiences and stories from the road.  I just love talking running, and finding people with the same passion for it.

But inevitably when visiting with runners, both new and experienced, the conversation seems to always venture down the path of speed.  I intentionally don't bring up race times because it gets weird for a few minutes as things devolve into this subtle comparison of ability.  I know some folks get into the "I'm faster than you" thing, but like I've written about a thousand times on this blog, I've always viewed it as a competition with myself and my own goals.

For example, I was talking with a friend about my age recently who is a new runner, and had just completed his first 5K at a small race in his hometown.  He had been working really hard for about three months and crossed the finish line around 25 minutes, and ended up third in his age group, which he was very proud of.  With his chest figuratively puffed out a little, he asked what my fastest 5K time was.  In no way did I remotely want to discourage him, or "show him up", so I just told him I wasn't sure.  He kept pressing me, saying there was no way I didn't know my fastest time (which was true).  So I lied, and told him I thought it was close to his time.  This conversation took place in an office environment and as we were talking, a co-worker who was aware of my blog, quickly looked up my race times and blurted out ... "He's a lot faster than you ... his fastest is 18:21!"  The first guy looked a little dejected for a minute, and then said, "Well, you've been running for a while, so of course you're faster than me."  Even though I'd done everything possible to avoid the "PR talk", I felt really bad, and a little embarrassed that his parade had apparently been dampened a little.  I would never intentionally try to make someone feel bad about an accomplishment they were proud of.  But there was definitely a different tone to the conversation once my 5K was revealed, and as our talk ended, I really wished he hadn't found it out.

Crossing the 5K line in 19:00, near the top of my "Speed Ceiling"
Everyone who reads my blog knows that I track all of my running times and keep copious personal records of races and workouts for reference.  But here's the deal ... they are simply reference tools for ME, MYSELF, AND I.  I make them public on my blog because I feel it keeps me accountable, and some folks like referencing the information - but I try really hard to keep comparisons of others at a minimum ... mainly because we're all different.

Each of us have a "Speed Ceiling".  We have a certain speed range that we operate in naturally, and there's a limit to how fast we can go.  When my friend rationalized my faster 5K time simply to the fact that I'd been running longer than he, I know that's most likely not true.  With that theory, if we all run long enough and trained hard enough, we could all be Olympic marathoners ... and that's just not the case.  Those athletes are born with a unique and faster set of DNA than most of us. They're just wired differently and their "Speed Ceiling" is just naturally much higher than ours.  Sure, we put them on a pedestal because we can't imagine running that fast ... but it's just the way they're made.  That's not to say that they don't work incredibly hard ... but every single one of those elite athletes are simply born with more foot speed, and the body type to become a much faster runner than most of us.

I think a lot of runners really struggle with the simple principle of embracing their "Speed Ceiling".  I know my wife gets a little discouraged at some races with her finishing time, but I constantly try to encourage her not to focus on it.  I see her running and training as hard as she can, but she just wasn't born with the same amount of foot speed as some other folks.  And at the risk of going all "Common Core", as long as she's doing her best, isn't that what really matters?  I mean, constantly comparing ourselves to other runners and their ability seems like a losing proposition.  Who really cares if we're "programmed" as a 6:00 or 10:00 pace 5K'er?  I really really want to run a sub 3:00 marathon, just to prove to myself that I can do it.  But to do that, I would have to be at the absolute top of my "Speed Ceiling".  If it ever happens, I know it will probably be a one time thing.  But there are several guys my age who can consistently go well below 3:00.  We're all just different.

I'm fully aware that my attitude and opinion on this matter might be different if I didn't finish near the top of my age group in a lot of races.  Every time I bring home a trinket or trophy simply for having a little more natural speed, my wife informs me that she would like to know what it feels like just once. But we probably shouldn't place so much emphasis on it.  Do I compete?  Heck yeah.  But I don't lose a lot of sleep if I get outran by someone who is just naturally faster than me.  As long as I've ran close to the top of my "Speed Ceiling", I can live with the results.
... Be Great Today! 


  1. I think someone lowered my speed ceiling.

  2. I know everyone means well when they say it, but I hate hearing "Good Luck" before a race, as if I'm competing for something. I mean I get 10%-20% or so of the marathoners are trying to win the race or age bracket or qualify for Boston or whatever, but most of us are out there because we simply enjoy running. So, I much prefer hearing "Have Fun" and I think that is much more applicable to most of us and it's the only thing I say to other runners. >>>Slowly stepping off soap box>>>

    1. I know what you mean, it's like when someone asks if you "won" the marathon you just ran in ... and then when you tell them there were 5,000 runners, they look at you like "Yeah, so?"

  3. I 100% agree with you on this. I've had many awkward moments sharing race times and such. I think a lot of people at my work think I am a lot faster than I am. Sure, I can log 60+ miles a week, but it doesn't mean I am going to be challenging Ryan Hall any time soon.

    There is only so much training one can do. You can eat perfectly, train great, but if you don't have the natural and genetic talent you can only go so far.

    That doesn't mean that you can try to be better, but there is definitely a speed ceiling based upon your age, body composition and natural ability.

  4. really good blog post. best one in a while. we can all relate to this. I hate when someone asks my time at work. there's so much more context to it.

  5. Totally agree with you. We've each got a certain ability to be fast and I've accepted that. It doesn't mean that you can't push yourself to find out where that limit is. It just means that there will be certain point where you're not getting any faster.


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