Why I don’t think ‘times’ matter

I was talking to someone the other day about ‘time goals’ when doing events. I think time goals are a funny thing. Everyone has their own speed or pace, and as a result, most people set themselves target times to run an event in.

If you set realistic time goals (usually based on how you’ve run in your training) they can be a great way to motivate and push yourself, and beat PBs if that’s what you’re after. As your times get faster and faster as you progress as a runner it can be hard not to get swept up with it all. But I think they can also be very destructive in the long run.

There’s only so fast you can go
Time goals can be great at the start of your ‘running career’. As you progress, improving your times over distances becomes a clear signal that you’re getting fitter and stronger as a runner. But there’s only so fast you can go, and always aiming to beat your time can sometimes lead to disappointment.

As you get older and further down your ‘running career’ as much as you progress, there comes a point where you can only run so fast. No matter what you try, your PBs will stay the same.

As you age (over decades), you’ll inevitably get slower, as a 50 year old you probably won’t be able to run as fast as you ran in your prime at 30 for example. Injury, illness, excess body weight and other factors will all affect how fast you run.

When you don’t reach your time goal for whatever reason, beating your PB slips further and further away for one reason or another. You can lose motivation and even get upset or irrational thoughts. This is where I think a bit of perspective and fun helps.

Tunnel vision or see the the whole world and all of its beauty? I guess if you’re always beasting yourself to always beat your PB, and times are all that matter, it would be hard to open your eyes and see how great the world is around you. Tunnel vision.

That’s what running to your limits is like, only seeing and experiencing a small amount as your body and mind is too busy keeping you alive and running fast. Each time you miss beating your PB you’re at risk of getting more and more disheartened. And I could see how you’d get fed up with it all. Disappointment is not a good motivator.

Run comfortably, or slowly, in the other hand, and you’ll take in a lot more than when you run as fast as you can. You’ll see more, hear more and remember more. You might even smile more!

I’m at the point now where I’d much prefer to leave my PBs as what they are, and run comfortably, and see and appreciate the whole world for what it is. ;-P

Perspective: we’re all different
Everyone is different. Everyone has different genes, we’re all carrying different amounts of weight, and are more or less experienced as runners. Running has so many factors which make one runner so very different to the next.

We all think differently, and some people are more naturally optimistic and easily pleased than others. Some people are focused on times, others are just happy with finishing and others like to run with friends and make it a fun social event. We all have different motivations to run.

Everyone has their own pace and everyone who runs, is a runner in their own right. The 5 minute miler is just as much a runner as the 13 minute miler. Sure the 5 minute miler will probably win races and get more prizes and perhaps more glory or publicity, but the 13 minute miler will also achieve their own glory.

I look at ‘slower’ runners and appreciate how much it takes to run for twice or sometimes three times as long (in time) as other runners. I see the grit and determination on their faces as they’re pushing themselves as hard as they can, and suddenly the 5 minute miler doesn’t seem as impressive to me.

How lucky are we to be able run?
This is where I think we have to remember how privileged we are to be able to run.

There are many who simply can’t run, and many who simply choose not to.

In my mind, we who do run are all elite. (Not just the runners at the start of the pack who seem to effortlessly churn out 5 or 6 minute miles, all of us).

We’re more elite than those who are lazing on the couch, and we’re also more elite than those who don’t take care of themselves by placing other things above or more important than their health. No matter what pace we run at, we are special, and we all get the benefits from running. It doesn’t matter how fast we go.

Running through the streets of Glasgow, I feel privileged. I look at people who don’t run, and I honestly feel like I’ve got and I’m doing something amazing that they haven’t found yet. I feel sorry for them. I’ve got my sweet spot, my endorphins, the great feelings you get from running. On my own or with friends, I’ve found something that’s amazing and I love to do it, and share it with others.

The people who don’t run are (in my head) missing out on something. Drowning their sorrows in alcohol, irn bru, smoking and sugary snacks. I’m fit and healthy and I can run for hours on end if I choose to. 🙂 They’re wondering why life is so hard, why they feel like crap and are getting fatter and fatter each year.

(That is a bit simplistic, but it does bring the perspective in a bit).

Who’s the winner?
Realistically (unless I’m racing 5 year olds!), I know I’ll never win a race, so it’s never been a goal of mine. Whereas my big brother Neil (in the yellow shirt below) went and won a marathon in Townsville, Australia! In my mind I was thinking… Did he get a head start? Were there only three other runners? But no, he did officially WIN A MARATHON in 2:36. Very impressive indeed – but times still don’t float my boat. They did at the start, but not now.

He’ll always have to keep his weight down, work hard, run 80-100 miles a week, and will always have to work hard if beating times or beating others are his goals. I can just go out for an easy run and enjoy it. 😉 (he can too, but he’s programmed to run FAST and I wonder if he’ll ever be able to get away from that.)

Run to how you feel
Now I use my heart rate as opposed to pace to run. Pace and time doesn’t matter to me until I’m finished and I see the result of my running to my heart rate on my Garmin download. Hills, the weather, lots of things can affect your pace, but if you keep to your heart rate, you’re less likely to over do it, and you know exactly how much you can push it.

Running for me has now become more about enjoying the experience, rather than beasting it all the time, eyeballs out, heart beating out of my chest. I know it’s hard and I did prefer to run with friends and get a good chat in over an hour, than beast it doing a fast 45 minute 10k on my own.

Running to my heart rate (less than 150 for easy, 150-160 for comfortable, 160+ for hard) works for me to know exactly how hard, or easy it is for me when I’m running.

See more about heart rate training here:

Long runs teach you to think differently
Perhaps some of my thinking is down to the six marathons I’ve run, all with different goals. I’ve realised how hard it is for you to push yourself to your limits. And now I’ve entered my 7th marathon (2nd marathon event): the Belfast City Marathon on 5/5/14.

Now my goals are almost always away from time based goals. I focus more on heart rate (unless I’m pacing at an event, then I stick very closely to times!)

Here’s a summary of my marathons so far and the reasons I did / will do them:

1. Loch Lomond: sole run:
To see if I could run the distance:
3:38 / 8:21 pace. Nov 2010

2. Lochaber; event:
To raise money for charity and do my first official marathon:
3:40 /8:24 pace (hot!) Apr 2011

3. Glasgow to Greenock: sole run:
Training for an ultra:
3:38 / 8:20 pace. Jun 2011

4. Last marathon of 2011: sole run:
To up my mileage at the end of the year and reach 1,300 miles:
3:45 / 8:35 pace. Dec 2011

5. Gleniffer Braes: sole run:
Horrible weather, lost in Foxbar (!) hilly, training for an ultra.
3:49 / 8:46 pace. Feb 2012

6. My Glasgow Marathon: sole run:
PB based on heart rate, aiming to keep it at 85% / 165 throughout, to push myself to my limits.
3:28 / 7.58 pace. Sep 2013 (I now have my lifetime marathon PB and I’m never pushing it that hard agsin)

7. Belfast City Marathon: group / social run with friends: to relish the experience of running an event and share the experience and the training with 7-8 other amazing friends. To help them pace and complete it and have fun with then all. 🙂 I don’t mind what time I do it in, but if I can run with others and help them achieve their goals, I’ll be happy. May 2014.

Up to this year all of my marathons came in at about the same time: 3:40. My brother said I could run 3:30, but I dismissed it as I thought it would be too hard. I honestly didn’t think I could beat it by much, never mind 10 minutes! But I did. I trained well, with plenty of rest and not too much structure or pressure.

On the run, I used my heart rate as a guide and got my lifetime PB in my 6th marathon. I was sore for maybe a week after and took two weeks rest after it. I realised (again) just how hard it is for you and your body to run to your limits.

Now for any marathons in the future I’ll be taking it easy, with the aim to have fun and experience and remember as much of it as possible (with as little pain afterwards as possible hopefully!) Time will not be a factor, but enjoying it and having fun will be.

Runners who annoy me
I once heard of a guy who ran for a local running club. He had his marathon PB, and he was always chasing it, trying to beat it. But he’d peaked, and every time he entered a marathon he tried to beat it again. If at any point he knew he was going to miss his PB, he’d pull out of the race. What a waste!

As far as I’m concerned he should be grateful that he can run at all. And perhaps he could help others who are chasing their own (slower) PB. Competitive running sometimes baffles me!

Then there’s a woman who is doing well in her competitive field. Running much faster than the average woman. But when people congratulate her, she insists it’s still not fast enough. That her times are rubbish and that she must do better.

I can imagine the people complimenting her (who are perhaps much slower runners than her) would feel quite small when she announces that her 7 minute miles aren’t fast enough (when they’re maybe struggling to get under 10 minute miles or the like).

Have some perspective and thought for others instead of always thinking me, me, me!

Runners who say they had a ‘bad’ run could maybe do with changing how they think, and their runs might become ‘good’ runs instead. The only ‘bad’ run I can think of is one where I get run over, or injured!

Other goals instead of time goals
It was ever since I entered and ran the D33 in 2012. I used to run for times, and then for the 33 mile ultra, I knew endurance was more important than what my time was, so I threw my time goal out of the window. I set myself many goals: to keep my heart rate within zones to make sure I didn’t over do it, to talk to lots of people and to have fun among a few of them.

I ended up finishing the run (roughly a marathon plus a 10k) in just under 5 hours, but I did a negative split on an ultra run and felt amazing after it.

D33 – lots of goals ticked: https://lornpearsontrains.co.uk/2012/03/18/my-goals-for-the-d33-tick-some-tips/

A run that was one of my favourites was the women’s 10k where my friends and I dressed up as Little Red Riding Hood, the Wolf, Grandma and Woodchopper. We were all injured so opted last minute to raise money for charity and run walk it.

People laughed and cheered at us; they were generous too and filled our buckets up with change. We finished in 1:36, raised over £500 and got our photo in the Herald the next day, all over other papers and even on the certificate that’s sent out to all runners that year. We were most definitely the winners and it was much better than my 44 minute 10k PB a year later!

Women’s 10k: Little Red Riding Hood

Other types of goals
That’s one of the reasons why I choose goals which are not time or pace related. Along with the fact that there are so many other types of goals you can aim for:

– Keep your heart rate within a certain zone (push it or take it easy)
– Run with a friend and help them complete their first event.
– Get to know other runners.
– Run a negative split.
– Raise money for charity.
– Dress up and make people laugh.
– Pace at an event or help someone else get a PB.
– Split the event up into smaller chunks.
– Get hydration and energy right.

When you base your aims on goals like the ones above it can be hard not to fail. Now the time based goals aren’t looking so attractive, are they? All of a sudden what might have been a ‘bad’ / I didn’t beat my PB run, turns into a great run with lots of fun, laughter and smiles.

Enjoy it and do what feels right for you
Every day I run I’m grateful that I’m able to. Sometimes I run slow, some times I run comfortably, and occasionally I feel amazing and run fast. But it’s fast for me, and is maybe slow for someone like my brother. It’s fast for others, but in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter.

We’re all runners. We’re all amazing, no matter how fast or slow we go. It’s still a mile, 5k, 10k, or 13.1 miles or 26.2 miles. And it’s a great achievement to run any distance.

I say, just enjoy it, do what feels right for you, do your best, take it all in and forget about times!

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6 Responses to Why I don’t think ‘times’ matter

  1. Michele says:

    Lorn,
    I ran my first ever marathon on my 50th birthday this year. The Loch Ness Marathon. It was the best day ever and my husband ran every step with me and walked too! I feel such a great sense of achievement and did alot of smiling even despite the painful calf muscles. I was glad to have finished and have the greatest respect for anyone who does a marathon whether in 2-3 hrs or like me 5 and a half or even longer. But yet people insist on asking your time and seem to miss the point. The make seemingly condescending remarks. Grrr
    A year ago I couldn’t even have attempted it but luckily for me I now can and enjoy it too.

  2. Greg says:

    Nice article Lorn. I’ve set myself a target of completing a marathon next year, I’m going to try not to worry about a time target but I’m still a newbie so I can’t help it 🙂 Up until Sunday I didn’t realise how hard it is to cover such a distance so I expect it’ll be hard work but enjoyable with it. I never used to be able to run a mile because of a dodgy knee so I’m glad of every pain-free stride I can take.

    (a couple of your links are missing, heart rate training and red riding hood 10K)

  3. Fraser says:

    100% spot on.

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