Home > Tri Posts > Dear Multisport Community: I’m slow, but I’m improving. Can I play too?

Dear Multisport Community: I’m slow, but I’m improving. Can I play too?

running is hard, especially at first.  It was for all of us

Running is hard, especially at first. It was for all of us

I have a little OCD Beginner Triathlete habit: Whenever I run somewhere – anywhere – I watch for other runners taking walk breaks.

Why?  Because I myself need to take walk breaks to get through my run.  And I’m eternally concerned that I’m the only one walking.

I’ve met a lot of triathletes and runners since I’ve entered this world of age group athletes.  Some are fast – some are not.  Some are fit – some are not.  Some race to get better, others race for a t-shirt.  Some race for the podium, but most of us race for a personal best.  All of them have one thing in common though – they’re very welcoming of my new, slow, overweight self tagging along and trying to keep up.

The point is – we’re all trying to get better, whether we define “better” as faster, or as fitter, or as enjoying the sport more.

A great running community is a runner's best friend

A great running community is a runner’s best friend

Every once in a while though I come across examples from the running community where beginners are not as welcomed.  I read a great post on the issue this morning from Fit For A Year, who challenged the question “Real runners don’t walk”?

(for the record, I think Fit For A Year – as a blog – is very welcoming of beginners, and I appreciate that)

At one point he quotes a 2009 debate on Slowtwitch.com:

…more than half of the people at a marathon are just overweight and ‘trying to get a shirt and medal … looking to one day tell a story about the saga and the suffering of their 11 minute pace race.

The post was a great read, as were the comments below (many from beginner athletes, like myself, suggesting “so what” if runners need to walk, though a few trying to make arguments to limit the walking in races… fascinating read).  The point the author made that struck a chord with me was:

…unless you are very lucky, starting running from scratch [without walk breaks] is not easy!

I couldn’t agree more.  And I wondered: how does one get into the sport then, if walking is frowned upon in a running event?

Should the endurance sport community not be welcoming of new members that want to improve their performance (and pay fees to join their races too)?

Which brings me to an email I received last week from the organizers of the Toronto Island Triathlon, which has sat funny with me ever since.  Initially the race organizers wanted to get away from starting in waves based on gender/age group, and switch to waves based on estimated finish time (regardless of age or gender).  They asked everyone when signing up to estimate their finish time.  It would appear, this didn’t work:

…Unfortunately an analysis of our data tells us that a large number of athletes have included an overly optimistic estimated finishing time. We know this by comparing the predicted times with actual times for these athletes in past races. Therefore, we cannot proceed in a safe manner with this new wave configuration and will revert to our usual system…

It surprised me that the race organizing team had the capacity to do such an extensive data validation against past races.  It really surprised me that they would choose to reach out to everyone signed up and suggest that their athletes were overly optimistic.  How good is their data validation, that they know racers haven’t improved?  Maybe some of us simply don’t need to walk as much any more?

Was I one of these “overly optimistic” racers?  Possibly.  Assuming they looked up my name, the only other Sprint Tri I’ve done with this group before was in September 2011 – my very first race.  I finished with a time of 1:47:21, which included a 40 minute 5k run walk.  I was a brand new runner at the time, and couldn’t run more than 2 or 3 minutes without walking.

My goal time for this year’s race was 1:30:00.  Was that overly optimistic?  Well, to them, maybe.  But they don’t know what training I’ve done in between.  They don’t know what other races I’ve done in between.

My final race time was 1:39:02 – so maybe my goal was a bit optimistic (though really: goals should be challenging, shouldn’t they?  And my run should have been at least 5 minutes faster than it was, and my swim could have been 2-3 minutes faster if not for the long run-up at the end).  The point here isn’t to suggest I’m an excellent predictor of my finish time – I’m not – but that I’ve improved.  I started out walking more than I ran, but I’m getting better.  I wouldn’t have stuck with running this long if I didn’t jump into those early races.

Every race, I get a little bit stronger... but I still walked in the beginning, and I still do today when I need to

Every race, I get a little bit stronger… but I still walked in the beginning, and I still do today when I need to

Every running race I do I make a point of encouraging everyone taking a walk break that I pass.  Every time.  I love high fiving runners on the course who are gutting through it.  I’m glad they came out to play.  I’m glad they’re giving it their best.  I am too.  I hope to see them on the course again next year, walking as much – or as little – as they need to.


  1. August 26, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    I approach walk breaks strategically myself and often find I finish sometimes right next to the person who ran the entire way. There is a strategy involved for some to the walk/run (Galloway) philosophy and to me it makes sense. My goal is to get faster and reduce the walk breaks, but I do not see that happening anytime soon. For now I aim just to keep getting better and that means running smarter as well as faster. This is how I pulled off running a 9.3 mile long run by accident on Saturday. Good post and keep it up with it.

  2. August 26, 2013 at 4:36 pm

    Thanks for the mention and good luck with your training. The walk-run post created a lot of debate, as Chatter says above “… that means running smarter as well as faster.”

  3. August 27, 2013 at 8:50 am

    My half ironman program actually recommends walk breaks to get your heart rate down between intervals during training and to get used to walking at aid stations in triathlons, so I’ll be trying this soon. My coach (marni sumbal) just qualified for Kona and she took walk breaks at aid stations at IM Placid, so you definitely can be a fast runner and still take breaks 🙂

  4. August 27, 2013 at 10:22 pm

    I absolutely love the attitude… Very well said and in my opinion its really not about the results or how you get there, its about the trying and the journey along the way!

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