Reflections of Being a Tortoise in a World of Hares

images (3)I am sure you have read or heard the story of the Tortoise and the Hare at some point in you life.  In quick summary its a story about a race between a tortoise and a Hare where the tortoise wins the race because the Hare continuously goofs off while the tortoise plods along at his own pace.  It never happens in real life and all I can say is being a tortoise in a hare’s world, when it comes to running, is often frustrating.  Being a tortoise in a race carries a unique set of circumstances that hares rarely worry about.

In 2012 I began running for the first time ever in my life.  After a few months of working my program I was super slow but able to go the 5k or three mile distance. To put slow in perspective, it took my fifty minutes to finish my first 5k.  Following that first race I continued to work on increasing my speed and eventually the following year I reached my fastest 5k running race with a forty minute effort.  Two and a half years later and I am still running 5k races at that same speed.  For me speed has been an elusive emissary throughout my progression into running.

Of course I have tried different suggested workouts and often stuck to them for months.  I read books by experts and spent months working through their programs. I spent hours doing fartleks, intervals, Galloway run/walks, progression runs and tempo runs to name a few of the myriad techniques I applied to get faster, all with little results… no matter what I did my speed on roads always hovered between fourteen to fifteen minutes per mile, I was still frustratingly slow.

While I exhausted workout plan after workout plan I found my distance on my long runs increasing.  For a while I incremented a quarter mile or so every month and sometimes every two weeks, depending on how I felt.  The early long runs I often considered the high single digits to be a long run.  Over time I worked myself up to upper teens as my abilities to run long expanded.  Being a tortoise though meant these runs took twice as long as others running similar distances.  When I ran my first twenty mile run on roads the en devour took over seven plus hours on my feet.  At the time I shrugged off the time it took to complete this run as my legs and body were so sore from this effort, I was just happy to complete the distance.

images (4)This year I decided I had enough with all the standard speed workouts and I threw myself at running trails and distance, upping my weekly volume from ten to fifteen miles a week to twenty to thirty miles a week.  I still mixed in occasional hill repeats and fartleks and other speed workouts, but my focus was volume .  I realized that high mile running efforts would often take me almost all day to complete but I found I loved these runs and for a while I saw some small speed improvement.  Where I really found improvement from these high mile, long hour efforts was in my growing strength and a gradual increase in being able to sustain slow efforts over a consistent pace.  Before I knew it I was able to run twenty plus mile long runs in eight to ten hours and not have my legs cramp up on me.  But my speed was still slow.  Yes I could run for ten to fifteen hours but that only got me about twenty five miles on trails.

At present I realize I am slower than most others that consider themselves in the Tortoise category.  The other day I met a woman on my group run that claimed she was a turtle and she was right, she was slow comparatively.  Guess where I was, way behind her.  Now I will say I have been running fifty miles a week and traversing some major elevation while the other woman has been running way under that weekly total, but it still puts things into perspective… I am the slowest tortoise alive when it comes to running and running fifty miles a week has only made me slower.

Knowing I am an extremely slow runner means cutoff times are a major focus for me on race day.  For me cutoff times mean there is a greater likely hood of  DNFing (Did Not Finish) than most people.  But does this mean I should not try?

mmmLogo10Wanting a challenge, I signed up for the Mystery Mountain Marathon in Georgia, a beast of  a marathon with over 15,000 feet of elevation change and past race reports that read like horror stories.  The course has a strict cutoff for 13.1 miles which is four and a half hours and has a total time allotted of eight hours.  I have never ran anything greater than a half marathon in a race, yet I signed up for a race that has a strong DNF potential due to cutoffs and difficulty.  Why?

Mystery Mountain Marathon Elevation map.  All trail marathon.  Notice the 2 mile 1000 foot uphill climb at mile 19.  Going to be a long day.

Mystery Mountain Marathon Elevation map. All trail marathon. Notice the 2 mile 1000 foot uphill climb at mile 19. Going to be a long day.

Because of the sheer challenge of pushing myself as hard as possible is why.  I am slow, but I want a challenge. I want to howl and charge at the thing I fear most.  I want to push myself to new and unknown limits.  I  would rather toe the starting line than forever toe the ‘I am too slow to try’ line or the ‘maybe I will do it next year when I am more ready; line.  I have decided I am no longer living in fear of my slowness, instead I am going to go out on race day and attempt to complete this challenge in the time allotted.  I am going to charge and howl and be fierce and I will attack the course with every source of energy I have available.

Until race day though I am left to worry about speed and making cutoffs on this brutally hard course.  Being a tortoise and accepting a daunting task does not remove the worry and fear of missing time cutoffs.  Instead I am hyper aware of what I have to do race day to stay ahead of the cutoff and that I know will be a major challenge for a raging tortoise.  For now I am left time to contemplate  and plan, worry and fret.  On race day I will show up with my tortoise shell decorated and ready to do battle.  Til next time.




  1. This story is why I follow you, why it read your posts, why you are my hero. You don’t quit. Keep working at it, someday, you might be faster, but even if you don’t, keep going. The overall benefits of running do not depend on race times. Give it your best and that will be it. Awesome post. I’m going to reblog it on my my site.

  2. Reblogged this on RUN WRIGHT and commented:
    Sometimes we hear about people running 8 minute miles and we want to do that too and we forget that even if it takes us 11 minutes to run the mile, that we’re running.
    The overall benefits of running do not depend on race times. However long it takes you, just run!
    This story is why I follow this guy’s blog, why it read his posts, why he is one of my running heroes. Check him out at Chatter Gets Fit.

    1. Thank you. This has been boiling in my head for a while. I hope it inspires others to just run or try.

  3. Just want to let you know you are in fact inspiring! Right now I don’t think I could walk a 5k in anything under 75 minutes. I am a snail. But you give me hope that if I do push myself and actually run a program I can aspire to tortoise status. You accomplish amazing things and I know that you can do this. I do have one question, though. Have you ever worked on lengthening your stride to translate to faster times? Just a question that occurred to me. Keep at it and thank you for letting us come along for the ride (run).

    1. Thank you my friend. I have tried to work on my form a bit, lengthening stride, shortening stride and I have had some good results. Trail running has less to do with stride as terrain dictates where and how your feet land. For instance on downhills I have a tendency to open my stride, yet proper form dictates a smaller stride so you can adapt faster to terrain. I am still a work in progress and I keep learning from all the other blogs and voices. My favorite runs currently are those long Saturday runs where miles are the only thing that matters and I can just enjoy my run in the brilliance of the afternoon and I can watch the sun come up and go down. Thank you for following along.

  4. Yeah, you’re slow but you have the attitude of a bill. I’d take that over fast six days a week and twice on Sunday. Get into ultras… You’re fast for those. 😉

    1. Technically this marathon is an Ultra in a marathon body, according to the race director. I am tired of waiting to be ready for things and figured I might as well just do it. On race day it had two possible outcomes: finish or DNF. Either way I will be pleased that I started this race and gave it everything I had. Nothing to prove to anyone but myself. Thanks for the compliment, from you that goes a long way.

      1. I’d agree with that assessment, and you are very welcome.

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