Slow runners often feel disrespected by their speedier peers, especially at races where back-of-the-pack runners are met with everything from lukewarm Gatorade to empty food stations to dismantled finish lines. But a new study has found that slower runners may get the last laugh; they live longer than those who push the pace.
For the study, which was published recently in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, researchers surveyed about 5,000 people, including 1,100 runners and 4,000 people who identified themselves as "non-runners." Participants in the non-running group did not engage in any type of regular exercise or strenuous activity.
Those in the "running" group were split into three groups depending upon how far, how fast and how often they ran. The study participants were men and women of various ages who were considered relatively healthy.
Researchers checked back with the group after 10 years and found (not surprisingly) that the runners had longer lifespans than their sedentary peers. But what was surprising was the longevity difference among the runners. Those with the lowest rate of death were the light joggers, folks who ran roughly two to three times per week for about 1 to 2.4 miles per session at a speed self-described as "slow."
Next in line in terms of lifespan were the moderate runners, followed by the speedsters, who tied with the non-runners for highest mortality rate. That's right, those who ran hard and fast had the same lifespan as those who never left the couch.
So there you have it, slower runners. It's a classic case of the tortoise and the hare. Those speedier runners may be able to zip around from one spot to another, but slower runners can take comfort in knowing that they'll win at this race we call life.
How to get the most out of slow running
There's no reason slower runners or a newbie can't enjoy a race — from a 1-miler to an ultra-marathon. Here's how to have a blast at the back of the pack:
Do your research: If you're a slower runner, the first thing you should check when researching a race is the time cutoff. Some races have strict time limits for finishing or even for reaching certain points within a race. If you know can't make these cutoffs, don't risk it. Instead, look for a race that you know you can run and finish well.
Don't try to fake it: Most races have corrals that separate runners by speed at the start. Be honest about your pace and line up where you should be, not where you wish you could be. There's nothing more demoralizing than starting a race and having runners zing past you mile after mile. If you're a slower runner, embrace it and start at the back where you're more likely to have like-minded, similarly paced runners by your side.
Bring your own supplies: Plan ahead for the inevitably that aid stations will have been depleted by the time you arrive. Carry your own water, energy gel and whatever else you might need to get you through the course.
Fine tune your mental game: Throughout a race, runners are often buoyed by the energy of cheering spectators along the way. But those spectators may not stick around to cheer for those at the back of the pack. Plan for this by strengthening your mental muscles as well as your physical ones while you train. Practice repeating a mantra, cultivate positive self-talk, or simply put together an amazing playlist that will keep you moving when the race gets tough.
And remember, a mile is still a mile whether you run it in five minutes or 15 minutes. And in a race, LOF (Last Official Finisher,) beats DNF (Did Not Finish) every time. And they're both better off than those who DNS (Did Not Start.)