Conversational speed (Paul and Tim).
“Can we run together for a little longer today?” Tim asked. “When you come running up at the end of my run, say few things and speed off, I’m a little frustrated.”
Tim was running his new route at the park. A guy he met last week caught up with him.
“I can do that,” Paul said. “I wanted to find out whether you were interested in talking. You seemed pretty hesitant last week.”
“It wasn’t about you, exactly,” Tim said. “It’s pretty scary to run in public, to have everyone watching and judging. And then, when someone older passes you, that’s pretty intimidating. No offense intended.”
Paul smiled. “None taken. But what makes you think that people are judging? Are you?”
Tim shrugged. “No, not really. But everyone is better or faster or cooler than I am. I want to stay in the shadows.”
“I’ll go back to my first question from last week,” Paul said. “What are you training for? Before you argue, let me explain a bit.
“When you have a clear sense of why you are running, what you are training for, it changes your relationship to everything: to running itself, to other people, to your life. You worry less about what other people think of you and more about how people might help you.”
Tim ran silently for a bit. “I’m not sure I understand.”
“Let me be really practical for a minute,” Paul said. “How fast are you running right now? Faster or slower than usual.”
Tim looked at his watch. “I have no idea,” he said finally.
“I can tell you. You are running a little slower. You can tell by the way we are able to talk. At your usual pace, you would be gasping. I’ve slowed you down a bit because good training happens at conversational pace.
“Too many people try too hard on their own when they start running. They run fast, then burn out. Because you wanted to talk to me, you adjusted your pace to mine. And my pace is a perfect speed for you to build stamina.”
Tim laughed. “I knew I was matching you, but I thought I was speeding up. But you are right. I wanted to know what you knew so I stopped worrying about what you thought of me.”
Paul smiled. “You will speed up, eventually. If we run together enough and you follow my lead. But the secret is learning to live at conversational speed.”
“That sounds like it’s about more than running,” Tim said.
Paul smiled. “That’s enough slowness for me. See you Wednesday.”
Practical steps (Paul and Tim).
“How did you know about running at a conversational pace?” Tim said.
Paul smiled. “And happy Wednesday to you, too. Are your legs feeling okay after our run on Monday?”
“They are,” Tim said. “And that’s why I’m curious about how you knew about running at a slower pace than I usually run. After we were done talking, or after you ran away, I realized that I had run further than I usually run and that I hurt less. It was great advice. So, did you make it up?”
Paul shook his head. “I read about it several years ago. From a number of running writers. So I tried it. I did most of my running a little slower than my capacity. And I discovered that it helped my last longer.”
“How do you stay slow?” Tim asked. “And why is your conversational pace faster than my gasping pace? And how did you know to follow that advice?”
Paul ran for a bit. Tim could tell that he was thinking.
“I think there are several issues you are raising,” Paul finally said. “Let me see if I understand them and then I can answer them in order. First, you are looking for practical advice about how training works. Second, you are wondering how to compare experience with youthful energy. And third, you are wondering about how to determine whose teaching to trust? Does that seem accurate?”
Tim nodded. “I have a lot more questions, but those will do to begin.”
Paul laughed. “I know. When they get over their shyness, new runners are full of questions. You are going to need to help me remember my answer to your third question. Ezra. Remind me to tell you about Ezra. He’s my favorite person for talking about what kinds of people and advice to trust. But I want to take care of the short answers first.”
Tim started typing on his phone. “I’ll remind both of us.”
“Let’s start with your second question,” Paul said. “Never fall into the trap of comparing someone else’s middle with your beginning. In running, in writing, in understanding stuff about God. Use someone else’s apparent expertise as an opportunity to learn from them rather than as a way to criticize yourself.”
Tim nodded. “I’ve just started improving at that skill. Just in the last week or so.”
Paul ignored the compliment. “On your first question, I quit listening to music and started listening to podcasts. Because they are conversational, I can keep my pace better. (And it’s challenging to listen to Joel Runyon talking about doing impossible things at 37.) Look for really simple practical acts. It’s why I pray every morning and every evening. If I see the sun coming up, it reminds me to talk to God.”
Paul started to speed up, slowly, like he always did. Tim did his best to keep up. “What do you talk about?”
Paul smiled. “Lately, I’ve been talking about you. See you Friday.”