How I learned to love finishing last

Several studies suggest that when people feel judged for their weight, they’re less likely to exercise in the first place. We also know that social stigma can cause stress, which can trigger a cascade of stress hormones – basically the opposite of a runner’s high.

I live in an average sized body, but I still wonder if I’m a real runner. When others pass me by, I sometimes play mental games with myself – for all they know, I’m recovering from knee surgery! (I’ve never had knee surgery.) When I talk about being a dedicated runner, I always qualify it by saying I’m slow – just in case whoever I’m talking to decides to check my times racing and calling me for being an impostor.

Other slow runners also question their legitimacy. Some have told me they avoid sharing their times on fitness tracking apps like Strava for fear their friends will find out their pace. “In fact, I know that my accomplishments and the work I put into them are no less valuable than those that work faster—it’s just different, Ms. Dolton said. “But in my brain, I’m still like, but is it?”

I usually run about a 13.5 minute mile. In long races, I often run much slower. I also run using the Galloway method, which strategically incorporates walking breaks. Founded by Olympic marathon runner Jeff Galloway in the early 1970s, his run-walk-run method has been shown in some studies to decrease self-reported fatigue and muscle soreness. For me, it also made running a joy.

Over the years I’ve learned that, like body acceptance, rhythm acceptance can come from shifting our attention from the external measurements and perceived judgments of others to how we actually feel within our own skin. As Mr. Evans of the Slow AF Run Club said: “The acceptance of rhythm is body acceptance and body acceptance is rate of acceptance. When we compare ourselves to others, said Dr. Justin Ross, a clinical psychologist in Denver who specializes in mental health and athletic performance, we set ourselves up to suffer. Instead, “the real psychological benefits come from taking advantage of what your body can do,” he said.

Beyond that, however, I also learned that running with the back of the peloton can cultivate mental and physical courage which is valuable in its own right. “A seven-hour marathon is going to take a lot of mental toughness, Dr. Ross said. Maybe even more, he added, than three hours.

There are also physical benefits to running at a pace that doesn’t feel strenuous, said Claire Bartholic, an Asheville, North Carolina-based trainer who has helped hundreds of people develop a running practice.

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