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May 15, 2020

Run Your Slowest Mile

In these uncertain and often frustrating times, everyone is looking for creative ways to mix up your fitness routine while stuck in the house. The lack of road races and track meets has hit the running community hard, and we’re all looking for ways to channel our sudden lack of training structure into fun challenges, new goals, or just things to pass the time. Whether it’s virtual race series, classic challenges, or the deeply cursed “koala challenge,” the running community has used the absence of formal races to do what we do best – push our bodies to the limits and turn it into a competition.

Even the pros are getting involved, whether it’s the best pole vaulters in the world taking on an impressive endurance test or Johnny Gregorek busting out the blue jeans for a sub-4 attempt. But I have a challenge that every runner, from Olympic medalists to people who have never run a step before, can do:

Run your slowest mile ever.

Why? I think a better question is, why not? The best coaches recommend taking hard days hard and easy days easy, and what could be easier than running as slow as possible for one measly mile? Well, it’s trickier than you’d think.

The confluence of beautiful spring weather with a down week in training convinced me to make an attempt at the slowest mile I could possibly run. For this challenge, there is one simple rule:

  1. You have to be running the whole time. No breaks, no walking.

Of course, that raises the question – what defines running? Standard thinking dictates that it doesn’t count as running if both feet are on the ground at the same time, but that’s very hard to self-police. An easy heuristic I found is to look at your “cadence” section in Strava or your preferred running app – if you’re in the 150-180 range, you’re running. But like any other solo quarantine challenge, we’re operating on an honor system.

So I put my mask on, slipped on my brand-new Topos, and set out to set a personal record I’d never consciously attempted before. About 30 seconds in, I realized this would be way harder than I thought. It’s really hard to not speed up when you’re holding yourself back to a painfully slow crawl. It’s also mildly embarrassing to have pedestrians pass you at a casual walking pace and give you strange looks once they realize just how slow you’re making forward progress.

For honesty’s sake, I’d recommend picking a route without a lot of gain, as I found it noticeably easier to run slow with a slight uphill than a flat surface. I hit halfway in about 9 minutes and thought to myself, “I can do better than this.” Fortunately, the loop I picked ended with uphill. Even still, the last 400 meters of staring at my apartment building were a test of my restraint.

My watch finally hit the mile split and I looked down to see 19:38. I just missed my goal of >20 minutes, but I was proud of my effort. I think with another attempt I could get well over 20, but I’m proud of my debut.

Ironically, the sensation that the “slowest mile” reminded me of most was trying to hold back the pace in the first half of a marathon – something I could stand to improve on. It also reminded me of trying to increase my finish time in other areas, but that’s a separate conversation. In all seriousness, I do think there is a mental training benefit to testing your ability to practice self-restraint despite what your body is telling you to do and any strange looks you might receive.

The gauntlet has been thrown down: I challenge you to beat my 8:34 marathon pace and see just how low we can set the bar for slowest mile limbo. May the slowest runner win.

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