Debate: Speed vs soul running

Getty Images

Are you a PB chaser or do you run for the fun of it? After putting this question to Twitter last week we were inundated with replies from each side of the fence...

‘I’m a PB Chaser,’ said @mrjosereyes. ‘I have an obsession with speed.’ While @thetfish86 is firmly on camp soul runner. ‘Fun all the way. I get way to stressed out with speed, races and PBs... I love a long weekend ramble run with snack, friends and beer after.’

When it comes to speed versus soul running, the Runners World online team are also divided. Our web ed Ben Hobson is firmly in camp speed, while our News Ed Rhalou loves to run at a leisurely pace in the mountains. We erected an imaginary soapbox to let them battle it out.


The speed chaser - Ben Hobson

I love running for the physicality of it. Be it road, trail, one mile or 13.1 miles, my enjoyment comes from sustaining an effort, feeling my engine work, sweating, swearing and smiling as I try and find the limits of how fast I can run. 

When I talk about running fast, I'm referring to my own capabilities. I am by no means fast if I compare myself to others, but that isn't important, I dealt with that reality long ago – this is all about my speed, my effort, my PBs.  

I don't really enjoy running slowly, I find it frustrating. The cadence doesn't feel right, I feel like I'm stomping along in an ungainly fashion, all sagging posture and clunking movements. I get this niggling feeling that I'm not trying hard enough. In my mind running should be a glorious effort; perhaps that’s because I’ve always found it difficult, but then I don’t associate things that are difficult to things not being enjoyable. I think that’s the cyclist in me, suffering is very much part of the joy of being on my bike.  

I also don’t really like running a long way. I've never run a marathon. I think the furthest I’ve ever run is 19 miles. I simply don’t have the patience or the capabilities to run that far without wanting to do it faster than I know I'm physically able. It’s no slight on those who run five hour marathons, but I wouldn’t want to do that. The impetuous to compete out weighs the desire to just complete a race. I’d rather have the finish time I want than just another medal. I’ve still got a fast half marathon target I really want, but I haven’t made up my mind yet on a marathon.  

It’s not all physical however, I find the inward thinking required to focus on a limit highly meditative. At no other time do I feel more aware of the functions that my body is making, how every action, every movement, every posture adjustment, every foot strike, every breath has to be measured to maintain what I want to achieve. I easily slip into a zone where non-running thoughts are diluted to background noise and it’s simply me running. I guess that airs slightly on the side of soul running, but it’s not the main focus or goal of what I’m doing, it’s just a wonderful by-product of trying to push myself.  

I think I’ll always be like this. I am only going to get slower as I get older so perhaps that’s when I’ll discover my ‘soul runner’, but even yesterday when I was at the track doing some speedwork there was an older gentlemen running around and though in relative terms he was going ‘slowly’, I’m 100% sure he was there pushing his limits, however slow it might appear. I hope that’s the case, it made me happy to see that desire to go fast never fades even though the speed might. 


The soul runner - Rhalou Allerhand

When I first discovered running I slotted instinctively into the dedicated soul runner section. I was not sporty at school and have never been a competitive person. Before long I discovered ultra running and my fate was sealed. I was attracted to running because I love to get completely lost in my thoughts. Long distance running appealed to my laidback sensibilities and I quickly dedicated my life to long slow runs exploring the great outdoors.

I still do the odd bit of speed work and naturally achieving a PB on race day makes me feel great, but competitive racing is such a minute aspect of why I run, that if I never got a PB again I wouldn’t give a toss. Running is the central cog around which every other aspect of my life revolves. I run because it heals me, calms my overactive mind, gives me a routine and fills my life with adventure. Speed is just one small chapter in the story.

I love trail running in the countryside best of all and Scotland will always be my favourite playground. Running in the shadows of the mountains with trails and streams beneath my wandering feet and lush woodland all around makes me feel vital and alive. There is something humbling about getting lost in nature. It reminds me that I am a creature of the earth and just a bag of moving flesh and bones. All my worries about council tax and wayward boyfriends melt away and I become one with the soil beneath my feet. The speed at which I travel is of absolutely no consequence. All that matters is the earth and the sky and the world that keeps on turning.

On race day I try my hardest, but precious moments making friends with crazy ladies dressed as pink flamingoes trump speedy PBs any day of the week. It’s nice to run fast, but the true grit, the real determination and the best stories are happening at the back of the field.

In my job I’m often surrounded by runners who take the sport very seriously and hold speed as the sole measure of running success. While winning a race is undeniably a natty skill and I will always be in awe of pro athletes, sometimes this frustrates me. Measuring my beloved hobby by such a restrictive margin can belittle it for me. There is so much more to this multifaceted sport than merely a measure of time. This is most prominent when someone asks me how long it took to complete a race. When you’re running really long distance time disappears, it’s not about achieving PBs; it’s about survival. If I make it home alive, then I have won. If we measured our race successes by whoever enjoyed them the most, I would be winning Olympic gold all the way.

Are you a speedy Gonzales or a soul runner? Tweet us @RunnersWorldUK