Why You Should Stop Asking Runners "What Was Your Time?"

Let me fill you in on a conversation that I often have with people about running. It goes something like this

Friend: “What did you get up to on the weekend? You were doing a race right?”

** Editor’s note, at this point I am secretly beyond thrilled that my friend is paying attention to what I do in my spare time!

Me: “Sure was! Ran that half marathon”

Friend: “Cool! What was your time?”

“What was your time?” That is by far the most frequently asked question that I get asked after completing a race. No big surprise, I mean, there is typically a giant digital timing clock at the end of almost every run, must be important right?

Here’s the thing; leading with a question of time can (unintentionally) be a really terrible way to ask someone about the event that they just completed.

Here’s why...

Time is Relative to Our Own Perception

Most of us have a perception of what is possible based on our own experiences running. If you can run a one hour 10k and your friend went 38 minutes your head may explode trying to comprehend their lightning fast time! (If you don’t run at all your head may explode thinking that they ran a 10k) BUT, what if your friend was trained to run a 34 minute race? The 38 minute time is still fast by your standards, but it doesn’t tell the story of what happened on race day!

Fun Fact!
If you can understand what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference you are developing empathy! Pat yourself on the back for building your communication skills!

It Ignores Course Type, Elevation, and Weather

Courses can be flat or have a ton of hills, the terrain may be runnable or highly technical, and the weather can be perfect, or may have been unusually hot/cold/windy/rainy. All of these things affect what sort of time a runner will end up with on race day.

This is especially important in longer distance events where subtle changes in the weather, or the position of hills on the course can have a significant effect on overall race times.

Bonus Game!
If you ever need to keep an ultra runner busy for 20 minutes ask them how long it takes to run 50k/50 miles/100k/whatever crazy distance they are running. They will say “it depends,” attempt to complete multiple calculations in their head to adjust for the aforementioned factors (course type, elevation, weather), then eventually settle on giving you a ridiculously wide time range estimate. It’s a fun way to pass time while on road trips.

It Doesn’t Factor in Other Possible Goals

Time goals are definitely very common in running, but they’re not the only reason that people run. Runners could be racing for a podium or age group spot (who cares about time, just finish ahead of the other people!), going in to just complete a distance, out to just experience the race, coming back from an injury, or maybe simply finding a way to justify more post race doughnuts in their life.

But What To Ask!?!

Leading with a question on time just scrapes the surface of what happened in a race. Try going with a quick “Tell me about your run!” or “How did the race go?” I can promise you that you’ll get a much more interesting look into what actually happened out there on race day.

Your runner friends will love you forever for allowing them to tell you a real story, not just a number that shows up at the the end of a journey.

About The Author

Cory likes to run, and likes to help runners find races with his website, www.runguides.com

Published on Apr 07, 2020
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