Running Scared

By: Jim Woolfitt

I like this Roy Orbison song not only because it uses the word “running” but because I can relate to the protagonist. I like songs (and movies) with happy endings, too.

Growing up socially awkward and uncoordinated I can relate to the person of Roy Orbison with those goofy glasses & his paunchy figure. I can relate to his songs like “Only the Lonely” and “Uptown” which is about a lowly bellhop. During my high school gym class we would run a mile around a practice track. I would get lapped by the guy who ran the mile on our school’s track team. I typically beat only a heavy kid and sometimes a guy who smoked.

“Just running scared

Afraid to lose”

In this brief song, the hero is worried he will lose his lover to her former boyfriend who does appear at the song’s end.

“So sure of himself

His head in the air”

The ex-boyfriend sounds like the type of runner some of us like to beat. Anyway the girl walks away with Roy Orbison– the good guy wins!

When I began entering road races in 1982 and 1983 I was very uncomfortable lining up with “real runners” at the start. Maybe I wasn’t “scared” but it felt alien. I suppose it was due to my lack of experience in organized sports and possibly due to my humiliating experiences running in phys ed class. I had some irrational fear that someone would tell me I was a “poser” and I had no business queuing up with “real runners”. Once the race started, I was fine.

If you’re typically finishing near the back of the pack & maybe you’re feeling like you’re not a “real runner”, you might to consider these suggestions:

1.       Quit apologizing. See yourself as a “real runner” who belongs in races. If you’re healthy & motivated, then you can improve. My first 10K time was 51:46 & seven years later I finished 2 different 10K’s under 39 minutes. You don’t need to inform other runners if you’re slow – we usually can tell.

2.       Try to run an even pace. It’s more fun to be the “passer” at the end of races than it is to be the one being passed. Do the math. If your goal is to break 30 minutes in a 5K, try to run 9:40 mile splits. This will put you at 19:20 at 2 miles and 29 minutes flat at 3 miles. Running a 9:40 pace equals 580 seconds per mile & you should finish the last 1/10 of a mile in 58 seconds. That would bring you in a time of 29:58.

3.       Keep lining up at the back or near the back of the pack at the start. This may seem to contradict point #1 but it doesn’t. Everyone else will typically start too fast. Use the crowd to help you slow down at the start as you work your way through the crowd.


4.       Run tangents. If the course turns left, move over to the left. If the course turns right, move to the right. Many courses are measured assuming running will run using tangents. If you’re following point #3 you will likely run as many feet as other runners who don’t run tangents.


5.       Keep a journal of your running and of your races. Keeping track of how much (or little) you run weekly may surprise you. Many runners find maintaining a record keeps them accountable. You can make your running diary brief with just the date & mileage or more extensive adding details like the temperature, how long you ran, shoes worn, if you ran with anyone else, how you felt, the location, etc.


These tips are based in part from 31 years of running and from over 400 races. These suggestions should help you lower your times. As you improve, you should feel more like a “real” runner. Of course, you don’t want your self esteem to come totally from external factors such as how fast you run (or how many hits your blog receives).




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