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It’s fun being outdoorsy, even if you’re always lagging behind

  • Author: Alli Harvey
    | Alaska Outdoors
  • Updated: January 17, 2018
  • Published January 17, 2018

My sleight of hand seems to have worked. The world believes I'm an outdoorsy person. Athletic, even.

I convincingly and routinely wear brightly colored synthetic outdoors apparel. I very rarely bail on outdoor plans. I sign up for races. I'm in pretty good shape.

Sure, I'm carrying around some Christmas pounds. And some from Christmas 2016, and possibly from the year before, but I figure that's life as an American.

Overall I have to admit it's true, I'm plucked straight from the REI catalog, even if it is the quirky, on-sale page.

The thing is in my mind I'm not this person. I didn't grow up as her. And in reality, one thing still sets me apart from the stereotypical outdoors person: I'm slow.

I'm not as slow as I think am, but I'm pretty slow. This makes me feel like I'm always a bit of a tourist, goofing around outside while the big kids actually get after it.

Outdoorsy people are supposed to be the ones with peak fever, right? Shouldn't I have the Strava app so I can compare my time to others? Where is my heart rate monitor, and why don't I care about PR-ing (setting a personal record) in races?

I've come to accept that I can still be authentically athletic and outdoorsy, in my own way, and at my own pace. But this feeling that I'm pulling a once-over on myself and the rest of the world still flares up sometimes.

For instance, I'm perfectly OK with running my own pace during a race. When the announcer says go and the crowd takes off, I enjoy the pummeling feet around me as people dart ahead of me. I am down with the tortoise and the hare mentality. I have had enough bad race experiences when I take off too fast that I prefer to start even slower than I'll likely end up finishing.

However, when I go outside with friends, it's not to each his own like it is in a race. I hate to feel like I'm holding anyone back.

Of course, that feeling isn't strong enough to motivate me to go faster than I'm comfortable.

Nope. Not me. I have my pace, it's slow, and I'm not budging from it. I have had uncomfortable experiences where I pushed myself beyond what I wanted to do. My heart felt like it was going to beat out of my chest, I couldn't seem to draw enough breath, and my face was hot, red and sweaty (which it usually is anyway, but this was even worse).

It wasn't fun, which is ultimately why I like to be outside. Those kinds of experiences tell me to stick to my own pace so I'll enjoy myself. But I do find myself frequently encouraging whomever I am with to please go on ahead if they need to move faster.

It's this feeling — knowing that although I steadfastly love being outdoors I am stubbornly unwilling to go on terms or at a pace set by someone else — that makes me feel like an impostor outdoorswoman.

I've always thought people like me are competitive. Somehow since I'm not motivated by speed or beating someone else or even, really, getting to the top of a peak, this must make me a fraud.

Or, at the very least, lame.

After all, there is shame in being the slow one. At the beginning of a hike or backpacking trip, everyone takes off into the woods and I start along at the plodding pace I know I can sustain.

Slowly I can feel everyone retreat back and reel it in just a little. I know the people I'm with likely don't care, but in general it's not a great feeling to feel less adept at something than the people around me.

And the truth is that if I wanted to be faster, I know how to do it. Equally true is that there have been times in my life where I have been faster — and slower.

When I first started going outside, after years of being sick, the uphills were steeper and much more daunting than they are now. Every step was beyond my "pace" of sitting at home.

Still, I took enough steps that eventually I became faster. Not fast, ever, but moving with more force and for longer durations of time. My "slow" was light-years ahead of where I'd started and brought me so much farther.

It's this that I land on, every time. For me, being outside and moving at all is still kind of amazing. Who cares if I'm slow while I'm doing it? It's my life, my body and my experience.

I wonder a lot about whether the image of what it means to be outdoorsy and the fear of being slow or somehow otherwise "off brand" is a deterrent for other people. I think about how I feel like an impostor and how daunted I was (and often still am) by "truly" outdoorsy people and culture.

Spandex, performance gear, labels, lingo, apps and events. Even bodies — I'm proud of what my body has accomplished, but I don't look like the tiny, muscled people in outdoor magazines. Even if I ever leave the ghosts of Christmas dinner in my dust, I don't think I'll ever look like that.

I hope being slow isn't a deterrent for all those out there with New Year's resolutions to be healthier in 2018. My hunch is that feeling never goes away, even when you are finally "faster." There's always someone out ahead.

For me, it's better to focus on my own experience, who I want to be and where I want to go. And, of course, at what pace.

Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.

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