You Are a Runner
First of all, whether you are running 5:00/mi or 15:00/mi, you are a RUNNER. If you're running 10 miles per week or 100 miles per week you are a RUNNER. If you are walking half of your runs, you are a RUNNER.
If you RUN you are a RUNNER. Period.
Your speed does not define your worth as a person or athlete, whether compared to others, or yourself over time.
The fact is, we are all going to experience periods where we lose fitness and get slower. In fact, the majority of your running life will be spent getting slower rather than faster.
Anecdotal evidence and some research suggests that many athletes can experience approximately 7-12 years of improvements. This varies greatly depending on the age you start, biomechanics, genetics, desired distance, training history and style and more. If life circumstances or training held you back in the beginning of your career, you may be rewarded with more time at the end. Likewise if you started running later in life.
Hopefully though, you run for the love of the process, and perhaps the physical act itself. Eventually, seven, twelve or perhaps fifteen years down the line, it will become less about getting faster, and more about 'slowing down less.' The less we learn to equate speed with our worth as an athlete, the better!
Pace is a Lie
In fact, your pace on most of your runs doesn't even have much to do with your current fitness!
First of all, pace is not an objective truth. It's not accurate, and it's not relevant to your training. Please read this article for the full explanation, but in short - if you start ignoring your pace, I can nearly guarantee you a breakthrough.
Second, many runners will get slower as they progress in training, of course if they're looking at pace. (That's another good reason to ignore it.) This is because overall training load is increasing, at least for a few weeks before cutting back slightly to allow the body to adapt. There's a lot more to this, and it needs to be handled with intent and intelligence, as well as be frequently adapted to what is actually happening in your body. So no, training plans don't work well, unless you're modifying them yourself.
Training is about improving your fitness, not showing everyone how fast you are each day. Assuming you're working with a coach, or are an experienced and educated runner who is self-coaching, each run is specifically designed to be a certain type of stimuli. That means each run has a purpose that should be closely aligned with internal physiological processes. If you're running faster because you think you get more out of the run, that's just not correct.
Every run has a purpose, and running faster is not better.
In particular, a lot of runners look to their easy runs getting faster as a sign of fitness. That may not be true. First, if they're looking at pace, they may be experiencing what I call 'effort-calibration creep.' That's where as a runner gains experience, and particularly learns to do more moderate runs like threshold training, they get more accepting of what seems 'easy.' Unfortunately that means that they are often creeping into the moderate zone.
It's important to remember that easy effort is a range, or sort of a 'safe zone,' and the slower end may offer more benefits than the faster end. That doesn't mean that you have to totally avoid the upper end of that 'easy range,' just that you shouldn't exclusively stay there thinking you get more benefits.
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Supportive Social Media
Now let's go a step further. Posting about your runs on social media, whether Instagram, Facebook or just Strava is awesome! Having a supportive and encouraging community is amazing, and we should all be lifting each other up!
But do you make comments like "wow, amazing pace; you're so fast!" on other people's runs? This might be dangerous, and I'd encourage you to resist doing it.
Here's the thing - you don't know the intent of their run for the day. If it was an easy run, and they ran it too hard, they won't get the intended benefits, and an internet comment about their pace just isn't going to be helpful. Even if it was a workout, going too fast doesn't mean it was a better workout!
Only that runner and their coach knows the context of their training.
Running too fast is counter-productive at best, and can be dangerous to your health if you approach overtraining. Remember, training should be purposeful, and if faster running doesn't suit that day's purpose, then you shouldn't do it!
I have worked with a wide variety of runners who have had to remove their running from social media, including Strava, due to well-intended comments from both friends and strangers. This saddens me, because it has the potential to be a supportive place.
Obviously the vast majority of these comments are made out of a desire to elicit positive feelings! But just because it's kind, doesn't make it productive.
So let's agree to normalize being supportive without referencing pace, at least on training runs! Save those "wow so fast!" comments for when they SMASH their race thanks to more effective training!
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