Is it Better to Be the Fastest in a Slow Group or a Slow one in a Fast Group?

For the last 5 years, I have been running the 15K hot chocolate run with a friend. We have been late to start the race for the last two years so ended up running with folks that are much slower than our speed. As soon as I crossed the start line, I started passing people left and right. At first, it was a great feeling, but then I started getting blocked to run any faster as there were simply too many walkers.

I wondered to myself – “Is it better to be the fastest in a slow group or a slow one in a fast group?” I am actually not just talking about the race but also about work. Being in the slow group of the race and getting blocked by slow walkers immediately reminded me of work. I have been at one company for 10 years. Deep down, I know I am one of the “fastest” in the company and am frustrated often by some of the “incompetence” I need to deal with that slows down my work. I always wondered whether I should go to a smaller company where the pace is faster and the talent is hopefully higher.

The answer to this question is not as clear as I originally thought. There seems to be pros and cons for each situation.

Situation 1: Being one of the fastest in a slow group.

  • Feeling accomplished and good for the ego as I am passing many people on the race
  • Lower stress as very few people are passing me
  • No self-doubt as I am clearly more advanced than this group I am running with
  • Run with nice people


  • Blocked unintentionally by slower walker/runners
  • Very few people to model after or learn from or draft off of

Situation 2: Being one of the slowest in a fast group

  • Challenged every day by seeing brilliance in others
  • Learn new things by watching others and drafting off of that
  • No one blocking me


  • Plenty of self-doubt of whether I can keep up and excel
  • Higher levels of stress trying to keep up
  • Working with more self-centered (axxhole) people

There is no clear answer actually. For the race, I ended up running my fastest time ever – 15K in under 90 min. My fastest time used to be 99 min. I actually was really surprised. I thought starting with the slow group would keep me slower. I think the fact I was running faster than most of the people around me gave me motivation to both pace myself and keep running faster. I also had no pressure actually to beat my time. I just ran for the fun of running.

My lessons learned from this question was surprising to me. I learned that I can best excel if I just don’t put too much pressure on myself. There is no perfect situation in a race or at work. It’s what we make it and focus on. I rather focus on the enormous impact I can make at work. There is always people slower than us as well as axxholes at work. When we believe in ourselves and relax, we as over-achievers will end up doing better as sometimes it’s the internal pressure that negatively affects us and not the outside situation.

What I learned is wherever I am, I can either choose to get in my own way (with self doubt or imagined pressure or focus on the slowness) or be the best I can be. I have the choice to enjoy my work and do my best, so why not just do that and not over-think it?

Your comments: Do you have a strong opinion of which situation you want to be in and why? What do you think of my conclusion? Do you agree?

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