With the first winter thaw of 2019, I hit the pavement on a Monday evening at 6:00pm. It was still very much winter with it being February, but a 55 degree night screamed perfect running weather compared to the February I knew in my Midwest bones. I remember the first mile feeling effortless. I thought, “God, I hope mile 6 feels this good” (I was aiming for 7 that night). The city lights reflected on the Schuylkill river while the remaining ice continued to melt. The cold air came off of the ice-patched river for a cool breeze just when I needed it. I truly felt like I was walking (or running) on water with how light the entire 7 miles felt, and at some point I thought, how did I get here? Not in an existential way… but in a how did I go from not being able to run a mile to running a marathon?-way.
Running for me wasn’t always this good, and today not every run feels like rainbows and unicorns. But the fact that I’ve gone from being unable to run one mile to running 26.2 miles still baffles me. So how did I get here?
Let me set the stage for you… I was always an athlete in high school but definitely not the running type. My hips came in around the time I quit basketball and switched over to dance. I played softball all my life, but we all know that the most running you get is from first base to home plate… if you’re good. I never ran for fun because as a teenager I never thought to exercise. Sports were my exercise and sports happened year-round, 5 days a week or more. When I got to college, I was honestly bored with my physical routine (or lack thereof). I needed structure. Every year the university hosted the annual Panther Prowl- a 5k race that went along the most stunning parts of Milwaukee and the UWM campus (*ahhhhh Lake Drive, I love you*). I decided to sign up because I needed to have a goal to reach and something to work at. I needed routine. Believe it or not, I started running on the indoor school track where 8 laps totaled one mile and little by little went from running 4 laps, to running a full 3.2 miles. I was SO PROUD of myself because as someone who never ran, 3 miles was my marathon. And I certainly wasn’t fast… but I did it. It wasn’t until after the race that I realized how much I enjoyed running. I couldn’t believe it, but I actually missed running. For the next 3 years I stuck with it and kept my distance at 5Ks and 2-mile jaunts to the lakefront.
Generally speaking I’m not an impulsive person, but wow, I do have my moments… And when the impulse strikes, no one can change my mind. Here’s where my impulse carried me to commit to my first half-marathon.
After watching an inspiring documentary called, “Running the Sahara” I called my dad desperate to do something physically challenging that would test my grit. I had the idea to climb Mount Kilimanjaro (lol). He very quickly talked me off that ledge and suggested running a half-marathon. I instantly said yes and just as quickly thought, What have I done? Lucky for me I made the commitment out loud, so I had to follow through. I’ll cut to the chase here… I trained. I did the thing. And it SUCKED. I was nearly in tears at the last mile and even peed myself a little at the finish (I was not in good shape for this obviously and very dehydrated). My mile time was over an 11-minute mile, but hey… I still did it.
If I’m being honest, I was a little emotionally scarred from the experience and thought who the eff does that twice?! I took a little break from running, but eventually it called me back. After roughly 3 weeks away from running, I couldn’t believe it but again, I missed it. I kept my mileage lower around 4-6 miles for fun and started to incorporate speed work into my workouts– by the way, what a game-changer! The next couple of years I fell in love with the 5-miler. It was far enough for me to see the sights, get the high, and make my heart pound in the best way. This next impulse I don’t remember as clearly, but I’m certain that my impulsive side was responsible for the day I committed (out loud, yet again) to a full marathon. What was wrong with me?! I still hadn’t run another half-marathon to redeem myself from that horrid experience, but sure why the hell not pay money to run 26.2 miles. Looking back, I think I owed it to myself. I was 20 pounds lighter than I was when I ran the half-marathon, eating better, drinking less, and the healthiest I’d ever been. I felt mentally ready.
L.O.L. I was in for a surprise. Training for the marathon was a rollercoaster of emotions. There were days I cried, bled (chaffing is no joke, ya’ll), limped, and definitely thought, I cannot do this. There were also the days that I was amazed and grateful for a body that could run the distance. Training consumes a piece of your life and a little part of your soul. For the marathon I was aiming for a 10-minute mile pace, but truly I was going to be happy just to finish in better shape than my last experience. I specifically remember one 90 degree day, and I had to run 18 miles. I was only at mile 12 when I sat down under a bridge and started to cry. My exhaustion had run through every part of me. I started to walk just to keep going and somehow walked/ran/hobbled all the way home. It certainly wasn’t a successful training day, but it gave me plenty of time to think. I knew that it just wasn’t a good run, and that was ok. I would keep training. Fast-forward to race day, and what. a. difference. First of all, I didn’t even listen to music because there was such a crowd that I had all the entertainment I needed. I felt stellar the entire race! I still don’t know how, but my best guess attributes it to the spectators, bands, volunteers, and the goooooorgeous Minnesota fall day. Better yet, I hit my goal of a 10-minute mile time and felt like I still had steam left. I was on top of the world after that race.
Since then I’ve conquered another half-marathon (this one went much better), a 10K, and a few 5Ks. Running remains a staple in my life and although I’m in my mid twenties, I’m not slowing down (nooooo, I’m not saying that I’m old. Some people would argue that your physical ability peaks in your early twenties). I’ve reached a point in my running where I’m pushing my limits to become faster and to run farther, faster. I don’t know that I see a full marathon in my future again, but I certainly wouldn’t discount it. I still have bad running days where 3 miles feels like an eternity, but then there are days like the warm February day where I ran my fastest and felt my best, and I live to feel that way again.
I feel like I have to share all of this, because people may look at runners and think “wow, I could never do that.” But you can. And hell, we have the same thoughts from time to time. Just like anything, it takes practice… and not just la-de-dah practice, but intentional practice. So if you’ve made it through this novel of my running journey, below I’m sharing some tips if you’re looking to run farther, faster, or just to enjoy it.
- Make a schedule: just like anything, planning ahead pays off! There are also tons of training plans you can find online that lay it all out for you. Rest and recovery is super important, especially if you’re looking to add mileage…so make a schedule and run with intention.
- Sign up for a race: Nothing says ‘motivation’ like paying to exercise in a sea of people running a distance that you’re initially uncomfortable with. This is a great way to hold yourself accountable, train, and be consistent with your running. You might even get sucked in like the rest of us 😀
- Learn to feel uncomfortable- more for beginners, but this will help mentally and with exercise in general: I recently heard someone say, “find comfort in discomfort.” While you could apply this to just about anything, it’s SO TRUE with exercise. Initially exercise is really uncomfortable… I know, I get it. But getting acclimated to that feeling, knowing that you’re ok, and even finding comfort in being uncomfortable will help you run faster and farther. Hopefully you’ll even learn to enjoy the discomfort (a girl can dream)
- Strength train- don’t just run: !!!!!! And some more exclamation points !!!!! Protect your joints, increase agility, and become faster by strength training. Running shouldn’t make you feel broken… if it does, I would consider looking into strength training exercises to improve your functionality and stabilize the muscles around your joints.
- Stretch: this goes hand-in-hand with the last point of strength training. Running is an incredibly repetitive motion that will cause you to tighten up in certain areas. For example: hamstrings, hip flexors, and ankles are typically tighter in runners and can lead to overuse injury if you neglect the stretch. Stretch, stretch, stretch!
- Get in your speed work: Want to get faster? Speed work… you don’t have to run as far, but an intense interval workout will get you there. Even if it’s for 15-20 minutes, alternating between high speeds and a recovery speed will help you run those longer distances quicker.
- Get outside: This is for pure enjoyment, but I find that I typically run faster when I’m outside. I probably don’t have to explain why running outside is (for most people) more enjoyable than a treadmill. My dad once said, “there’s no such thing as poor weather, only poor preparation.” Moral of that story, layer up! In these winter months I would much rather run in 15 degree weather than be stuck on a treadmill indoors. Precipitation is always a slippery slope (literally), though so proceed with caution there.
- Try a podcast: I’ve had some of my best runs listening to a motivating podcast. So while I understand how weird this sounds and it probably won’t work for everyone, it’s worth a shot. You never know unless you try!
- Run/walk: This was the ultimate game-changer for my long-distance running and recommended to me by a triathlon coach. The idea is that a brief walk allows your body to conserve energy and recover quickly so that your running pace is faster than if you were to run the entire length. Now… the walk is a brisk walk and is also brief, but the method is something to consider. Incorporating the walk/run into runs longer than 10 miles has improved my mile time immensely. I whole-heartedly believe that this was why I was able to run a marathon at a 10-minute pace and a half-marathon at a 8:57-minute pace, minimize soreness, leave me feeling refreshed after each bout of walking, and finish each race with a smile instead of tears. You will need to experiment with what ratio/method works best for you, but for initial guidance I’ve linked information here where you’ll want to look for the Magic Mile prediction calculator.
I’m so happy to share this part of my life and hopefully inspire anyone who feels doubtful or apprehensive towards running. Don’t hesitate to comment or reach out with questions about any of this. Finding comfort in discomfort can reach everyone as we move forward with our New Years resolutions. I’m here to say, that if you’ve cried during a run… I feel ya. You can do it sista (or brotha)