Where I started, how this whole thing began. Take your first step… who knows where it will take you.
On April 28th of 2012, I ran in the Ocean City, MD Island to Island 1/2 Marathon. It was an amazing experience, one that I will never forget. Over the days that followed the race, many friends and family members congratulated me on my race. My husband expressed great pride in my accomplishment; especially since I beat my goal time by almost 8 minutes.
This post is not about the 1/2 marathon race… but the path that led me to the race. Many of the people I work with assume that I am some awesome runner… that running has come naturally to me, that running is something I have done since I was young. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Those same people think that a half marathon is something that they could never do – an activity that is beyond their reach. They are wrong again.
About three years ago, I reached an all-time personal high for my body weight. Previously a fairly active and fit person (particularly through my high school and college years), life had settled in around me and my level of physical activity had significantly declined. With my decrease in activity also came my emotional eating. I was using food for comfort and to help me deal with times of boredom. I had gained almost 20 lbs. since the time I had met my husband. I felt terrible about my physical appearance and lack of discipline when it came to food.
I remember the day that a friend of mine mentioned a series of 5K races that was held over the summer locally. He was very encouraging and suggested that I should sign up and run. He said “you will love it.” I recall thinking that 3.1 miles was a long way, and that I wasn’t sure I could do it. Throw in the fact that it was a “race” and I was nothing but skeptical and nervous. Later that same week, my husband continued to encourage me to give it a try. So, I took him up on it. I knew I was in no shape to run a 5K in my current state and that I would need to start training.
So began the path to my first 5K. Little did I know it was the start of my path to my half marathon. I remember that day – it was in early April – still fairly cool for the spring where I live. I stepped out in my sweat pants and sweat shirt and some gloves.
I was off down the road with a 2 mile run planned. In my mind here are the thoughts that were racing through:
The first 10 seconds of my run: I can do this. I use to run 2 miles all the time in high school. No problem!
30 seconds into my run: Dear God, was it this hard to breathe back then? Gosh my lungs hurt.
1 minute into my run (about 0.10 miles in): This sucks. I hate running. Why am I doing this??
1 minute and 2 seconds into my run: [Stopping to walk / hunched over gasping] Are you F@#*!NG kidding me?
I ended up only covering about 1 full mile that day (and that is probably being generous), more than half of it I walked. It was, hands down, the worst physical fitness activity of my life.
I waited about 3 days before I tried again (because I was so sore and so frustrated I couldn’t bring myself to try again immediately). Day 2 of training was not much better. I got exactly 1 neighborhood block farther than my first “run” before I had to double over and gasp. I covered no more total ground. What I recall thinking that day – “Well, ok, I got one block farther for I had to walk. That’s something.”
What I didn’t realize was how quickly my body would respond to the training when I stuck with it. Within 2 weeks I was able to “run” 1 mile, walk for a bit and then continue running covering about 2 miles. Within 4 weeks, I was able to run (albeit slowly) for 2 miles without stopping in about 30 minutes.
Now…don’t get me wrong. It was very hard. And everything hurt. My feet, my legs, my lungs all experience pain. I remember being very sore. I remember showing a gain in weight after about 3 weeks and feeling frustrated. Folks kept telling me it was muscle, but I sure didn’t feel better hearing that. (I didn’t know at the time that my blood volume was actually increasing to accommodate the higher demand for oxygen that my body was requiring during my training).
I ran my first 5K in late May of that year and posted a time of 36 minutes and 57 seconds. I ran faster in the race than I had in any of my training runs. The energy of the race was exhilarating. Running with other people, even though they were much better runners than me, gave me more energy and resulted in a real sense of accomplishment. The winner of that race ran the 5K in 15 minutes and 22 seconds.
But for me, seeing myself doing better with each run was enough motivation and brought enough satisfaction that it drove me forward. It just felt good to be trying.
I was not a very disciplined runner and during the first year was very inconsistent. There were 10 x 5K races that summer and I ran in about 4 of them. At the end of the season there was a 10 miler.
During the 8 weeks leading up to the 10 miler, I decided to give it a try. I was really not running any faster, but thought that to go that far would be an awesome accomplishment. I ran the race in September of 2010 and thought my legs were going to fall off of my body. It was the most painful running experience I had ever felt. My breathing was fine, I felt like I had more energy – but the muscles in my hips and legs were so fatigued, I could barely lift my legs to walk across the finish line. I ran my first 10 miler in 1 hour and 51 minutes.
I took the winter off that year (starting right after the 10 miler) and did not start jogging / running again until about late February. That next summer I ran in about 6 of the 5Ks (my fastest was the first one of the season at 27 minutes and 53 seconds) and ran the end of season 10 miler again, finishing this time in 1 hour and 41 minutes. While I was able to pick up my legs this time, I was still completely wiped out at the end of that 10 mile race. The winter came, but I continued to jog about once or twice a week – short jogs of about 2 to 3 miles.
Close to Christmas time another friend of mine suggested a 1/2 marathon to me. I laughed out loud at the thought of trying to run 3.1 more miles after running 10 miles. She continued to encourage me and true to form I accepted the challenge. I looked online for a beginner’s half marathon training guide and followed it. The plan indicated that the training would take 12 weeks. I began my formal training in February of that year.
And so the official path to the half was recognized. I learned a lot, talked to other runners, gained insight about fueling during the race. Each day brought learnings about my body, about my mental toughness, about my how committed I was.
I completed the 1/2 marathon in 2 hours and 2 minutes, (my 10 mile time during the 1/2 marathon was 1 hour and 34 minutes).
I say all of these things not to pat myself on the back, but to let you know that if you just put one foot in front of the other, and stick with it, the beautiful creation that is the human body will respond to your effort.
It won’t happen all at once. It will be hard work. But it is so worth it. The experiences that I have had, the accomplishment that I have felt, the response my body has had (I’ve lost 10.2 lbs. of the 20 lbs. that I gained) – no one can take that away. And there is nothing magical or special about me. I am not a professional athlete. I am not physically gifted. I have simply put one foot in front of the other and done it.
The smallest effort – if done with desire, focus and commitment will pay off. But I warn you now, if you are open and willing to put forth that small effort, be prepared for it to grow into greater effort…. be prepared for it to grow into ideas and challenges of which you never thought yourself capable.
P.S. Nearly 2 years after writing this post…. I went on to complete my first half Ironman. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think such an amazing challenge would be for me. My initial ideas did indeed take me places I never thought myself capable….