Yesterday I ran for the first time since Boston. I felt really good and loose, which would’ve been a really nice feeling 6 days earlier, too. Just saying.
It was raining throughout my entire run, but I don’t really mind running in the rain, as long as it’s not freezing rain, and I had my iPod playing my new playlist since I ran by myself and needed some tunes for motivation.
Sometimes it’s so nice to be out on the open road, getting exercise, with just your thoughts, set to a little Taylor Swift music. (Yeah, that’s right, Taylor Swift).
It was one of those days that I remembered why I love running.
I’m a pretty good runner, not a great runner. I’ll never run in the Olympics or win a major race. I run because I’ve never found anything else that makes me feel as good as running makes me feel, both mentally and physically.
It doesn’t always feel amazing, of course, as evidenced by the way I felt during about 26 of the 26.2 miles I ran in Boston. Or when you haven’t run in a really, really long time and you try to start up again (more on this later).
But most of the time, flying through the air on two feet, every part of your body working together in unison, feels incredible. The term “runner’s high” exists for a reason, after all.
One of my friends, Eve, is training for a running relay, a race where a team runs from one location to another (usually over hundreds of miles), each team member running multiple legs of over the course of the race. In the comments of one of my recent posts, she said this:
I think of you when I train and wonder how you got to this point. Maybe you can do a post on how you started? What foods fuel you? ETC? Because right now, I’ll be honest…I barely run 2 miles, and I just can’t believe my body will ever stop fighting me on this.
The short answer is this: your body will stop fighting you. If you keep at it, keep adding a little at a time, and realize that there will be great days and there will be days when you feel like you’ve never run in your life, it will get better. It will get easier. It will get enjoyable.
Here’s the longer, more personal answer: Long before I started running, I was a swimmer. I started swimming on a team when I was 5 years old and swam competitively until I was 16. I didn’t love swimming. I liked the friends I made, I liked being part of a team, but I could live without swimming… long hours in the pool, sometimes twice a day, got old after awhile.
When I was a senior in high school, I had to pick a sport to play in the Fall. It was required at my school. The previous years I had played field hockey, but I didn’t really even like that sport. And I was pretty awful at it, to boot. Plus, field hockey “practice” usually involved standing around the field with a stick for two hours, watching the girls who actually played in the games do their drills.
I used to watch the girls on the cross country team drive off or get picked up, like, an hour before my field hockey practice ended. I decided that getting home an hour earlier was something I could sign onto, so I joined the cross country team that year.
It turned out that not only was practice shorter, but I actually liked to run. I ended up having a great season, too, winning the smaller of our league’s two championship meets, and coming in fourth in the larger one with a 5K time of 19:35, which I have yet to ever touch again. I got recruited to run in college (nothing special, Division III), but didn’t pursue it.
Then I took about 11 years off.
Sure, every once in awhile I’d decide I needed to lose some weight and I’d get out and run, but those spurts only lasted a few months (weeks, maybe?) at a time and they were inconsistent. Between late 1997 (the Fall of my senior year) and 2008 I probably ran about 10 races total… and very slowly, at that.
In early 2008, my brother and sister-in-law, Keith and Nicole, were training for a Half Ironman that was taking place in July. I wanted to do it, too, and even signed up (and paid) for it. I didn’t take it seriously enough, though, and it wasn’t until around March of that year that I decided I should get going on training. Mind you, I was horribly out of shape and had no business attempting to train for such a big event that was coming up in less than 4 months.
One day I remember going out for a 5 mile run and making it about 1 mile before I felt like I was going to die. Discouraged and disappointed in myself, I turned around and walked/jogged back home.
Still determined to train, I tried the treadmill, thinking it would allow me to manage my speed a little more, and be able to ease into running further. Pretty soon, though, I was dealing with shin splints and getting even more discouraged because running was getting painful… but each day I took off was one more day I wasn’t preparing for the race. And at that point, I needed to prepare every chance I had.
So I gave up on training. That was it. It probably was best not to keep pushing for the Half Ironman at that point because I was too out of shape, too close to the race, but it didn’t mean I had to give up on working out altogether.
But that’s what I did.
And that summer, instead of competing in my first Half Ironman, I got even more out of shape. So out of shape that one day I got on the scale and asked my mom to break it to me gently – how much did I weigh? She told me the number and I couldn’t believe it. Was it possible that it was that high? It was a dial scale, so maybe she was reading it wrong. I looked down, and it turned out she was reading it wrong. I was actually 5 lbs. heavier than she was reading it.
I did own a mirror, though, so I shouldn’t have been that surprised. Behold:
At that point, Audrey’s husband Matt was going through a body transformation. He lost 68 lbs. by eating right and getting his butt kicked by Lisa, a trainer at the YMCA. Although I was scared of Lisa (Matt didn’t look the way he did because she was taking it easy on him), I started going to her Spinning classes and soon got addicted.
Lisa also taught a class called Tread On, which is like a Spinning class on a treadmill. I started going to Tread On classes, too, where Lisa would tell us to speed up, increase the incline, do various drills, etc. throughout the class. I would walk/run during those classes, but the running portions started to feel really good. I was gradually taking weight off, too, which was a nice benefit.
This was around the end of September 2008. I knew Keith and Nicole were planning on doing a 5K near their house at the end of October, so I decided I would train for it, too. At that point, 3.1 miles seemed VERY FAR. I found a 3-mile loop near my parents’ house and Audrey and I would run it a few times a week, getting used to the distance.
On the day of the race, Keith and Nicole were taking care of their friends’ dog while their friends were running the Marine Corps Marathon in D.C. I remember talking with Nicole that day about how it was a dream of mine to run a marathon. She wanted to run one, too, and a few weeks later she had convinced me to train with her for the Cox Sports Marathon the following May.
Going by Hal Higdon’s Novice Marathon guide, Nicole mapped out our training schedule for the next few months. I think that was one of the biggest factors in my sticking to the marathon plan – having something to go by. Each day, knowing exactly what I had to do; actually seeing it right in front of me.
I remember the first time I was able to add on to the 3-mile loop near my parent’s house. Audrey and I ran our normal route together, and then, knowing I had to get at least 4 miles in that day, I kept going on my own, making myself go to the halfway point of the big hill near my parents’ house.
One day soon after, I challenged myself to try that 5-mile route that I could only complete 1 mile of a few months prior. I ran the whole way, plus added on two miles, and I felt so accomplished.
It was just a little-by-little kind of thing for me… building endurance, gaining speed, being able to run further. I didn’t use a watch, so I didn’t really have any idea how fast I was going, but I could feel myself getting stronger.
You start hitting milestones. Making all the way up the big hill near your parents’ house, running 10 miles for the first time, doing your first 10-mile race, watching your weekly mileage get higher and higher… then finally reaching the ultimate goal you had set for yourself – running a marathon. And goal-reaching ends up getting pretty addicting.
And it doesn’t really matter what your goal is. It could be a 5K. It could be an Ironman. Once you reach it it, no one can take it away from you.
So my advice to anyone training for anything is this: stick with it. Set a goal and work towards reaching it. Sounds easy, right?
There will be days when you are just not feeling it. There will be setbacks. Find people who inspire you and motivate you. Remember them on those days. You’re probably inspiring people yourself, even if you don’t know it, so remember that you need to keep them going, too.
Because there will also be days when you finally feel it all coming together. Those days when you remember why you love it. And those days are the ones that make everything else worth it.
Eve, I know you asked about food, fuel, etc., too, but I think I’ve gone on and on enough at this point! I will talk nutrition in another post!