I DID IT!!! I just finished my very first ever half-marathon! For those of you who don’t run, that is a distance of 13.1 miles…13.1 LONG miles!
I have plenty of runner friends who run marathons and half-marathons like they are no big deal, but that’s not me. To me, a half-marathon is a VERY big deal. Like, HUGE.
I have always been blessed to be naturally thin and in decent shape but I have NEVER considered myself a runner. I’ve led an active lifestyle of playing softball, hiking, bicycling etc. but for me, running always felt more like punishment than pleasure. Why then did I (at the age of 46) decide to train for and run a half-marathon?
The answer: temporary insanity, AND the desire to push myself to do something that I never thought was possible for me.
It wasn’t easy (not even close) but now that the race is behind me, I can definitely say that the sense of accomplishment of having crossed the finish line is well worth the effort that it took to achieve it.
In addition to the “bragging rights” that come along with finishing a half-marathon, I also learned some valuable lessons along the way–some about running, but mostly about life…
Lessons Learned While Running (and Training for) my First Half-Marathon
1.) Showing up at the starting line takes a lot more courage than crossing the finish line. When I clicked the button to complete my online registration for my first half-marathon, I nearly had a full blown anxiety attack. What had I just done? Had I gone completely batsh!t crazy? Was I seriously going to run a half-marathon? All of those thoughts continued to plague me right up until the moment when the starter’s gun fired. Once the race started, all I had to do was run. Up until that point however; I had to constantly battle the worry of not being good enough, the concern about whether or not I was truly ready and the fear of embarrassing myself in front of a million (okay–maybe a couple hundred) other people. Sometimes in life, we let ourselves get so wrapped up in the fear of all of the things that could go wrong that we forget to think about the things that just might go right. Caving to my fears would have prevented me from earning my finisher’s medal and feeling the elation of crossing the finish line. Don’t let fear rob you of potentially life enriching experiences. Life shrinks or expands in direct proportion to one’s courage. Click here for five FabYOUlous ways to cultivate courage–even when you think you can’t.
2.) The first mile is a LIAR–don’t believe it! When going on a long run, you’d think that your first mile would be the easiest right? I mean, you’re fresh, you’re rested, you’re rarin’ to go. Piece of cake right? WRONG! For me (and for many other runners that I’ve talked to) the first mile is often one of the most difficult miles of a race. During the first mile, your legs haven’t fully loosened up, you struggle to find your cadence and your brain notices every little twinge and ache and tries to convince you that you should just stop this nonsense and go home. DON’T LISTEN! Just like in life, getting started is often the most difficult part of a task. Whether it’s running, writing a book, going to the gym or balancing your checkbook, getting started is hard because it requires you to overcome the inertia of doing nothing (and let’s face it–doing nothing is easy and it feels good). However; at some point after getting started (for me, it is about mile 3) things start to get easier. You find your rhythm, your muscles stop bitching at you and your breathing becomes more regulated. None of this would happen however if you had stopped during mile one. In physics, this can be explained through Newton’s first law of motion–objects at rest tend to stay at rest while objects in motion tend to stay in motion. Make this law work for you by getting started and staying in motion until you find your flow. For more tips on how to put this principle to work in your life, click here.
3.) Run the mile you’re in. One of the worst things that you can do during a long run is obsesses about how many more miles you have to go. When you’re on mile four of a thirteen mile run, you’ll make yourself crazy and completely discouraged if you lament the fact that you’re not even at the half way mark. Instead, just focus on running the strongest mile four that you can. Listen to your music, enjoy the scenery, feel the strength in your body and keep putting one foot in front of the other. In other words, be in the moment. This advice holds true for all aspects of life. Rather than worrying about how far you still have to go to reach your goals, focus instead on the task right in front of you and do it to the best of your ability. Staying present and focusing on the here and now will help you to do the things that you need to do in order to eventually reach your goal. It will also make the journey toward your goal FAR more enjoyable.
4.) Find your pace. A half-marathon is NOT a sprint. If you explode out of the gate like a bat out of hell, you are going to run out of gas–fast. Instead, the secret to a successful long run is knowing (and sticking to) your pace. My pace isn’t fast (not by a long shot) but it is enough to earn me a comfortable, middle-of-the-pack finish and that is totally fine with me. I know that I could run faster during my early miles but then I’d pay the price during my later miles. Conversely, I’ve also tried to slow my pace down a bit on some of my longer training runs only to find that my body (for whatever reason) naturally gravitates back to my normal pace. So, the key to my success when it comes to distance running is to find my pace and settle into it for the long haul. I think that this is good advice for real life as well. When we fall too far below our natural pace, we can become lazy, stagnant and unproductive. On the other hand, working at a furious pace for an extended period of time can lead to burn out and exhaustion. To maximize productivity and ensure physical and emotional well being, find the pace that is comfortable for you and try to stick with it as you make sustained and steady progress toward your goals.
5.) Build on small successes. When I first decided to start running, I couldn’t run more than a quarter mile without having to stop for a breather. The fact that I just ran 13.1 miles astounds me. The only way this happened was by working, bit by bit, piece by piece to build my endurance. It wasn’t easy, but eventually a quarter mile turned into a half mile which turned into one, five, ten and 13.1 miles. This is how life works too. We try something new and we suck at it but we keep going. Eventually we begin to suck a little less and sooner or later (sometimes much later) we actually start to get pretty good at the thing. Keep this in mind the next time you try something new and hard. The expert at every skill was at one time a beginner–just like you. The secret is to persevere and build upon your small gains.
6.) Discipline trumps motivation. Every. Single. Time. So many people get hyped up over the importance of motivation when it comes to reaching goals. Here’s the thing though–you will not always feel motivated. Sometimes you will feel downright lethargic and completely unmotivated. That’s when discipline is required in order to see you through to your goal. I can’t tell you how many times I DID NOT want to go for a training run (like, pretty much every time I had to go for a training run!) but self-discipline is what got me out the door and the miles logged. Sure, once I started my run and the endorphins began to kick in, I enjoyed my runs, but it required a great deal of discipline to get me to that point. For me, the actual running is the easy part of training–the hard part is getting my shoes on my feet and my butt out the door. Personal development expert, Jim Rohn once said that there are two different kinds of pain when it comes to reaching our goals–the pain of discipline and the pain of regret. The difference is that the pain of discipline weighs ounces while the pain of regret weighs tons. That is a great thing to keep in mind the next time your motivation takes a nosedive.
7.) You are your only competition. Unless you are an ultra-elite, olympic caliber athlete, you really shouldn’t be concerned about competing with anyone other than the person that you were yesterday. As I ran my race, there were plenty of people ahead of me but that’s okay–I wasn’t competing with them. I was competing with myself in an attempt to prove to myself that I could run further than I had ever before run. Sure, it’s fun to win and there will be times in life when you are the winner. However; I know that I am never going to be a top finisher when it comes to running and I am totally fine with that. Instead, I simply focus on becoming a better runner than I used to be. Some people get discouraged and frustrated when they see that there are others ahead of them, but here’s the thing–whether it is a running race or life in general, there will always be someone ahead of you. Rather than being upset by this, or jealous of other people’s accomplishments, try instead to see these individuals as inspirations and proof that it (whatever it is) can be done.
8.) Know your limits. This has been a tough lesson for me to learn–especially during the final week leading up to my race. I wanted to run a few short, easy runs to keep my cardio fitness up to par but my IT band (the ligament that extends from the pelvic bone to the shin bone) was giving me fits–so much so that I was worried about whether or not I’d be able to run come race day. So, instead of running, I spent the week of my race icing, foam rolling, stretching and massaging my leg. My injured IT band was no doubt due to over-training and though I wanted to continue my training regimen, I knew that doing so would make the injury worse and prevent me from being able to participate in the race. As much as I hated it, I knew that I had to rest my injured leg. This happens to all of us in real life too. We feel compelled to keep pushing, striving and hustling and yet something knocks us (temporarily) out of the game. The trick is knowing when to push through the struggle and continue on or when to ease off and take a break. Neither choice is easy but choosing to ignore what your body and intuition are telling you can result in you being sidelined far longer than if you had heeded the warning and respected the limits of your capabilities.
9.) Appreciate your support team. As I look back over my training, there is one particular night that really stands out in my memory. I was stressed out because I needed to go for a run, but I had waited longer than usual; it was starting to get dark and the weather was getting sketchy. I was nervous as I started out on that run but I needed to get those miles logged, so I headed out the door and down the street. My nerves quickly abated however at about mile three when I noticed a very familiar looking white paint van following me. Now normally, I would tell female runners who are running alone at night and being followed by a nondescript white van to CALL 911 because you are about to get kidnapped. I did NOT call 911 however, because on this particular night, I recognized that van to be my sweet husband’s work van. My hubby knew that I was worried about that run and he knew that a storm was rolling in faster than I had anticipated, so he hopped in his van and proceeded to follow me until I was safely back on our street. As my training runs began to grow longer and longer, I began to see that white paint van more and more often. Sometimes he’d pull up beside me with a water bottle, other times he’d just continue to cruise by me, making sure that I was doing okay. Even on the times when he didn’t stop, just seeing his van was such a comfort to me and flooded me with feelings of love and support. I am also thankful for the advice and encouragement that my friend Jenny (who is an avid runner and personal trainer) gave me throughout my training and the regular text message pep-talks that I received from my parents. Training for a half-marathon is hard, but it would have been so, so much more difficult if it weren’t for the amazing support that I received from my friends and family. I only hope that I can somehow return the favor and one day be as supportive to each of them as they have been to me.
10.) You can do hard things. Training for and running a half-marathon is one of the most physically challenging things that I have ever done and yet, as hard as it was physically–it was even harder mentally. I’ve had other runner friends tell me that when it comes to distance running, 90% of the battle takes place between your ears, and they are SO right. I can’t tell you how many times during my training runs, my mind would be begging me to give up and go home despite the fact that my legs and lungs were holding their own and doing just fine. As a non-runner who pretty much viewed running as a form of torture, I had convinced myself that distance running was basically equivalent to slow motion suicide. As you can imagine, this was a pretty difficult mental block for me to overcome. Now that I have a completed a half-marathon under my belt however; I can say with relative certainty that a half marathon is something that most people (who are in decent physical condition) can do, if (here’s the kicker…) they put their mind to it.
There is a quote by Thomas Edison that I just love, it reads “if we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.” I believe that this quote holds true in running and in real life. Too often we pass up the opportunity to do something great because we think that it will be too difficult or that we don’t have the capabilities required to make it happen. Don’t sell yourself short! You can do hard things. Take control of your thought-life and replace the negative BS (that’s short for…belief systems…and maybe something else-ha!) that rolls through your brain on a daily basis, with empowering thoughts of accomplishment and positivity. You really can do hard things, and the more hard things you do, the more confident you’ll feel the next time a hard thing lands in your path.
11.) Understand that “crazy” is a compliment. Since starting my half-marathon training, I’ve lost count of how many people have told me that I’m “crazy”. At first, I was a little discouraged by it but now, I love it when people tell me that I’m crazy for running so far. You bet I’m crazy–crazy awesome!
Now full marathoners on the other hand…those folks are certifiable 😉
Bottom line is–doing something that is out of the norm for most people will always make you seem a little kooky. That’s okay though–embrace the crazy because the truth of the matter is, most people wish that they could be as crazy as you.
12.) Slap that sticker and CELEBRATE! You know those oval 13.1 stickers that you see on the vehicles of runners? Yeah–you can bet your ass that I slapped one of those suckers on my car the second I got back to the parking lot (by the way–we’re betting your ass because I just ran mine off…seriously, I have no ass left to speak of. I think it fell off somewhere around mile nine; and yet despite that…something back there is sore).
Finishing a half-marathon is an accomplishment that most people will never experience so I will post it on Facebook, hashtag it on Instagram, cherish my finisher’s medal as if it were an Olympic Gold, wear my race t-shirt to the office and be all around obnoxious about the whole thing for about a week. Then, I’ll chill out and begin to think about what my next endeavor might be (I’m thinking summiting one of our Colorado Fourteeners…maybe? For you flat-landers, the highest mountains that we have in Colorado reach an elevation of 14,000 feet so they are called Fourteeners. That sounds like a reasonable challenge doesn’t it?)
When you reach a goal, be sure that you too take the time to savor the moment and celebrate your success. You’ve earned the right to be proud of yourself and there is no shame in wanting to share that success with others. Just be sure that you don’t settle. Don’t let your accomplished goal be the final clip on your highlight reel. Instead, use the momentum that you’ve created as a catalyst to continue striving for new experiences. I don’t know if I’ll continue to be a distance runner, but I do know that running my half-marathon has taught me that I am stronger, more resilient and yes…a bit crazier than I had originally thought. I plan to take those qualities and put them to good use on whatever my next FabYOUlous undertaking may be.