Something has been on my mind a lot lately and I want to talk about it today.
DISTANCE RUNNING IS NOT EASY.
This has come up in my online half marathon training group as some of my first-time half marathoners have experienced some difficulty in acclimating to the increase in mileage, whether that’s through doubting their strength or experiencing injuries. I decided I wanted to write a post about the topic after I received the following comment from a reader this week in regards to her first half marathon. I had asked her to report back to me on how it went and here’s what she shared…
“Hi! I was the one that said I was running my first half over the weekend. I survived! I ran the Detroit International half on Sunday. It was such an amazing accomplishment. The views were amazing. We got to run over the Ambassador bridge into Canada and along the river to view Detroit to the left. I got to experience what felt like never ending inclines to the bridge, and coming out of the tunnel (there is a tunnel that runs under the river from Windsor to Detroit) and those were really hard.
Things I were worried about (breathing, side pain) never happened but I did not realize how bad my toes would hurt or my hips. I also really struggled between miles 9-11 where I just kept thinking that I wasn’t going to make it.
Although I’m not turned off by this and I plan on running it next year (it will be the 40th year!) I am discouraged at my time and training. Both are my fault. I see runners who just look so graceful and gazelle like and I’m over here fighting to just finish. It’s discouraging but I’m also extremely hard on myself. I also trained alone. I think I will have to seek out a run group and friend who will help push me to be better.”
Her race recap started out on a positive note but ended a little down on herself. It made me sad. Running your first half marathon (or any race distance!) is a HUGE accomplishment in itself. I have been thinking back on the race and run recaps that I’ve shared this fall and how for the most part, running has felt good and easy. And I feel like in this online world where we’re so apt to fall into the comparison trap, that my race and run experience may not be relatable to some.
So I want to share…
DISTANCE RUNNING WASN’T ALWAYS LIKE THAT FOR ME.
Flashback to fall of 2005. I had just graduated from the University of Georgia and was living in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. I started running in college but never more than 3-4 miles. I can’t remember what my motivation was but I signed up for a half marathon training group hosted by Try Sports, a local running store in Mount Pleasant. I spent the next four months getting my world ROCKED by training.
I’ll never forget my first few long runs. 7 or 8 mile runs would put me curled up on the couch under a blanket for hours after my run. I usually experienced nausea and my whole body would hurt for the rest of the day. But the next weekend, I would try it again. (This probably perpetuates the idea that runners are crazy to non-runners!) I’d show up for group track workouts and give it my all, although I had NO CLUE what I was doing. Training for my first half marathon was BY FAR the hardest physical challenge that I had ever taken on at that time.
After four long months of training, it was time for the 2006 Myrtle Beach Half Marathon.
I traveled to Myrtle Beach by myself where I would meet up with my running group. My ex really didn’t understand my desire to run this half so he stayed behind at home. I think he had family in town that weekend. Regardless, when I look back on that time I am so freaking proud of myself for what I did. I went to my first expo to pick up my race packet, met my running group for dinner at Carabas and then checked into a hotel where it was just me and my pre-race jitters. The next morning I woke up and navigated my way to the start of the race where I met up with some of my running group friends.
The gun went off and I embarked on my journey to completing my first half. Overall, I had a good race experience but the last 3 miles of the race were so mentally tough for me. My body hurt and I doubted myself but I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. I crossed the finish line in 2 hours and 15-ish minutes with an average pace of 10:15. I chatted with my running group for a bit before heading back to the hotel to shower, check-out and hit the road back to Mount Pleasant.
It was an incredible experience in setting a goal, being so challenged by it, sticking with it and doing it. I really started to realize that I was a lot stronger than I ever believed. And I did it on my own.
But it was a little anti-climactic. I’m not trying to be negative here but my ex and my parents didn’t really “get it.” They mainly thought I was crazy for wanting to run 13 miles for fun. While I was expecting a big celebration, it was more like, “good job!” I’m sharing this because I think some of you might also feel a little alone in your running desires and goals and it’s tough when others aren’t excited about it for you or just don’t understand.
Fast forward 10 and a half years, many half marathons, two marathons and a lot of yoga and strength training later….and I just ran a completely different half marathon. My finish time was 24 minutes faster, my “easy/sustainable” pace was about a minute and 45 seconds faster and the way my body felt was night and day different. I’ve also become a lot more self-confident about my own goals and what makes ME feel good. My mom still doesn’t understand why I want to run 10+ miles at a time but that’s okay. (We agree to disagree on what’s best for me in this regard 🙂 ) It makes me feel good and that’s what matters. I’m not trying to prove anything to her or anyone else.
After Saturday’s race, I was reflecting back on my first half with Tanner and told him that after Myrtle Beach I remember that EVERYTHING was sore, even my arms from holding them up for 2+ hours while I ran. I could barely straighten my elbows!
On Saturday I probably looked like that runner looking all “graceful and gazelle like” during the race. Tanner and I were watching my finish line video yesterday and I was smiling, singing and dancing across the finish line. I’m like, “WHO IS THAT GIRL!?” I used to grimace and cry my way across the finish line while feeling like my legs could crumple underneath me at anytime.
I’M SHARING THIS STORY TO VALIDATE THAT DISTANCE RUNNING IS HARD.
It has taken many years, many injuries, many PT sessions, many frustrated tears (so, so many), many yoga classes, many strength workouts and many, many, many miles for me to get to where I am today. I honestly believe that distance running comes easy for some people but I was not one of those people. I have worked extremely hard to become more conditioned, stronger and faster. I’ve gone through periods where I’ve pushed hard and also where I’ve given up and walked away from running for a while. Getting to where I am today has been a road with many twists and turns.
I love the runner I was in 2006 because that girl was brave and set big, scary goals and started to believe in her strength.
I love the runner I am in 2016 because this girl can stand strong on her own two feet and listen to her heart and her body and do what’s right for her.
So whether you’re at the beginning of your journey with distance running or you’re 10 years in, love where you are today. Don’t compare yourself to other runners. Run your own race and be proud of yourself. Run to feel good. Run to feel strong.
I’d love to hear about your experience with distance running. When did you start? Was it hard? How has it changed for you over time?