Earlier this year, I started my first stage of life away from sports. After 20+ years of playing or coaching softball, I finally stepped away. It was time, I was breaking, and I wanted a new challenge.
Though the “real world” is still competitive, I found myself needing a personal challenge. I developed one for work, I developed one for learning, but I was still missing something.
So, with very little distance running experience, I signed up for a Half-Marathon in December. I’ve been training for 13 weeks now and here are some of the things I’ve learned.
The importance of workout diversity
As much as I want to go out and run 13.1 miles, all it does is lead to injury. The first time I had to run 4 miles was a nightmare, how could I possibly think I was going to get to 13.1?
I used to skip over the strength training workouts, ignore the speed workouts and just go for distance again, and all sorts of adjustments to the plan. Then, for a couple weeks, I decided to follow the plan to the second. The next time I went out to do a distance run, I demolished it.
If you continue to just train one thing, you risk injury. So, as annoying as some of the strength workouts might be because we just want to go out and run, they are important.
Starting is the hardest part
When I started my training, it was late summer and the heat was miserable. If I wanted to survive the run, or if I wanted my hair to survive the run without needing a wash, I had to get up at 4 A.M. to have enough time to fit the run in before work. With my evenings booked, I couldn’t always afford to come home and have time to do it. Even if my night was open, I would come up with even more excuses as to why I couldn’t run that evening.
Getting out the door that early was the hardest part. Even when I started pushing my runs to the evening and clearing my night schedule (no one really enjoys running in 18 degree weather). If you can get over that first hurdle, it’s so much easier to just keep going. You aren’t going to get ready to run for just a few minutes. After you’re outside, it makes it so much easier to just keep going.
Recovery is key
Back when I wasn’t training, I would just run for the hell of it. I had no plan and just went out to do the same workout over and over again. Because I didn’t pay attention to recovery days, I ended up with a lot of overuse injuries. Now, I stick to the schedule and let myself actually rest on those rest days. When it’s time to run again, I have a new energy and a lot less pain.
It’s okay to not be the best/fastest runner
Much like the writing community, the running community is really supportive. I don’t run with anyone, but just being engaged in an online community has been tremendously helpful.
I also learned that you don’t have to be the best or the fastest, you just have to be there. I’m in no way fast and no matter how many speed workouts I do, I will never run a 6 minute mile. But, that doesn’t mean I can’t be successful. My goal is to get over the finish line and not be disqualified by being too slow. My time doesn’t matter, but the finish does. I will make sure I finish all 13.1 miles, no matter if I’m the last to cross the line.
Running is a head game
I’ve always appreciated the calculating bits of the team sports I played. I loved studying other players and figuring out their weaknesses to use against them. I always told people I was a good softball player because I was able to use my brain to outsmart my opponents. It was a mind game.
Without the team aspect, or competing against someone, the mind game is with yourself. I’ve found as my long runs get longer, I get to play that mind game against myself. So far, I’ve been a worthy opponent.
Plus, with all that time to think, I’ve stretched my creative muscle and used it to get ahead in my writing. Thinking about my story, the next article, and more lets me forget the disaster that is my running form and get through the mileage without really noticing.
I’m capable of so much I never thought possible
I can still remember the first day I ran a 5K. I know that’s a super easy distance for some people, but at the time, I had never run that far or that quickly. I was ecstatic because I hadn’t even known I was close to that number!
That sort of feeling sticks with you, and makes your next accomplishment that much more special. You can see where you were and how you’re progressing. It really is an awesome thing.
Running has been an amazing learning experience for me. I’m finding new ways to stretch myself, adapt, and grow. I don’t know how the half-marathon in December is going to go, but I can guarantee I’ll cross that line eventually.