For most of my life, hearing friends talk about running served no purpose in my world other than to make me feel inadequate. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel in awe of my amazing friends and their incredible achievements, it was more that I had absolutely no understanding of how they could possibly master a sport which I had always found to be impossible.
The truth was that running looked really hard and to be perfectly honest it scared me half to death. In an attempt to avoid it I had spent years making excuses: bad knees or my young children making it hard for me to train, or the fact that my husband traveled for work meaning that I couldn’t train on a regular basis. Quite frankly, any other vague justification that happened to occur to me was not exempt from being used. Finally, after a few emotional hiccups in my personal life as well as a fast-approaching milestone birthday, I realized that my excuses were running out. Either I had to stand up and admit that I wasn’t brave enough to try or I had to bite the bullet and get started. With nowhere else to hide and a fabulous friend eager to start running with me, I decided at last to make the commitment!
My journey started just 12 weeks ago when running one mile without stopping was an impossible task. Amanda, my running partner was instrumental in encouraging me and more than happy to indulge my "walk some, run some" needs. Before I knew it we were running two miles and the need for walking had disappeared.
The morning we ran three miles without stopping for the very first time, I remember feeling so exhilarated and so accomplished that I vowed from that moment on I would never walk on a run again. It was around that time that I realized Amanda had signed up for the Chicago Half Marathon and it dawned on me that if I continued to run with her, my training was about to get serious!
In mentioning my admiration for her to my husband, he expressed his surprise that I wasn’t choosing to enter the race too. I was aghast! How could I possibly run a half marathon? I’d never even run a 5k and there was a reason for that ... I wasn’t a runner!
Despite my initial shock, I had to admit that Amanda had never run a single race either. My competitive nature compelled me to check out the website, and to this day I’m still not entirely sure what happened in the 10 minutes which ensued. Before I knew it I had signed up and entered, and the realization that in 10 weeks time I would be running a half marathon came crashing down on me like a ton of bricks!
I recall speaking to one of my closest friends and long time marathon runner Kim at this point and asking for immediate advice. Half expecting her to laugh and tell me that this was way beyond my capabilities she gave me a huge boost of confidence by telling me she thought it was a brilliant idea and then introduced me to one of her saving graces, Hal Higdon.
His training program for novices has been pinned up on my refrigerator ever since. Each time I completed a run I would cross it off the list and gear up for the next one. The program consists basically of only three runs a week, two shorter ones and 1 long one at the weekend so it was easy for me to fit these into my life.
I’d already run three miles so the schedule, which included running more 3 miles , 3.5 miles and 4 miles distances at that point didn’t look intimidating or scary, so mentally I felt it was something I could really do. In practice however, completing a run 3 times a week was a whole different ball game. Never in my life had I been so tired or for that matter so hungry either! Drinking water wasn’t something I had to try to remember anymore as my body craved it constantly. Drinking wine on the other hand went out the window and instead crawling into bed at 9.30 p.m. became the norm.
But it wasn’t just the physical exertion which was draining. I remember the first time I completed 5 miles and while I was exhilarated beyond belief, I was also an emotional bag of nerves! I was immensely proud of having run 5 miles of course, but my mind couldn’t help jumping forward to the colossal distance of 13.1 miles which kept getting closer and closer. I just couldn’t see how the gap between the two distances could be bridged in such a short space of time but tried to push the worries to the back of my mind, focusing only on every "next" run which in the short term definitely helped to ease the pressure. A few weeks later, when I had completed a 7 mile run for the first time, my bridging question still remained. As amazed as I was by my ability to run 7 miles, I was equally confused as to how my body would ever be able to knock out a further 6. It just didn’t seem possible!
It took until around 9 weeks of training before for the psychological penny finally gave in and dropped. This was the week that I was supposed to run 9 miles. The week before I had experienced a terrible 8, choosing to run in the middle of the day and not carry water with me and generally make as many mistakes as possible to ensure that not a single minute of the run was anything other than torture!
With this in my mind I started off my 9 miler pensively and I truly can’t explain what happened during those first 5 miles, but all of a sudden, out of nowhere, I felt like my legs and my brain were finally connecting. I wasn’t concentrating on every step, I wasn’t having to argue with the voice in my head that kept telling me I was tired, I was simply just running and enjoying it, so much so that I sailed right past 9 and carried on until 10! It was a miracle! Something had clicked and this was the moment that I knew the 13.1 was mine! It wasn’t just something I was capable of running, it was something that I was looking forward to doing and that feeling was almost indescribable.
I came home from that run grinning from ear to ear as finally I had realized that this running game is nothing more than a constant battle of mind over matter.
It took some time for me to get there and that’s not to say that the mind isn’t always trying to win because on days like today, less than 24 hours before my race, my nerves are kicking in and I’m definitely second guessing myself a little. Happily my experienced running friends have assured me that this is completely normal and I’m sticking to what I do know which is that I am fully prepared. I have put in the miles and my body and mind recognizes this so when I start running tomorrow, I will not be stopping until my legs have run 13.1 miles and crossed the finish line in its entirety.
I’m hoping that this might be the moment that I will at last feel confident enough to actually call myself a runner. Good luck to everyone tomorrow!