What I Learned from Running My First Half Marathon

As of July the farthest I had run was 5 miles. And, let’s not get hasty, I had only done that a couple of times—once in 2014. Twice in 2015. Never any further. For context, I ran a 5K for the first time in 2011 and cried at the end because it was—in my mind—an unattainable accomplishment.

My training for that milestone literally began with jogging 30 seconds, then walking 30 seconds, then jogging 30 seconds, and so on.  I had never really run a full mile until that year. I had always thought some people were natural runners and some weren't. In PE classes growing up I would run/walk when they made us take laps throughout the neighborhood surrounding my school. I had never voluntarily run. Ever.

Then I got inspired by Freedom 424’s Run 4 Their Lives race in 2011. I did the whole couch to 5K thing and felt accomplished and then hung up my running shoes until fall of 2013. See, that was the year that I saw my husband and Dad run the Virginia 10 Miler and I became allured by the intoxication of Race Day Excitement.

Medals! Personal records! FREE PIZZA BEFORE 10AM! 

The next year I ran the 4 Miler (the 10 Miler’s more modest cousin) and during my training I hit that 5 mile peak I previously mentioned. That was a really big milestone. But then I got somewhat complacent during my first winter as a runner. After all, guys, it’s cold out there. And an outdoor runner does not a treadmill runner make. So by the time May 2015 came along I had to re-train to do the Run 4 Their Lives 5K again. Then I did the Humankind 5K a month later and that’s when I started thinking about a 10K. 

This summer I thought a 10K (just over 6 miles) was a somewhat attainable, yet very challenging goal, if I really stayed focused. July came and a race opportunity didn’t materialize, but I wasn’t ready for that distance anyway. I guess I didn’t train hard enough when we went overseas for 2 weeks in May (aka didn’t even bring my running shoes. Just wore my Sperrys and enjoyed lots of tapas.) 

Then I saw that at the click of a button I could get on a team and register for the Virginia 10 Miler for free.

Free things can be so motivating…

*Click.*

And that’s how the “if you give a mouse a cookie she’ll end up running a half marathon” metaphor happens.

I made a running schedule and began building up mileage from July-September. One more half mile this week. One more half mile the next week. Lots of hours pounding the pavement (literally) in the summer heat. As Dr. Prior pointed out really eloquently in my recent interview with her, this was really good medicine for my soul. So much of my work is in my head (blog posts, Facebook advertisements, interviews, typing, typing, favoriting, typing.) Doing something physical was exactly the balance I needed. So even though I sweated a lot and ran very slow, I loved it. I found a better headspace. Endorphins started doing their thing. Anxious thoughts began to calm. Slowly but surely I felt strong and capable. 

The last 6 weeks of 10-miler training also included choreography rehearsals for my latest musical project. Like 20-30 hours per week of dancing + 15 mile weeks. There was lots of cardio in my days and while learning the dances was intricate and challenging (and sometimes frustrating) for my brain at first, all that cardio was really, really wonderful. 

10 Miler Day came one sunrise after a 3-hour dance heavy show the night before and 3 hours before a 2-show day. But I came. I conquered. I ran 2 hours in the rain. 

 

But I didn’t care! I did it! For the first time in my life I ran ten whole miles! Talk about a “runner’s high.” Three months before I had never run more than half that distance! 

Preparation, little by little, day by day, {putting the time in} can add up to really meaningful impact.

So then after the Virginia 10 Miler—which, if you’re unfamiliar with the course is hills on hills on hills—I found myself thinking, “This is only three miles less than a half marathon. That is something I could do. And I could do it soon.” 

Backed up by affirmation from friends and again intoxicated by Race Day Excitement, medals, personal records, and pizza, I signed up for the Richmond Half Marathon that would occur 7 weeks later.

Because I apparently have to up the stakes on things like this I didn’t train all that well between the 10 Miler and the Half Marathon. Lots of weekend travel, rain, cold temperatures, etc etc, kept me from sticking with my plans to increase mileage between the 10 Miler and the Half Marathon. So if you happened to notice I didn’t have any “training day milestone selfies” posted, welp, you’re right! Didn’t post because they didn’t happen. 

This is all well and good except it got me worried about if I was going to be able to run the whole course. The furthest I ran over that seven week period was seven miles—and I only did that once. Could my body hang on to the endurance it had built up in prep for the 10 Miler? How long does it take before that kind of fitness wears off?

I’m always interested in the minimum effective dose but this time I didn’t *actually* know if I had kept running enough to stay in shape for the half or if I didn’t. 

Half marathon morning was the day I’d find that out. 

I was anxious about my lack of preparation and I was anxious about the cold. It would be quite a bit colder than any weather I’ve trained in the last few seasons. Would it be two and a half hours of misery? Would I have that horrible throat/chest pain that you sometimes get in cold weather running? I didn’t know. And then of course, I forgot my gloves. 

The morning of the race it was cold but I think my excitement overtook my anxious thoughts. I decided I wasn’t going for any specific time goals. I just wanted to finish. Slow and steady. No walking. That was the deal I made with myself. 

Over the course of the 13.1 mile tour of Richmond I had many a epiphanic thought. They hit me all along the course and I jotted down two or three word clues in my notes app on my iPhone while en route so I could further expound on them later. 

Here they are. 

What I Learned from Running My First Half Marathon

Names have power.
Throughout the course people had signs posted and were holding signs to encourage racers. Often the encouraging messages would be personalized. Names have such power. Why does a sign with your name on it encourage you more than a sign that is simply made for everyone—no specific name? Being called by your name is a reminder that you are seen. A message just for you in a sea of thousands is incredibly special. Some runners even made sure their names were on their backs so people—who didn’t actually know them—would call out their names and encourage them. They didn't care if those people really knew them. They just needed to hear the sweet sound of their own name. Names are powerful. 

Humor encourages in a way that inspiration, maybe, really can’t. (tweet that.)
This is another sign observation. When you’re doing something challenging, like a half marathon, and people encourage you through humor it is just wonderful. One that particularly made me laugh was a sign that said “Run? You thought they said ‘rum!’” Humor distracts from the pain and reminds us of universal humanity. You holding the sign and me over here running, we’re really the same. 

Having a partner that challenges you often can help you do and become something you never anticipated.
JuanCarlos didn’t transform me into a runner. But his example and his enthusiasm and his encouragement certainly contributed volumes. If JC hadn’t ever been very into running, I can guarantee you I wouldn’t have done a half marathon last week. Choosing a partner that makes you better and encourages you toward good things is a really wonderful thing. For those of you who haven't chosen yet--CHOOSE WISELY! (Yes, all caps.)

The endorphins are reason enough to run. Really.
This whole post isn’t meant to convince you to take up running, but seriously, endorphins are well worth the effort. This year I had more work and responsibility than ever before, and I noticed a marked difference in my ability to sleep well and live free of anxiety and stress (for the most part) because I have incorporated running into my regular routine. I wake up feeling different than I did during last winter when I was not running regularly. Running will not necessarily give you a sexy body (especially if you’re like a lot of runners who finish a run famished and then head for the nearest carb) but it will give you endorphins which are really, really worth it.

Races are awesome because you get to rub shoulders with elite runners—or at least see them do their crazy, lightning fast thing.
During the half marathon I got to see the lead female marathoner run by me (we had parallel courses for a portion of the race.) That was SO cool just to share the street with her. And also, all of us regular-paced half marathoners were so compelled to encourage her. Organized races are awesome because excellence and encouragement abounds. They are a happy and inspiring place.

I’m just like you.
Well, I’m just like you if you’re thinking “You are PSYCHO! I could quite literally, never do that!” I’m telling you right here, right now, the worst mile is the first. It gets easier. It gets more fun. It gets relaxing. It gets inspiring. It’s incredible how much you are capable of doing. Don’t spend time trying to “believe in yourself.” Stop thinking. Go do it. You can do it. You really, really can. (Tweet that.)

So these are my half marathon reflections, observations, and somewhat veiled attempts at persuasion. I hope you feel encouraged to get out there and do something you really didn’t think you could. I know that you can. 

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