I should begin this post by fully disclosing that I in no means classify myself as a ‘runner.’ An athlete - yes, a runner - no. Though my interpretation of the term has shifted slightly given the last few months spent training and competing, I’m not sure that long distance running is my ‘calling.’ So then why enrol myself in a half marathon to begin with?
I’ve been competing in and training for sports ever since I was a kid. Running was always somehow incorporated into the regime, but aside from grade school cross country, my experience was limited. It wasn’t until reading The Year Of Yes, by Shonda Rhimes, that I started entertaining the idea of expanding my goals list - a bucket list if you will. Now don’t be fooled, this experience was and still is about much more than a 21.5km run. It’s about identifying that which frightens or intimidates you, and proving to yourself that you are capable, both mentally and physically, of overcoming those obstacles. So then why a half marathon? Well that one kind of found me!
Mikaela: “Want to run a half marathon with me?”
Cue the butterflies in the stomach. What Mikaela didn’t realize when she asked me to join her on this crusade, was that I was on a roll of ‘saying yes.’ So naturally as soon as the words left her mouth, I already knew that I was going to have to find a way to get across that finish line. Yes me, someone who had probably only ever run about a maximum of 10km in one go.
On the plus side, I now had a friend to go through this with me! Someone with race experience to give me piece of mind on the big day AND someone to eat a big pasta dinner with me and shoot the shit the night before.
Find Yourself A Coach
So you’ve just registered for your first half marathon, and guess what? You don’t know the first thing about long distance training! Well… you have a kinesiology degree and you’ve been an athlete for years, so you have SOME understanding. But in my opinion - finding a coach is a SMART decision! There is always something to learn, some way to be motivated, some reassurance to receive when you have doubts. The list goes on! I may have found mine by chance, but I’m beyond grateful to have worked with this seriously inspirational woman.
Laura aka Iron Mom, is beyond experienced in the realm of long distance racing. While putting together the finishing touches on her training programs for 10km, half marathon, and full marathon races, as well as strength training programs, she was on the hunt for some test bunnies. And of course, the ‘Year Of Yes’ in me said “HELL YA!”
Without going into too much detail, Iron Mom taught me the ins and outs of learning my paces, balancing strength training with cardio, setting race goals, giving my muscles proper recovery, and most importantly, helping me persevere when training got tough. If you’re at all interested in training methods/competing, I strongly encourage you to check out Iron Mom via her website as well as on Instagram! Finding a coach means finding a mentor/trainer/teacher etc. Don’t sell yourself short by skipping this step.
Listening To Your Body
I started training with a bang! I was excited, motivated, and ready for the challenge ahead. I was tackling my training program with some serious heart and soul, going above and beyond. The only thing I wasn’t taking into account, was how my body was feeeeeeeling! Gosh darn it, why didn’t I listen. I had increased my running substantially, and was practicing every active muscle recovery regime I could think of. Every one except for REST. Oops.
After weeks of training, I began experiencing ankle pain, and it wasn’t going away. Looking back, I believe I took a 2 week hiatus from running, but even still there were no signs of improvement. Needless to say, I was beyond discouraged.
“I’m not a runner,” I explained to Laura. “My body isn’t made for this.” Since I’d always believed this, it was easy to make this my go to excuse. And this my friends, is why we have coaches! It was Laura who explained to me that we all have bodies for running. These types of overuse injuries happen to everyone! She even had her own experience with painful shinsplints during her own training. And THAT was what I needed to hear. I found a second wind, and decided that if I wasn’t going to show up on race day, I needed to adjust my plan.
It would have been easy to look at the month ahead, now unable to run without pain, and throw the whole program out the window. But what good was that going to do me? Instead, I took insight from Laura’s multifaceted training regime and hopped on a bike. I spent my weeks rotating through virtual spinning classes, hot yoga, and core and strength training workouts. Given that I was off running for about a month, it was the ultimate cross training Hail Marry.
I’ll be honest, race day was good to me. As someone who deals with stomach irregularities quite often, I was pretty nervous about what kind of state my gut would be in. But as the fates would have it, I walked up to the starting line feeling cool as a cucumber. My podcast was preset and ready to make me laugh throughout that first hour, the weather offered some crisp late September air, and the vibe I got from other runners was ‘hey let’s go have some fun.’
Well I’ll tell you, the whole ‘fun’ thing got real old real fast. In retrospect, a half marathon is a mental race. Which in my mind, is the best kind of race. Because mentally, you can get through ANYTHING.
2km: Sweet this is going great, I’m sticking in front of the 2hr pace bunny. Ankle feels good, breathing is good, feeling loose. A-Okay.
6km: F*ck what did I do to myself? Why did I sign up for this?
7km: *Walks for 20 seconds
8km: Ok, you can walk for 25 seconds every time you hit a km marker
11km: What if I just hitch a ride? Can I do that?
15km: Did my quad muscles just turn into bricks? I think my quad muscles just turned into bricks…
16km: Oh no, ankle pain is reaaaally setting in. Don’t be a hero, you ran a good race. Maybe your race ends at 16km and you just walk the rest of the way. *Chokes back a tear out of shear disappointment. Walks a full km uphill.
17km: Ok the road is beginning a slight downhill, now is your chance to pick up the pace. A slow jog and you’ll be fine.
18km: Mikaela said the last 3km would be no problem, make them no problem! *Braces core and starts jogging on the gravel at the side of the road so I barely have to lift my feet.
20km: Is that a bright orange coat at the horizon? My sister always wears that colour! That must be her! That means I’m there! *Pushes to the end with all the love and support from my sister and my girlfriend, and my sister’s boyfriend who yells “you’re suppose to sprint till the end!” And that’s exactly what I did… mind you at that point I’m sure my sprint was slower than a baby taking it’s first steps.
Results & Reflection
With any goal we aim for in life, I think it’s important to reflect on your experience. Hence why I’ve decided to write this post. But reflecting goes far beyond a race time on a score card. How did you feel while doing it? What were the mental and physical low points? Where did you struggle and where did you thrive? What allowed you to pick yourself up and power through? Essentially, what worked and what didn’t? I could write a list of answers to these questions. And though my race is over, I know that next time I face an obstacle, I now have SO MANY more tools to overcome it, whatever it may be. One of my favourite mantras during my race was “be a yes; just show up.” I’m not a long distance runner. I don’t run marathons regularly, I’m not in a running club, and I don’t have a long lean body. I’m not a long distance runner by trade… but I can run long distance.
I’m not entirely sure if the majority of my muscle soreness was due to the lack of actual running I did in the month leading up to my race, but I could not even climb stairs post run. It took me 4 days to get my legs back. The first of which, I spent a majority of the day in bed resting with an added sea salt & seaweed bath, and a ‘refeed’ of macros and micros (calorie surplus). Because I could, and because I finally felt like I earned it (oh the lies we tell ourselves… aka you don’t need to run a half marathon in order to give yourself rest). My second day of R&R was a trip to the gym, but only for the sauna, stretching, and light massage. By day 3 I was into deep stretches and an upper body workout. And finally, day 4, back on the bike to ring in some (mostly) fresh legs.
I’ve learned so much throughout my half marathon experience, rest and recovery being a HUGE one. I’m learning to give myself grace, to listen to my body’s needs, and most importantly, to dive into challenges with a little less fear and a little more YES! I also imagine that I walk a little taller these days. Coming home from Prince Edward County, I stood in my kitchen describing the race to my parents, and once I was finished, I uttered the phrase “I’m really proud of myself.” Sadly, I think that’s a little rare, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way. And that night as I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I saw my body for the strong and powerful entity that it is. My confidence meter climbed because I chose to challenge myself. If it were easy, it just wouldn’t have meant the same.