Wednesday, February 6, 2013

What I've Learned in Half Marathon Training

This past weekend marked two weeks until my half marathon and for the third week in the last four I ran a personal distance record. This time it was 12 miles. A run like that took me close to two hours and forty five minutes, which is a lot of time to think. At one point I started thinking about the journey I've made, how I struggled through my first 3 miles not too long ago, and what its taken for me to get where I am today. I leaned some lessons about myself and about running and I'd like to take a few minutes to share them here.

They say that the hardest steps on a run are the ones out the door. Through this whole process, I'd say about half of the time I had to play a mental game with myself to get going for my run in the morning. Sure, there were some days where I was excited to get out and run, but on other days I'd linger in bed trying to play "change the schedule" with myself. On most of those occasions (though I'll admit not all of them) I'd end up running and being glad that I did. I've never regretted going for a run, so the first lesson I learned was, do whatever you can to get your ass out the door and get started.

Now, just because they say that the steps out the door are the hardest, that doesn't mean they are the only hard steps. Not by a long shot. There were days when I felt like I could run forever, and days where I nearly broke down and just found myself walking for no other reason than I couldn't go on. Each time I had a bad run, my analytical side would look back and try to figure out what went wrong. Sometimes it was pacing too quickly, or eating poorly the night before, or not hydrating enough. But in all of these occasions, I had negative thoughts during the run. As I got into longer and longer runs, I began to notice that if my thoughts started straying into something negative, it invariably led to me feeling worse not too long away. And it didn't have to be negative thoughts about running either, but just negativity in general would trigger it. So I started forcing those out of my head with positivity. I'd think about something good and soon I'd be feeling better. That certainly became harder as the runs got longer, but I found it worked really well to predict when things are starting to get tough.
Just dreaming of the beach made me happy
Everyone has their own struggles. There are a lot of people who I would see every week out on the trail, running fast, putting in way more miles than me. You're tempted to think, "If only I could go like that, then it would be so great." But I'm not them and they aren't me. Running is not everything and it took me a long time to stop judging myself against other runners. I'm a slow runner, but I'm a man who is accomplishing something very difficult, whether I do it quickly or not. The strength of will that it takes to start a run when you know its going to take you close to three hours to finish it, when you know that thousands of people are going to be running ahead of you and very few will be running behind you, that strength has to come from a place that few people get to tap. I've learned that challenging myself and rising to that challenge is the best thing that I can ever do for myself. I've met a community of people who are supportive and understand this very thought. Your time doesn't matter. What matters is that you're putting in the time. You've made the decision to change something and you've put in the work to change it.

Half marathon training has opened my eyes to the possibility that even now, at age 40 (soon), I can still affect change in my life for the better. I've had a ton of ideas flow during the meditative time I spend running. This has shown me that its still not too late to accomplish anything.

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