I had a great time running my first half marathon and achieved what I set out to, which was running the entire distance without having to do more than a few small stretches of walking. Now that I’ve had time to reflect on the experience, there were three things I learned during the process.
There is a difference between working out and training. This was the first physical activity I ever had to train for. Up to this point, my approach to fitness had been to do daily activities that maintain my weight and allow me to continue to fit into my clothes. Usually that involves between 30-45 minutes each day of running, walking, hiking, cycling, swimming or yoga. Training is different. Training centers on a specific schedule with milestones that need to be met each day. I looked up training plans on the internet and began tracking my times and distances, increasing my total mileage, increasing daily mileage, incorporating cross training and building in rest days.
Good running equipment is important. One of the most attractive aspects about running is that you don’t need someone to teach you to do it. You don’t need special equipment and you can do it anywhere. In the past, I thought it was over-the-top when runners had shoes professionally fit, had their gait analyzed and invested in special equipment. I quickly learned that running ten miles or more is completely different from running shorter distances. After a couple long runs, I had two black toenails, one of which eventually fell completely off. I had chaffing in areas I never knew were capable of rubbing together. The back of my ears had been rubbed raw from sunglasses that weren’t designed for running and from earbuds that were ill-fitting. My fingers were locked in a craggy grip from gripping a cell phone for so long. I also began to feel the effects of dehydration along the way.
Running longer distances magnifies everything. Anything that rubs together, pulls or pinches even a tiny bit will result in blood, bruises and raw skin at the end of a two hour run. I switched to lightweight plastic sunglasses, worked on the fit of my earbuds, made different clothing selections and figured out sources of water along my running routes. The one problem I wasn’t able to solve was the fit of my running shoes. I determined that the left shoe was too tight, but by the time I figured that out, it was too late to switch to a new pair before race day.
A large part of strenuous physical activity is conquering mental fatigue. I’m not a natural athlete, so I never embarked on anything this strenuous before. I was surprised how difficult it was to talk myself into long runs—to leave the house, take the first steps with the realization I was going to be running for two hours or more. I had to work hard on my runs to convince myself not to stop. The half marathon I ran also included a 5k race and 10k race. It was difficult to pass the 5k turnaround and realize how much further I had to go. It was even harder to pass the 10k turnaround and realize I had barely brushed the surface. The distance between mile 9 and 10 seemed so long. I kept waiting for my app to announce I’d completed another mile and I became more and more frustrated. During the last two miles, I saw a runner ahead of me who was walking most of the time, and I still couldn’t catch him! I kept asking myself why I couldn’t run any faster. During my training runs and during the race, there were a lot of thoughts to conquer, and this was something completely new to me.
Since my half marathon, I haven’t done any runs further than four miles. I don’t know what my next goal will be, but for the time being, I’m enjoying what I accomplished and taking my time to figure out if there is something I want to do next.