Lessons Learned in Six Years of Running

Yesterday marked the 6th anniversary of my first ever 5k.  Here is the adorable photographic proof:

 

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April 25th, 2010.  When I still ran in cotton t-shirts and was cute and young!

Prior to that date I would have absolutely been one of the people who declared they only ran when chased.  I am 100% certain that the only times I had ever run in my life were the days in PE when we had to.  The only sport I ever played was water polo.  I was a theatre kid, NOT a runner.  It changed when I worked at a school that desperately needed after-school activities, but had no budget for materials or supplies.  Hence, a running club was born, and along with my kids I trained and ran my first 5k.

In the six years since then I have taken some long breaks (the entire year of 2012 until Thanksgiving was a notable one).  I have raced just shy of 300 miles, and trained a ton more.  I wanted to share six lessons I have learned, one for each year of my running career so far.

Getting Started is the Hardest Part

Training for my first ever 5k was incredibly hard.  I hadn’t done anything that I would legitimately consider exercise in maybe six years, and running was never a thing.  That meant even with something like couch to 5k, I was sore.  I hurt, I was tired, and it never felt like it was getting easier.  My first 5k was hilly, and I remember actually begging my friend running with me to stop and walk somewhere around mile 2.  He said no, and on we went.  I was mad.  I was slow.  But I kept going.  By the time I made it to where I could hear the finish, I was so happy, I apparently thought flight was an option:

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Here I am, in all my glory, nearing the finish of my 1st 5k.

My final time that day was 37:11, which is a 11:58 pace.  I couldn’t have been prouder.  I made it.

Almost 18 months to the date later, I ran my first marathon.  My time was 4:58:11.  That’s a 11:22 pace.  Training for a marathon certainly took up more time, but it was nothing compared to how hard it was to get myself active.  The strength it took to really develop and stick to a healthy routine, and see myself through an accomplishment, was far more strength than it took to just keep up with the miles of marathon training.  I like to tell people this when they come into the running store and are training for their first 5k and feel sheepish about talking about distance.  Or when people put themselves down when they talk about their speed (or lack there of), and don’t realize that it all comes with time.  We all have to start somewhere.  If you have gotten started, it WILL get easier.  It just might get harder first 🙂

Never Judge a Runner By Their Appearance

It is very easy to walk around before a race and start making predictions or assumptions about others.  There are moments where you can make a guess based on some clues (if his shorts are about a half inch long, or her bib number is eight, they may be faster than you).  I cannot tell you, however, how many times I have been blown away by a combination of the accomplishments of others, and the arrogance of my own ego.

A favorite memory was around mile 7 of the Baltimore 10 Miler in 2014.  It was incredibly hot and I was trudging my way up a hill.  A gentleman of 76 (I know, because he informed me of his age) came trotting up next to me, chatted with me for a few moments about the weather conditions compared to other years, and then left me in his dust, wishing me a nice race.  Runners sometimes make assumptions based on the age or size of other runners – I’m here to tell you it’s a bad idea.  It doesn’t take a certain type to run fast, just the drive and the effort!

Respect the Distance

No matter the distance, respect it.  I have been extremely guilty of breaking this rule many times.  There is a reason we train.  It is because running is hard.  I have learned my limit, and it is ten miles.  I can fake ten miles.  With zero running for several months, I can go out and run a single ten mile run.  I will hurt like hell for several weeks.  It will not be fast.  A single mile more than 10, and I WILL crash and burn.

Evidence:

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So, it isn’t like I was setting the world on fire to begin with – but those last three miles took me 46 minutes.  It was the worst three miles of my life, and had I walked by a metro station, I would have gone ahead and given up.  Thankfully, it was just a half.

On the topic of respecting distances, we all know a marathon is not a thing to be taken lightly.  Sometimes, our (my) ego can get the best of us.  Let’s say we are having our best running year ever.  Running tons of events.  Setting PRs every time you race.  Just crushing it.  But the last, let’s say, six weeks before your marathon, you fall off the wagon.  Training goes down hill.  You are certain that everything you’ve already done that year will carry you.

It won’t.

2014 was MY year.  I raced every month from February through December.  I set PRs in the 5k, 8k, 10k, and half marathon.  I ran my first sub 2-hour half marathon.  I was training for my second Marine Corp and was sure I would CRUSH my first time.  Was looking to run around a 4:20.  I DID PR that day.  But instead of the 30-some minute PR I was expecting, it was an 8 second PR.  4:58:03.  I was devastated.  I was pissed.  And I deserved it.  I forgot to respect the distance, and it beat me up.

Mix It Up!

If you’ve read this blog for long, you’ve seen me post from lots of different places.  I’m a huge proponent of running in different places.  Run when you are on vacation.  Go on vacation somewhere you want to run.  The new surroundings bring on new energy and enthusiasm, and while they may make you a bit slower than usual so you can take it all in (except that time a dog chased me in Costa Rica), it will help renew your drive to explore!

The above photos are from Texas, California, and Costa Rica.  Follow the blog this summer to see what running in Belize and Ecuador looks like!

But it isn’t just a different geographical perspective you should take.  Sometimes you should mix up the run itself.  Try out something different.  Obstacle courses, color runs, relay races – they aren’t things that you are working for a PR, but they can sure be a lot of fun.  They are also a good way to talk non-runner friends into trying something out!

Find Some Friends!

Speaking of getting folks to try things with you, I cannot express how important it has been for me to find friends willing to run with me.  No matter if it is a single slow mile, or someone that is training for the same event and run a long 18 with me, having company is huge.  My running friends are incredibly varied.  The Metro Milers group spans a huge age range and comes from an incredibly diverse background.  I’ve converted friends and even a husband into people willing to go out and run or race with me, and it has made me a happier runner.  It has also helped to solidify those friendships – nothing to do on a long run but talk!

 Not All PRs are Created Equal

My 5k PR is a sham.  It was set at a race that is 90% down a very steep hill, meaning you can really go FAST.  I actually have taken to giving my second fastest 5k when asked for a PR, because I feel like it isn’t a good representation of what I run.  Some races I am more proud of than others.  My 10-miler PR was set in Baltimore – on a day in the 80s and on a hilly course.  I frequently wonder what would have happened if I was in the same kind of shape on a flatter course.

PRs are fun to try to beat, but don’t beat yourself up over them!  Conditions change, situations change, and age groups change!  I have a time or two been bested by my husband at a race, only to find that when results are posted, I have been in the top 20 in my age group, while he was maybe in the 50th percentile.  We are not all made the same, but we can all work hard to get better.  Maybe just worry more about the run, and less about getting that PR!

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