Running isn’t something that is easily done. Many people do it for fun. Others compete. It’s a fantastic way of exercising and it seems that more and more people are doing it. Still, if you haven’t been a runner in a long time, it’s a bit off the wall to think you’d jump back into it and know you had four months to train and prepare yourself to run a half marathon — yes, 13.1 miles.
A former co-worker and friend Sarah Weber did just that. It was in the name of charity as well. (If you recall, I wrote a post about this last week). Below is Sarah’s account of her quest to run the half marathon in Miami, what she learned and how she overcame several obstacles. Enjoy!
I used to be a runner. I wasn’t a particularly good one — the only medals and ribbons adorning my walls in high school were for participation — but I did lace up sneakers and put feet to pavement for consecutive occasions.
Most importantly, I enjoyed running. And, in the Descartes sense of things, because I enjoyed running, I was a runner.
But, like many if not most of the adult population, casual participation in high-school sports gave way to collegiate laziness and post-collegiate time crunches. I convinced myself of two things: I no longer had time for running, and I couldn’t be a runner because I didn’t look like one. And so I sat and pined for the days I was active.
My younger sister Anna — a runner in high school whose medals and ribbons represented races won, unlike mine — gave me a clipping from Runner’s World magazine on how to train for a 5-kilometer race in 6 weeks. It utilized something called the “run/walk” method, wherein the runner took walk breaks, or intervals, to actively recover during runs. I pinned it to the bulletin board in my cubicle and continued sitting and pining.
One day in late September, my office held an information session on Team in Training. A friend had completed a triathlon through TNT, and in the process raised thousands of dollars for cancer research with TNT’s partner, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS). Based on this name recognition, and not much else, I attended the session.
I entered that room as an inquisitive co-worker. I left as a teammate, with a free T-shirt and a booklet containing key facts on the endeavor I was undertaking. In approximately four months, I would train to complete a half marathon in Miami. I would also raise a minimum of $3,200 for LLS.
The ensuing four months were some of the hardest and most rewarding times of my life. Each day presented a series of choices that I made differently. Instead of taking the subway home, I went to Central Park to run with teammates. Instead of going out to the bar and watching hockey and drinking beer, I stayed in and used a foam roller on my legs to massage knotted muscles. Instead of telling myself I couldn’t – that I was too out of shape, too slow, incapable of doing hill repeats in the pouring rain – I told myself I could.
And yes, that included hill repeats in the rain.
Beyond any motivation toward attaining a level of fitness was the knowledge that I was out there training because I could. I was a healthy 27-year-old whose only excuse for not running was laziness. I was not a cancer-riddled 27-year-old whose excuse for not running was failing health. I was running because others couldn’t. And I was going to try and help them.
Along the way, I met incredible people and mentors, all of whom reiterated what I needed to hear — I could achieve my dream of completing a half marathon.
The beautiful thing about running (and I count run/walking when I use the term “running”) is it’s egalitarian.
You will see all shapes and sizes when you’re out running, and you will see a host of running styles. Run/walk will be one of those styles. It was championed by Jeff Galloway, an American Olympian whose website notes you can run “injury-free.” The great thing about run/walking is you can avoid injuries by using this “active-recovery” time. Your muscles get a small break, and because the interval is timed, it’s consistent. You don’t stop to walk when you’re anaerobic and therefore dead; you walk consistently and thereby maintain a pace. Best of all, it gets runners out there who otherwise may be too scared to run 3 miles. Intervals are a great trick to the mind, which can look forward to a break every six minutes in a 5-minute run/1-minute walk interval routine.
January snuck up on me.
It’s one thing to sign a piece of paper saying you’ll run a half marathon in four months. It’s another thing to realize, four months later, that you’re boarding a plane to Miami to run that half marathon.
I knew I was ready.
My training had not only prepared my legs; it had prepared my mind as well. The key to a good race, as one mentor put it, is to allow you to not have one. One must allow time to be upset over unforeseen circumstances – a cramp, dehydration, blisters, and bad weather – and then get over it. Put it past you, and keep running.
I was one of 25,000 runners who gathered in downtown Miami on January 29th to run the 2012 ING Miami Half Marathon and Marathon. I was in Corral I, the last one and therefore the one for the slowest estimated finishing times. The old me would have slotted this as yet more proof I was unworthy of running; the new me was on an adrenaline high, soaking in the experience and focusing on keys to success.
Ideally, according to coaching strategy, I would break the race into three parts: Miles 1 through 5 would be slow-paced, at about 10:50 minutes per mile, to warm up and make sure I didn’t blow my stack on the early portion of the race. Miles 6 through 10 would pick up at 10:40 per mile. Miles 10 though 13.1 were the full-blown race, with a 10:40 or faster pace.
All told, this should add up to a 2 hour, 30 minute race.
In fact, the race day was humid, and I entered the start gate with bad shin splints. I had at one point even been told a stress fracture was not out of the question. But, I told myself, I will embrace the pain if and when it comes, give myself five minutes, and get over it.
The best part? The pain never came.
Miles 1 through 5 were slow (my first mile was a whopping 12 minutes, way off pace because of the crowds), but once I hit Mile 7, I knew I was going well. The wonderful thing about distance running is you become lost in your mileage; I was genuinely surprised when I hit Mile 5. The first couple of miles always hurt; the key is to not let it deter you. Your body will click into place, and your stride will come more naturally. When it does, it’s the best feeling in the world.
Did I have doubts? Yes.
Mile 8 was tough. It was in the “back end” of the course, through a residential neighborhood with narrow roads and not many fans cheering along the sidewalks. This was in sharp contrast to running through downtown streets with local adulation, booming music, and decorations. The desolation, coupled with the inevitable exhaustion, started to creep into my mind. “I don’t really want to be doing this anymore,” I thought. “I have a lot of the race before me. If I’m going to feel this dead in my legs for the remainder, this is going to really hurt.”
Two things helped — I gave myself five minutes to pout. Then, once out of the pouting stage, I thought of my Grandma Betty.
Grandma Betty was a vivacious woman who loved the color red almost as much as she loved her grandchildren. She was my paternal grandmother and the matriarch of a large brood of Webers. She was a physical-education teacher before she married my grandfather, and she was involved with Lions Club charities for most of her adult life.
Grandma Betty died of complications from breast cancer in October 2004. In October 2011, I decided to dedicate my fundraising campaign to her memory.
On January 29, 2012, at Mile 8, I thought of her on the streets of Miami as my legs tired.
I thought of her smile and how I loved to make her laugh. I thought of how proud she would be of me. And I thought of all the grandchildren who also missed their grandparents who had been cut out of their lives by cancer.
My pace quickened by Mile 9.
Miles 10 through 13 were speedy and some of the best moments of the race. The tail end wound through downtown Miami again, and the home straight was festooned in the ING colors of blue and orange. As I sped through that straight, I raised my arms and began to cry. I had achieved a dream.
Now that I can call myself a marathoner, I have become a sort of proselyte for the marathoner cause. “If I can run a half marathon, anyone can,” I tell anyone who will listen. All those articles you read in Runner’s World, those commercials you see on TV, those co-workers who tell you that you can do it?
They’re right. You can.
What you need is a good support system, a consistent and safe training program, and the knowledge that while you are working to remake yourself, you won’t be besting Haile Gebrselassie any time soon. Set modest goals. I constantly reminded myself I wanted only to complete a half marathon. I ended up doing so in 2 hours, 36 minutes, only 6 minutes off pace. Join a running group. I recommend Team in Training because not only do you get mentors, coaches, and teammates, you have the added motivation that you are running for a cause.
Most of all, believe in yourself.
You may not look like a runner in your mind, but you will be when you cross that finish line.
To see Sarah’s breakdown, click here.