I’m totally the tortoise.
Even though this tortoise never wins the race and is decidedly a middle-of-the-pack tortoise, this tortoise definitely starts and finishes the race.
And, no, to answer your totally unasked question that you might not even be asking. I am not obsessed with running. I’m not a born runner.
In fact, a lot of the time I pretty much hate it.
I ran cross country when I was in grade school. Probably because my older brother did and because my dad was a runner. They were both pretty good at it. (My dad still wins his age group when he races. I’m pretty sure I’ve won one third-place medal and that’s only because there were only three runners that day. I’ve got several participation medals though…)
I have a very vivid memory of heading out on a training run, which was basically one mile up hill, and not being able to breathe. Like, a freakin’ elephant was sitting on my chest and it got numb. My chest, not the elephant. Although that would be sad, too.
I totally puked right there on the side of the road.
We found out I had sports-induced asthma, which pretty much means my lungs liked to close up during any strenuous exercise.
So I got myself an inhaler that I basically refused to use and quit running shortly thereafter. I mean, who wants to do something that makes them feel like they will never be able to breathe ever again?
But I never really got away from running. I played basketball — laps around the gym. I had to take the Presidential Physical Fitness Test — run a mile in 10 minutes or under. I played volleyball in high school — more laps around the gym and a nice two-mile run around the adjacent college campus as a “warm up.”
And I always entertained the idea that someday I would become a real runner again.
So throughout my twenties I’d lace up my sneakers and go jog around the neighborhood. These flirtations with running didn’t really last long because I still felt like I couldn’t breathe.
One day, I started to wonder if I was really just afraid of running, of pushing myself because I hadn’t exactly had the best experiences with it growing up.
Besides, the doctors said I would outgrow this asthma thing.
So I did what any nerdy, introverted, throw-myself-into-scientifically-backed-research-before-I-make-any-decisions kind of person would do: I read everything I could about starting a running habit, about training plans, about choosing the right running shoes and the right socks (never, ever cotton, FYI)…
In other words, I went totally overboard.
Running is one of the simplest things we, as humans, can do. It comes naturally, even if sometimes we look like Phoebe in the moment.
When I finally decided the time was right (I hate ten-years-ago-me), I started slow.
(Which is important to remember when you’re talking about any exercise program.)
I followed that Couch to 5K plan to a freakin’ T. When I started to get a little more confident that, hey, I might not die doing this, I decided to register for a race.
Because I totally needed another race shirt in my life. Insert eye roll.
But I did need some motivation to keep going, something to look forward, a (very literal) victory lap.
I wish I could say after that first race I kept running and never stopped a la Forrest Gump. But, most of the time, it was never super fun for me (bad ankles, stress fractures, plantar fasciitis, back pain, sciatic nerve issues…)
I stopped and started. I made excuses. I repeated the Couch to 5K plan countless times. I bought myself new shoes and cute clothes to get me out the door. I tried to run on the treadmill (hate it). I tried to run on the beach (they don’t tell you how much harder that is).
Until one day I eventually, magically settled into a thrice-weekly running habit that actually felt good. Somehow, somewhere along the way, unbeknownst to me, I had, in fact, become a runner.
And then, for some reason, I got the idea in my head that I was going to run a half marathon. At this point, I’m pretty sure that I had never run farther than 4 or 5 miles at a time. A half marathon is 13.1 miles.
This time, though, I knew what not to do. I promptly registered for a race because quitting and wasting that money was not an option. Half marathons are expensive, friend.
I read a few reviews on some training plans and picked one that wasn’t too scary. (The No Meat Athlete Half Marathon Road Map, in case you’re wondering.)
And then…I started training. While working full-time. Oh yes, it’s doable. (Okay, really long intro this week, thanks for sticking with me.)
Here’s how I did it.
I Got My Base Mileage Squared
I think a lot of people overlook this part of training. Running a half marathon or any distance race is going to be a hell of a lot harder if you can’t even run a mile yet. So I built up slowly and made sure I was regularly running 10 miles a week for several weeks.
Not all training plans have this build up built into them, but a good one will remind you that you should be able to run a 5K (3.1 miles) before actually starting your race training. That’s sound advice. Thinking you’re gonna walk up to the starting line without having run much more than from your car to the front door during a sudden downpour is pretty much asking for an injury.
See above where I kindly listed bad ankles, stress fractures, plantar fasciitis, back pain, and sciatic nerve issues and add to that muscle tears and strains, lost toenails, blisters, chaffing…
Make a Commitment
You’ve seen those apps that make you place money on whether you’re going to achieve a goal, right? I totally didn’t do that, but I made damn sure I told everyone I was going to run a half marathon. I’m a horrible liar, so this ensured I kept running so I could give an honest answer when people undoubtedly asked how my training was going.
Another part of this? Make a commitment to finish the race. Not finish it in a certain amount of time. Waaaaay too much pressure. The overambitious competitive athlete in me couldn’t help keeping a certain finishing time in the back of my head, but I tried really hard to promise myself I wouldn’t get upset if I missed the mark. After all, I’d never run this far before.
This approach really worked for me because I do not — strong repeat on do not — like to fail. I fear failure. So committing to cross the finish line, whether I was running, walking, or crawling, undoubtedly while crying, pretty much solidified it for me.
Register for a Race
A lot of us like to talk a big game. We’ve got all these things we’re doing to do. But we kinda forget the part where need to take action to actually do those things. Sure, training is an action. But you need to make sure you keep on taking action.
For me, that meant putting my money where my mouth is and plunking down some money on race registration. Again, race entry fees are expensive (I guess someone has to pay for those donuts and beer at the finish line…) and the thought of plunking down my money and not getting anything out of it? Sheer terror.
And sheer terror is a fantastic motivator. Especially when you’re running. I mean, you’ve heard of Zombies, Run! right?!
Schedule Your Workouts
I know pretty much every article you read about working out says to schedule your workouts. Like, literally put them on your calendar and treat them like you’d treat an appointment to get your hair did.
I, however, did not do that. I mentally scheduled my workouts. (Eh, works for me.) I knew that, according to my carefully selected training plan, I needed to fit in three runs a week. And that carefully selected training plan included two shorter runs (upping in mileage as training progressed) and one longer run. Which just so magically works out to running twice during the work week and saving that nasty long run for the weekend.
Yes, I became that person whose weekend revolved around my long run.
And it works. I generally scheduled my weekday runs for Tuesdays and Thursdays, and my long run for Sunday, which gave me two days of recovery.
Having a set schedule definitely helps. It doesn’t leave much room for interpretation or questioning or “yeah but…” That being said, life does (and did) happen. I had to take a week off training leading up to my second half marathon because I could barely walk thanks to some sciatic nerve issues. But, when I was all healed (I say all healed pretty facetiously) I picked up right where I left off. Same goes for if you have to skip a day or push it back — just pick up where you left off.
Dress for Success
Now we’re starting to get to the fun stuff. To hell with running for physical fitness, for mental health, for having an awesome ass (buns of steel!). Let’s run so we can buy cute running clothes and shoes!
Seriously. While it’s generally not a good idea to wear brand-new clothes the day of the race (or your race shirt, by the way), it can be fun to stock up on some super cute new clothes for training. Also, wearing the same clothes over and over and over again can make for some pretty stanky gear, no matter how sweat-wicking, anti-microbial, and anti-stink the fabrics might be.
And new shoes! Training will put some serious wear on your shoes. The tread is completely gone on my last pair. (Note to self: Get new shoes.) But who doesn’t love a brand-new pair of shoes? It’s like going back-to-school shopping, the best part of which was getting new shoes and new clothes and a new backpack, right?
All I’m saying is having some new clothes and shoes that you’re excited to wear can be a pretty good motivator. I know my compression socks were one of the reasons I got out of bed on Saturday mornings before the sun had even risen to run 12 miles.
Okay, I saved the best for last: eating. Yes, yes, proper fuel, fueling your workouts, and all that jazz. Of course, I fully support that. But duuuuuude, I was so hungry after my long runs, I had to plan to eat enough food to refuel. I would eat everything in sight.
And this becomes a problem when you’re like me and go to the grocery store on Sundays and your fridge is damn near empty on Saturdays. I had to make sure I had enough food left for the weekend; otherwise, I was a hangry sumbitch that no one wanted to be around.
Just a couple quick pieces of advice about this whole running and eating thing:
- You do not need a mid-run snack if you’re going to be gone for less than an hour. If your run will more than 60 minutes, tote along something nice and carb-y. I liked to stash a couple Medjool dates and nosh on those when I was about two-thirds through my run.
- From personal experience, avoid drinking water during your run. Surefire cramp right there. But definitely down that shit after your run — 8 ounces for every half hour of exercise.
- Eat something high carb within an hour of your run. Gotta replace those energy stores! Post-run smoothies were one of the highlights of my day. Hell, smoothies are the highlight of most of my days, run or not…
Friend, I am not saying you have to go out and train for a race you really really really don’t want to do. What I’m saying is that whatever you do really really really want to do is possible. You just have to have a plan and follow that plan and know that you can do it.
So what’s something you’ve been putting off but also secretly been dying to do? Let me know!