Here’s the thing about me. When I commit to things, I always follow through and complete them to the best of my ability. So, when I was peer pressured into running a half marathon with a group of people more athletic and more prepared than I, you can see why I was a little hesitant.
Before I began training, I had been running for about three months, which included several sporadic jogs throughout my neighborhood at an inconsistent pace to stay in shape for club frisbee in the fall. I began running four to five times a week, sometimes in the dark or the rain, for three to ten miles at a time.
Everyone says this, but the mental fight is so much more vigorous than the physical, and I realized this as the day grew closer and closer. Self-control is necessary to force yourself to go on runs even when you’re not feeling your best and to continue running when there are more miles to go. You need to conquer running anxiety, boredom, burnout on top of the physical effects of training like blisters, exhaustion and sore muscles.
And it’s not as simple as going on an hour-long run. You must schedule it in advance, plan out your route, stretch before and after, fuel up, drink lots of water, shower and more. Running more often means less leisure, a busier calendar, eating all the time and so much more laundry.
The Big Day
On the big day, I woke up at 4 a.m. with all my morning-of supplies laid out and my backpack crammed full. Nerves prevented a restful sleep the night before, but the anticipation kept me awake for the one-and-a-half-hour car ride down to Cape Cod.
We arrived very early as I had requested and planned, and we had plenty of time to pick up our bibs, drop our bags off, stretch and use the bathrooms before the lines grew to 20+ people. The jitters really got to me as we waited in the large crowd at the starting line, but the energy of the runners and spectators around me was calming in a way.
The actual race felt like a fever dream to be honest. It was pretty overwhelming between texts from my family and friends cheering me on as they tracked me from home, chants from the crowd, and the runners around me. Miles one through four were spent enjoying the shoreline views, talking with a friend and coming to terms with the fact that I would be running 13 miles that day. Runner’s high hit from miles five through eight and miles nine through twelve felt like hell because of the insane hills. Mile thirteen seemed to go by so fast, yet so slow, and the last .1 miles felt amazing. Seeing my entire team (who had, in fact, finished before me as expected) cheering me on encouraged me to run those last thirty seconds and breeze over the finish line. Those final few moments made the entire thing worth it.
The soreness didn’t hit until a couple hours later when my knees started locking up and my quads and calves felt like they were on fire. The next day or two was spent inching my way up and down stairs and gently shifting my legs to be comfortable without causing extreme pain. If you ever run that many miles, I implore you to spend up to an hour stretching everything out because it helps so much in the long run. Your muscles will thank you. Afterward, we enjoyed a post-marathon McDonald’s run, which satisfied the post-run hunger but wasn’t overly filling.
It has been two weeks since I busted my ass through a half marathon, and I can still say it was so worth it. Running 13 miles four months ago seemed like a goal I was years out from achieving. Three miles was considered a long run for me. Now, I can run long distances without stopping, and 5ks are considered light workouts. That’s a personal improvement that I’m super proud of.
I’ve gained a lot of tips and tricks from training for the past two months, and the biggest thing is that training with multiple people was so beneficial. Even though I wasn’t completing the runs with anyone, we all tried to post our stats in a big group chat to keep each other accountable.
I learned that you can’t go on a 10+ mile run without eating something before or during. I recommend Propel Gatorade Electrolytes to drink and hydrate before and the Vanilla Mini Honey Stinger Waffles to eat during; they’re small, easy to carry and more digestible than gels. I also learned that having on-the-go Vaseline and biker shorts (I recommend the Aerie Offline 9” because more fabric is better than less) are necessities for all chafing troubles. Finally, over-the-ear airpod hooks are best for keeping the music flowing and earbuds secured.
One of the big lessons I took from this entire experience is that expectations are crippling, and it’s often so much more fun when you don’t have to worry about goals. Goals are incredibly personal; my main objective was to finish, and that’s what I told my friends and family. If you are setting a goal time, which is totally optional, it’s okay to keep it private. That’s what I chose to do. It allowed me to race without any extra pressure. I may have decided to start training with a group of other people, but I finished the race fully for myself.
There’s also this anticipation to immediately start planning what’s next. Many jump straight to a marathon, the next step in the imaginary “podium of races.” Personally, I don’t know if I will run or even want to run a full marathon. I don’t know what’s next, and I’ve enjoyed my two weeks off from running. What I do know is that running gives me a sense of gratification and pride in my accomplishments, and I have so much room to grow and improve. I’m excited to see wherever that leads me.