How training for and finishing a half marathon forever changed me
I’ve never been the athletic one. Not once. I’ve never been the strong one, or the fast one. And that’s okay. For some people, running is fun, it comes naturally, and serves as a stress relief. For some people, running 13 miles is not that hard. For me, running 13 miles was just about the hardest thing I could think of doing just six months ago. And even now… it’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Here’s the thing about choosing to do something unimaginable: you have an end date, and whether you like it or not, that date is closely approaching every single day. When I decided I was going to run a half marathon, it was THE hardest thing I could think of doing. I decided to do it because I needed to prove to myself that I could. That I could do any single thing I committed to if I just put in the work.
At the beginning, I tried to stay hopeful despite feeling like I was standing in quicksand worlds away from where I need ultimately to drag myself to. The first time I went running, it made me feel weak. I couldn’t even run half a mile before I started walking the rest of my one mile goal. And this wasn’t just the first time I went running, it was the second, third, fourth, fifth… even tenth time I went running at the beginning of my training. It took me weeks to run that first mile. All along, I knew I had no option but to keep trying because if I couldn’t get to a mile, how was I ever going to get to two miles? Or five? Or ten? So I kept going, running the same loop around my neighborhood every day until I finally got there. I looked it up today, my first mile run was 14 minutes long. And afterwards I felt like I wouldn’t have been able to run another step.
The little milestones fueled me every time, along with the fact that I was very public about this goal of mine, and I was overly aware that people were watching me from their phone screens. Another thing I learned about choosing to do something hard? You have to make a choice every single day to pursue your end goal. I knew I wasn’t going to wake up one day in the fall and be ready to do this race. So I kept taking small steps, manifesting this goal in my head when I wasn’t running, and planning every workout to stay on track. Some days were great, and some days sucked and left me feeling like I was taking steps backward. Either way, every day was a part of this journey.
A big milestone for me was running 3.1 miles, a 5k, for the first time. We hear about 5k’s all the time. Lots of people can run a 5k, some without training at all, and they’re often associated with fun themed runs or fundraising runs. I always hated 5k’s for the same reason I hated that first run… they made me feel weak. When my friends and family excitedly signed up for them, I worried about them for weeks, knowing I would be walking the entire time. Not because I wanted to, but because I had to. The day I stopped letting the idea of 3.1 miles own me was the day I ran one for the first time ever. I bascially felt like I was dying after I finished, but I had done it. The best part about it was knowing in a few months, three miles would feel like nothing (spoiler: it’s true).
So I kept adding on the distance, week by week, giving it my all every single time. My dad pushed me to run 4 miles for the first time back in July and I swear I was one stride short of falling over when we finished. After a few weeks of feeling like I made no progress, I finally pushed myself to run 5 miles one weekend. When I got a bad virus in the middle of August, I was beside myself thinking that I had no chance of staying on track. I missed over a week of runs and really struggled when I finally got back out there. My goal was to get to 6 miles by the end of August no matter what, and on September 1st I did it and never felt stronger… or more sore. My amazingly supportive boyfriend pushed me to 7 miles in the middle of September when he wouldn’t let me stop running after mile 6 even when my legs felt like jelly. At the end of the month, I went out on my own and ran 8 excruciating miles on the roads of my small town… that felt like my absolute limit. October came and my anxiety about the approaching race date was at an all time high. I knew I had to level up and dig in to all of the work I had put in over the summer months. I went right to the spot where I’d be running on race day, and did a 10 mile run around the Charles River. I remember getting home and seriously thinking… how am I going to go further than that in just three weeks? I focused on my strength, went to the gym and lifted more than I ever had, and tried to push myself on speed during the runs leading up to race day.
I wish I could explain all of the in-between moments of those weekend distance runs. The doubts I had in myself, the serious conversations I had about what I would do if I had to quit… I thought about the race every single day. There were also amazing breakthroughs, tests of my strength and commitment, and moments where the kind words of others drove me to reach for more. I could see my little world changing… the way I thought of myself, the way I considered audacious goals, even the way I would listen to other people’s goals. I knew I had struck gold in finding out what I could really do, and now it was time to prove to myself that I could finish strong.
Race day was scary, and not just because it was at 7 a.m. and freezing cold. I did everything right: I drank the water, I ate the carbs, I stretched and warmed up and all of that but the voice in my head was quietly telling me something would go wrong. Before I knew it, we were at the starting line and my legs started moving. Weirdly enough I felt great and was setting my best paces yet. I saw my family supporting me and listened to my best pump-up songs and kept taking it one step at a time. The entire experience is so hard to explain. The last few miles tested every physical and mental barrier I had. I’ve never pushed myself harder in my entire life than I did from mile 10 to 13. Crossing the finish line was the best feeling (despite how my body felt) and I was in shock that the day had come. It was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I had run a half marathon. I COULD run a half marathon. Honestly… I’m still in shock.
From day one to race day, I had changed not because I could run further, but because I knew that I could do anything I wanted to if I just put in the work. Before then, I wasn’t completely convinced. What if someone’s body isn’t “built for running”? What if asthma got in the way? What if a sickness messed up a training schedule? What if it was just too damn hard? Well here is my testament: you can do the thing. I don’t care what it is, you absolutely have the ability to get there if you try hard enough.
Someone might look at me on the street today and never guess that I just ran a half marathon, or that I live a healthy life for that matter. Well, that’s why I love my life today. No boundaries, no ceilings, I can do what I want no matter what. It was never about the running.
Thank you to every single one of you who supported me during this journey.