Four months ago, I was not a runner. Sure, I was in good shape – I went to the gym frequently, did yoga, etc., but running was certainly not my forte. I considered two miles on the treadmill a pretty good workout. But yesterday, for the first time in my life, I ran 13.1 miles. I still can’t believe I did it. On that fateful day in August, when I first started training, I was skeptical that I would ever complete my goal. But here I am – over 130 miles of training later – with my goal finally accomplished.
Here’s how the morning of the race went down: at 5:00 am on November 25th, my friend and I groggily rolled out of bed, stuffed some GoLean Crunch and toast with peanut butter down out throats, and hit the road. We cruised down the deserted LA streets to Venice Beach where the start/finish line was. I was relieved to find that the race was super low-key – there had to be less than 100 people running and the people hosting the race (Rocket Racing Co.) were super friendly. It was just the kind of atmosphere I need for my first HM.
I was delighted to discover not just that the course was completely flat, but also that the entirety of it was on the bike path along the coast. We ran 1.3 miles south first (i.e. into downtown Venice Beach), looped back to the start/finish line, then did the loop again. We then ran 3.9 miles north (along some of the most beautiful coast I’ve ever seen) and looped back and finished there.
I’ve got to say, the 1.3 mi dip into Venice Beach was so entertaining. I passed homeless guys in drum circles (one of them even reached out to give me a high-five), ran around bicyclists, waved to gay couples walking their dogs, smelled strong evidence of marijuana wafting out of apartment buildings, etc. That street has got to be one of the most eclectic in all of Los Angeles. Luckily for me, the first 4 miles of the race were so distracting that I didn’t even notice the distance I was covering. As I ran north, the sun was just starting to break through the early morning clouds and fog. It was the most beautiful site. I can’t imagine a more scenic location for a race.
Physically speaking, the last two miles were incredibly painful. Remember, the most I’ve run before (in any one stretch) was 10 miles. I was surprised at how much I really felt each additional mile past that. 11, 12, 13…the balls of my feet were hurting, my hip joints ached, my thigh muscles felt really tight….ouch. The good news? I didn’t experience any chaffing (thank you Body Glide!) and I didn’t feel like I was running out of energy (Shot Bloks, thank you as well). I felt that the only thing that kept me from running further was the pain in my legs. My running partner stashed some Advil in her pocket before the race and popped them during the race. Maybe I should have done the same?
I know a lot of people don’t like to listen to music during a race, but because this race was so uncrowded and low-key, there were many times when I was pretty much alone. For this reason, I did bring my iPhone along and listened to the Songza playlist “Sunshine Indie Pop.” I’ve been running to this playlist a lot recently – it’s the perfect mix of energetic and interesting.
I finished in 2:05:50, so I realized after the race that I’d been running at a pace much faster than I’d been training at.
What’s next? Definitely a few more half-marathons, and who knows, maybe a marathon? I guess I have some time. After all, there were two fifty-year olds running in the 50 mile event at the race…
So much of our ability in running comes from having the correct frame of mind. Oftentimes we fall short of our goal because our mind tells us we can’t do it, we’re tired, we’re sore, we’re bored, etc. Here are some simple tips I’ve found to help me overcome those mental barriers and push through.
Lean into the pain. Avoidance of pain is one of our most instinctive human responses. Although certain types of discomfort do signal potential injury, there are also plenty of aches and pains that are simply signs that you are pushing your body. “You need to push through discomfort to see performance gains,” says John Raglin, Ph.D, in Runner’s World Magazine. So don’t stop running next time you sense the first hint of pain. Instead, listen to your body. Try to recognize if the pain is a sign of growth or a sign of injury. If it’s a sign of growth, push into it. Let that inspire you. Know your body is trying to reach limits it hasn’t before, and that’s how you’ll become faster and stronger.
Set ambitious goals. I’ve learned one very simple psychological trick: if I tell myself I’m going to run three miles, I’ll be exhausted after three. If I tell myself I’m going to run seven, I’ll be exhausted after seven. For a long time I kept thinking that four miles was my limit, and eventually I realized that I wasn’t moving past four simply because I never aimed to run more.
Identify short-term targets. Take it one step at a time. Focus on making it to the top of the hill, then to the end of the street, down the next block. Try to push through to the end of the song you’re listening to or try running especially hard for the next 30 seconds.
Look for little victories. Congratulate yourself after each mile or after each stretch. One small reward system I’ve implemented is allowing myself to sip from my water bottle after each mile.
Refocus your thoughts. It’s okay to tune into your body, but it’s also okay to tune out and let your mind wander. Do you have a project at work to mull over? A friend you’re excited to see? Or maybe you would prefer to tune into your surroundings, whether that means observing nature or even making up stories about passerby. Whether running is your time to process things in your everyday life or to ponder more abstract ideas, this kind of mental activity is good in that it distracts you from physical discomfort. When your mind zeros in on the pain, your body actually increases its stress response, thereby aggravating that discomfort.
Visualize goals. If you begin your run by saying “There’s no way I’ll reach my goal today,” chances are you won’t. Visualize yourself achieving your goal. Imagine yourself telling your friend, partner, or workout partner “I ran ____ today,” and the sense of pride that accompanies it. Recall past experiences where you did accomplish your goal. How did that feel?
Remind yourself why you do it. What are your motivations for running? Do you run to lose weight? To train for a marathon? To decrease your stress levels? To impress a friend or partner? Whatever the reason, imagine how much closer you’ll be to that goal if you push through to the end.