This question was posed to me a few days ago. A family member who I hadn’t talked to in awhile mentioned, “So I hear you’ve been running a lot lately”. I chuckled and said, “Yes, I have been.” I proceeded to tell them that I was training for a half marathon and that I was reaching a key point in my training. After sharing for a bit and trading stories about how he used to run 5 & 10K’s back in the day, he jokingly asked, “So what are you running from or to?”
I’d never really thought of my running as an escape from reality. I viewed running as a way to help unwind and keep my stress in check. It was also some alone time for myself; some me time where I could be alone with my thoughts. When I first began running, it was just to get me back into shape and loose a few pounds. Now I consider it to be a necessity; I don’t feel accomplished or fulfilled until I’ve run for the day. I would find myself getting grouchy if I had to wait to go for my daily run (probably also do to the lovely Florida heat), so I moved my runs to the morning. Not only did I beat the heat this way, but I also started my day off on the right foot!
So why run? There are a ton of different ways to relieve stress; a lot of them that don’t require the outdoors, sweating, or much endurance. Trust me – I’ve had a love/hate relationship with running. I first started running when I was in high school. I joined my school’s cross country team because it was the only sport I felt I could excel at. I had never been a fan of playing sports (much to my dad’s disappointment), mostly due to my overly long arms and legs. I didn’t feel like I could fully participate (or excel at) volleyball, so cross-country was my only other option for fall sports. I was terrible at it! I don’t think I had ever run more than a mile in my life up until that point. I was hands down the slowest one on the team and I’m sure I drove everyone nuts waiting on me to complete practice runs or races. But I refused to give up and by the end of my first season, I was below 30 minutes for a 3 mile race!
My focus shifted later in high school to academics, so I only ran my freshman and sophomore years. I slacked off in college and wound up gaining a good amount of weight. I tried to run a few times around campus, but I just lacked overall motivation. It was almost as if I didn’t have a goal or a team to hold me accountable, I just didn’t really see the point. I did join the gym my sophomore year of college and worked consistently in order to lose the 20+ pounds I had put on. I remember trying to run on the treadmill and abhorring it; it was too boring! Yet, I couldn’t bring myself to run outside.
Flash forward about 8 years. I had just dislocated my knee and was going to physical therapy 2-3 times a week. I wasn’t able to bend my knee enough in order to drive, so I was unable to work. I also could barely put weight on my right leg without wincing or whimpering in pain. It was agonizing not being able to walk around without pain; to be able to shower or groom myself without assistance; to be able to drive myself to the store when I needed something. I have always prided myself on being independent, but for once in my life I had to rely on others. I realized how much I had taken little things for granted and I vowed I wouldn’t end up there again.
As soon as I got clearance, I started to go to the gym. I started with the stationary bike, but quickly moved myself to the ellipticals. Oh, how I loved this piece of equipment. I especially loved the ones that would shift through various stages and I could control the level and resistance as I worked through the 30-45 minute routine. I could put on a CD and just work away, watching the calories slowly mount up. I think that was one of my favorite things – the calorie counter. It gave me a visual of the hard work I was doing.
And then the day came – they put me on the treadmill in therapy and had me begin jogging. I remember being so scared and terrified that my leg would just give out from under me. I’m pretty sure it started to a few times, but I was still working on my quad muscles. The first therapist I had seen right after my accident told me I couldn’t let me quadriceps go slack ever again, or I risked doing further damage. I knew that running could help to keep my muscles toned, but I was nervous of doing it alone. What if I fell? Who would help me? What if I hit my knee and cracked something?
I eventually got over this fear. I met me husband who was also an avid runner. He motivated me to start running a few nights a week after work. If I complained of pain, he would coax me into running just a little bit further, to that next stop sign or light. Slowly, I built up my endurance. I began to keep up with him when we went on our evening runs and sometimes I would pass him. I began to get my stride back and fall into a routine. I even began to get excited about running! At no point during this time did I get so excited as to sign up for a race. At that point, it was just exercise to me.
Now, 4 years later, I’m in a completely different place. Running isn’t just fun for me; it’s a necessity. When I ran my first 5K in almost 2 years earlier this year, I remember being very disappointed afterwards. I had run a decent time, especially considering I hadn’t trained but a few weeks and only reached the 3 mile run a few days earlier. No, I was disappointed that I hadn’t had the gumption to sign up for the main event – the 15K . See here in Jacksonville, the Gate River Run is a big deal. And I’d always wanted to run it, but this was the first time I’d even tried to sign up. And I felt that I had wimped out by choosing the 5K. I remember walking out and hearing all the fans cheering for the first finishers of the 15K. And I remember thinking, “next year, I’m going to be out there”.
So how did I start? Well, the first thing I did when I got home from this race was to look up a 10K race. I knew that I had a year to prepare for the 15K, so a 10K seemed the most appropriate next step. I also knew it would take me a while to train for said race, so I thought that 5-6 months would be enough time. I dug around online and located a 10K in late September that was very close to my house – St. Augustine. It was called the Endless Summer 10K and they boasted that they had the most awesome shirts with colorful sea turtle (I can attest to these too). I quickly signed up!
Now that I had a date and goal, I began to look at my training plan. Again, I turned to reliable Google to find a variety of training schedules. I finally landed upon the Cool Running website, which had three levels: beginners, intermediate, advanced. Based on these trainings, I found that I had more than enough time. Most plans are 12 weeks maximum, so I thought I would start off with some 5K training. I decided that since I had already run a 5K, I could probably start off on an intermediate 5K training plan. This is where I made a very bad choice. I read through all of the precautions and requirements for this intermediate plan and although I didn’t meet all of the criteria, I told myself I would be just fine. My main mistake – ramping up my daily and weekly mileage too quickly and not giving my muscles enough time to adjust.
Around mid to late April, I was beginning to have sharp pains in my knees, calves, and ankles on both legs. This concerned me since my left leg had never given me any problems. At the end of the month, I had my 30th birthday party and vacation, so I knew I wasn’t going to be running as much. I also had an appointment with my knee doctor the day after my birthday, so I thought I would give myself a little break. The appointment went well and there were no issues, but I do remember asking my doctor what to do if I started to feel pain. I was told that I needed to take a break and not push through, or I risked causing more damage. I took this as a sign and proceeded to take another week off from running.
During this time off, I read up more on running and training for longer races. I recognized the mistakes I had made and set forth to correct myself. As anyone should know when they first start into running, there are 5 basic steps you should follow. First, you should always check in with a doctor to be sure you’re healthy to run. Secondly, before you even hit the pavement PLEASE invest in good running shoes. They don’t have to be expensive, but they do need to support your feet! Third, you always start small. If you’ve never run, you should look at starting off with just walking a mile, then slowly adding in a bit of running. Fourth, don’t be dumb like me and run through the pain. If you’re in pain, stop for a few days. If it takes two days for the pain to go away, wait an additional two days before starting up again. And fifth, track your progress! It will help you stay motivated and could also help you figure out where you need to improve.
Stay tuned for more details about my running adventures. I haven’t even begun to share with you how my 5K, 10K, and half-marathon training has gone! Until then, happy running!