It’s only a 5K…

I really wish that when I first began training for my 10K that I had found someone who knew what they were doing and followed their training plan. Instead, I was left all on my own to figure things out. As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, I went about the first month or two of my training all wrong and wound up hurting myself. I had been progressing so well that I go ambitious and started adding too many miles too fast. All the hard work I put in March and most of April was placed on hold in early May when I was experiencing pain in my hips and both knees. This is never good, especially when it begins to affect your daily activities!

So, in May, I started over from scratch. I took a week or so off to heal whatever stresses I had placed on my body and recoorpeate. I took advantage of this extra time in the evenings to research various training plans and to see if what I was following made sense. I had a originally started out with an intermediate 5K training plan that I had been strictly following. However, this had caused me to ramp up too soon and put me out of commission. I figured it was safe to say I wasn’t an intermediate runner (considering just 4 months ago I hadn’t been running at all) and instead opted for the beginner’s training plan.

Ugh – beginner. The very term went through me like a knife. I pride myself in learning all I can about a topic or area that I’m passionate about. I’ll even tell you that I love to learn about all kinds of things. If I don’t feel that I’m knowledgable enough about something, I really look down on myself and consider it to be an imperfection. Like I could know more about it, but I’m being lazy. Which isn’t really the case because honestly – who has time to learn EVERYTHING about one topic? Maybe if I was retired or a millionaire, but I had to work and pay bills!

So, I wasn’t thrilled about accepting the idea that I was a BEGINNER runner. Me – who had run cross country in high school and had been running so diligently just a few short years ago. But, I had learned the hard way that I wasn’t at the intermediate level and so I forced myself to look at is from a different angle. By starting with the beginner’s training plan, I could possibly advance through it quicker and get into my 10K training plan earlier than I originally expected. This made me excited; it was like I was skipping everyone else and getting a head start! Yes, I know what you’re thinking – this chick has some serious hang-ups. Don’t worry – I know I do.

I chose to use Cool Running’s beginner 5K training program to re-start my training. Based on this plan, I was supposed to run for 5 days with 2 rest days. One of the 5 days was deemed the long run day, which is typical of training programs. Based on my lifestyle, I opted to follow the training plan and keep my long runs on Sundays. The next thing I looked at was the amount of time. It was mid-May when I implemented this training, but I had a 10K at the end of September. This meant I had less than 20 weeks to complete both a 5K and 10K training program. I began to stress a little bit until I looked over the beginner’s 10K training program. I realized that the last few weeks of the 5K training could potentially be substituted with the first few weeks of 10K training!

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And so I decided to mesh the two plans together and make them my own. I whipped out my handy dandy I-Phone calendar and created two recurring events: 5K training (S, T, W, R, S) and 10K training  (S, T, W, R, S). I set the event for the same time every day and made sure there was a reminder so my phone would go off to remind me to get my butt in gear. After the event was created, I went into each day and listed the mileage for that day. I know this sounds super tedious, but this is what worked for me. I have tried keeping a paper schedule and I would skip days or lose track of where I was in my training. By having the training on my calendar, I made myself more accountable and I was able to log my time in the same place. My timing was very important to me because I liked checking for improvement.

In order to keep track of my daily run times, I created an Excel spreadsheet. The first column was every day from May through my 10K race date – September 24th. The headers for each of the columns across the top row were in 0.5 mile increments, starting at 2 miles. I color-coded the dates for 5K training in one color and made the 10K training. Every Monday, I would log the run times from the previous week into the matching date and mileage that I ran. I envisioned being able to use this data and pull it into a graph so I could really visualize how well I was progressing at different distances!

Now that I had all of my planning and training in place, it was time to actually do it. It was time to run. I will admit, I was a bit nervous to re-start after having a few weeks off. I had grown accustomed to coming home from work and not doing much of anything except eat dinner and lounge around watching TV or playing on Pinterest. I had zero desire to get back into running, especially in May. If you’ve ever visited Florida outside of December-March, you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s hot; it’s humid; all you do is sweat from just walking outdoors. Running in this weather is miserable, to say the least. I knew I was going to struggle, though, I purposely took the first week or so to ease back into things. I know for a fact that first week I wimped out and ran 2 miles in place of some of the 3 miles.

In addition to the heat was the issue of distraction. I used to hate listening to music while I ran because I could never keep headphones in my ears. I swear to you that I have the most oddest shaped ears because no matter what headphones I tried on, they would never stay in place. This always wound up the be more distracting and I would not be able to focus on running. So, for the longest time I insisted that I was just fine to run without any music. But that gets boring pretty fast! If I can recommend you anything it’s these two things: make sure you have some sort of music that motivates you (nothing that’s going to slow you down) and make sure your run route is stimulating. I can’t run in a gym because the scenery never changes and I become bored very quickly. This was part of my problem the first week I started back to training, so I made sure to quickly resolve it by mapping out 3 simple routes – a 2 mile, a 3 mile, and a 4 mile route.

Once I added in the headphones with one of my favorite trance artist’s CD’s and started to learn my new routes, running became easier. I’m not saying I fell in love overnight, but I began to honestly look forward to my 30 minutes on the road. I began to form a nice routine and if you know me, I love me routines! I would come home from work, let out the puppy, quickly change clothes and stretch, pop in headphones and just go. I was able to calm down from anything that had been stressing me out (which in my line of work, happens almost daily). If someone had upset me, I was able to mentally argue with them. If something was troubling me, I either tried to sort through it as I ran or I would zone out and focus on something else. Running became an escape from reality for me, and I loved it even more because it was my “me” time. No one was criticizing me; it was just me and the road.

I was diligent about my training plan. After the first week back, I was able to follow it pretty much to a T. If something came up and I had to skip a day, I made sure to move it on my calendar and re-schedule the run date with myself. As the heat slowly intensified, I became anxious that was I was going to be miserable. Then one day my husband announced that he needed to start studying for his next licensure exam (he works in finance) and would be starting his study plan. This meant he would be waking up early to study before work. I suddenly had a great idea – I could wake up early with him and while he studied, I would go run! It would be cooler and this way we could still spend some time together versus me sleeping the morning away.

Although I was training for my 10K in September, I began to get antsy and wanting to run some other races. My 5K training had me “scheduled” to run a 5K around the end of June, right when I would begin my 10K training. I searched and found a 4th of July themed 5K in Amelia Island, a pretty resort area just north of where I was living. I decided to sign up so that I had a short-term goal to aim for. Around this same time, I was also considering what I should aim for after my 10K race. My original goal for starting running was so I could run in the Gate River Run, one of the largest 15K’s on the east coast. But that wasn’t until March of next year, and there was too much time between my 10K and that for me to actually stay on track. So, I began to investigate half-marathons. A good friend of mine kept mentioning the Disney Princess runs, but I was convinced that it wouldn’t be a good time for me.

I should probably take a step back here and explain what was going on in my personal life. My husband and I had been trying to get pregnant since Christmas 2015. We had so far not had any success, and we’d experienced a few hopeful days, only to be followed by plummeting sadness when you-know-who came to visit me. In May, I want to my doctor for testing and was able to get on some medication that the doctor thought for sure would help us. June was our first month trying while I took the medicine and I was confident that it would happen. Based on my math, if I got pregnant in June, I would be due around February. So naturally, I didn’t want to sign up for the Disney Princess runs in the same month!

Well, June came and went, and I didn’t get lucky. Around this time, I also began to experience some of the old aches and pains in my knees. I was terrified that all the progress I had made was going to go to waste. It was around this time that I noticed a friend of mine posting about at-home workouts through Beachbody, and I started to wonder if maybe this was something that I should try out. I hate going to the gym, especially my gym. It had two treadmills, two very odd and different ellipticals (that I felt did nothing for my legs), and stair-step machine. But I knew I needed to do something or my knees were going to continue to hurt. So, I signed up for my friend’s 21 Day Fix challenge group and eagerly began the workouts. I was amazed at home hard they were and how much I sweat!

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I was probably about two weeks into the program when my 5K rolled around. I wasn’t really sure what to expect in my race, especially since it was a sweltering July day in Florida when I ran. As usual, I woke up super early from jitters and made myself two eggs. I drove to my race alone and once at the race site, I went through my typical pre-race routine. I always stretch and get a lot of walking in, then head over to the starting line to scope things out. I also drink some water and use the bathroom, which as any runner will tell you is super important before a run. About a half hour before start time, I have a teaspoon of peanut butter to get some extra protein in me. As the final 10-15 minutes before the start begin to wind down, I get some final stretches in and find a good spot in the middle of the group. I don’t like to be up front, but I don’t want to be behind everyone else.

I won’t bore you with all the details, but suffice to say that I ran this 5K in excellent time and shaved 2-3 minutes off my time from the 5K I completed in March! I was so excited and still riding the race rush that I told myself I needed to do more! As I drove home that day, I made a big decision. I decided I was going to bite the bullet and register for a half-marathon!!! I was giddy with excitement when I shared this idea with my husband, but unfortunately he was less than thrilled. It was around this time that he began to share that he felt my running was impairing us from becoming pregnant. I was insistent that I was healthy and that my doctor was completely supportive of my running.

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Although it seemed a bit pre-mature, I moved forward with my plan and began researching half-marathons. I needed something that was far enough away that I could properly train for it, but also soon enough so if I did get pregnant, I wasn’t too far along when it came time for the race. After some research, I discovered one right in my backyard of St Augustine – the Columbia Half. It wasn’t until mid-November, which also meant it would be starting to cool off. Although I was super excited and ready to sign up, I couldn’t help but remember my husband’s words. In an attempt to be a nice wife, I decided not to sign up for the race just yet. I would wait another month, incurring the race fee hike, just to be safe that I didn’t get pregnant.

After my 5K ion July 2nd, I transitioned into my 10K training. I shifted into a new routine of running 3-4 miles on the weekdays, 4 miles on Saturdays, and then a longer run on Sundays. Because I had made the mistake of ramping up too quickly in the past, I decided to go against the normal 10% increase each week and instead focused on only adding a half mile to my Sunday runs. No, I wouldn’t be reaching some incredible distance by September as I had original dreamed of, but I would guarantee I would have run a 10K at least once before my actual 10K.

I was still running in the morning when it was cooler and less busy. I enjoyed running as the sun came up, and I felt that I was making some definite progress. I began to switch up my mileage during the weekdays so I could work on speed vs. endurance, as well as ensure I didn’t get bored. I was still doing daily workouts from my 21 Day Fix program. I could definitely recognize a difference in my leg strength, as well as my knee strength, so I didn’t want to quit! When August rolled around though, I decided to try out a different program that wasn’t weight-driven. I knew what my training looked like and I was going to be pushing up to 10 miles before my actual 10K on September 24th. I knew that I needed to focus more on my running and by switching to a low-impact program, I wouldn’t overdo it.

By the time September rolled around, I was feeling great! I had settled into an amazing routine of waking up early to run, then knock out my workout, and then get ready for work. I felt invigorated and was excited to wake up each morning, eager to accomplish my goals. One of my co-workers mentioned doing a fun 5K in early September, which I of course eagerly signed up for. Now I don’t know about you, but there’s never really a “fun” race for me. I don’t mean that in a terrible way, just that I take my races seriously. If you’ve ever signed up for a race and paid the fees, you know they aren’t cheap. Although I know the money usually goes to a charity, I consider this to be motivation for myself to kick butt in each race. So although for some this 5K was going to be fun, I told myself I was going to give it my best shot and at least shave a few seconds off my current 5K record.

That day was an incredible day for me. I had been having the most awful week at home and I remember being worried that it was going to affect my mood. As you can probably guess, my husband wasn’t thrilled that I was still running and he wasn’t silent about it. We had also gone another month without pregnancy success, which added to his stress. Regardless, I refused to give up something that actually made me happy and was one of the few things I asked for. It didn’t require money, just time. Anyways, I had been dealing with stress and angst at home, getting less and less sleep as the days went by. I was exhausted the morning of my race, yet excited because it was race day!

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When I got to the race site, I checked in and then began my usual routine. I was out by my car stretching when I heard a voice question, “Erin?” I could barely see thanks to the morning sun, but I didn’t recognize the voice. A figure walked over and I discovered it was a good friend of mine that I hadn’t seen in over five years!! We hugged and began chatting like no time had passed. She asked if I wanted to pace with her during the race, which I accepted. I’d never been able to run with anyone before, and I thought it would be a great way to help keep me on track. Well, I ran with her and although it was pretty hot, and I wound up setting another PR! I couldn’t believe it!!

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Just two weeks later, the day finally arrived. It was the day of my 10K race, but I once again I found myself in the same situation. I hadn’t been sleeping, I had a complete breakdown with my husband that left me in a very unstable place, and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen tomorrow. But I knew that if I could just get through the race, I would be ok. The race was down in St. Augustine Beach, which meant that I had to wake up around 4:30 in order to get my routine in. Despite the exhausted state I was in, I got my eggs and packed up my peanut butter for the road. I arrived at the race site before dawn, picked up my race packet, and excitedly began to stretch. The stress and pain from my week began to melt away as the sun rose above the sand dunes. I kept telling myself, “You’ve got this; you can do this. It’s only 6 miles. You’ve done this a few times. This is short!”

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We lined up for the race and I realized I was going to be starting on the beach. Sand. I had never trained in or run on sand, other than on a fun beach day. I took a deep breath and held my head up – no turning back now. The horn blasted and we were off. The beach sand was packed, but not as firm as the sidewalk or asphalt I was used to running on. I felt my knee give a little bit, but it readjusted itself quickly. I decided it was best to take it slow and not try to keep up with the pack just yet. I knew the sand wouldn’t last long and then I could safely increase my speed.

The race course took us back onto the roads, but then it veered off onto trails in the woods. You couldn’t really pass anyone, so I tried to maintain my pace. I must’ve spent 3 miles of that race on trails. The thought flashed through my mind that I was going to trip or fall or hit my knee, but I banished the negativity. Even though I hadn’t trained for this particular environment, I knew I would be ok. I just had to believe in myself. Now, I don’t run with a phone or an app, so I only have my iPod to listen to. I’ve run with the same playlist for so long that I know what song is for what mile point, if I’m running at my normal pace. Since the course wasn’t heavily marked, I was able to determine how well I was pacing by recognizing different songs.

Finally, we were released from the trails. We got to run on the road for someways, but then again came more trails. The one fortunate thing I found in these trails was the shade. It was after all September and in Florida, that’s still considered dead summer heat. I began to notice that the course was circling back, so I knew the end must be near. As I rounded one final corner near the water station, I saw the 6 mile marker. At last – only 0.2 miles remaining! I blew past the little boy trying to hand me water and began my final sprint into the finish line. Ok, maybe it wasn’t a sprint, but I was amazed at how few peoplee were picked up their speed! I could see the finish line and I saw the clock. My heart sank a bit as I realized I wasn’t going to make it under 1 hour. Still, I pushed ahead. I crossed the finish line, just barely behind a girl in front of me. I doubled over from lack of breath but I had finished! The longest race I had ever done and it was still a good time for me.

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That day taught me a lot of lessons, just like my entire training had been teaching me all those months. If you want a goal, you’re going to have to fight for it. It’s going to take time, dedication, motivation, perseverance, and trust. But most of all, you have to believe yourself. You can’t give up on yourself and you can’t wait for others to do the believing for you. In the end, it’s just going to be you and the road – you’re going to have to overcome the hurdles, not the others. But if you’re willing to put forth all this effort, your hard work will pay off. And on that day, my hard work did pay off. I went to see the race results an found myself in the top 5 for my age group!

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So let me leave you with this: believe in yourself and you will accomplish your dreams. Don’t give up and never ever stop believing.

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